April 26 is National Help a Horse Day – an initiative launched in 2013 by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to create and educate about ways to better care for these often-loved animals and promote the protection of neglected animals. and abused horses across the country.
I can think of no animal more valued or respected than the horse. I also can’t think of one that had a greater influence on civilization. Horses were among the first animals to be tamed and trained. And, without a doubt, the domestication of horses has transformed the world.
Once their speed, strength and power were literally harnessed, they became an essential form of transport, allowing individual cyclists to cover great distances in a fraction of the time it took them to walk. But more than that, they could pull carts, wagons, and coaches over equally long distances, allowing drivers and handlers to easily transport groups of people, including entire families, and their belongings, over hundreds or even thousands of kilometers.
Horses have revolutionized agriculture. They were used to herd cattle and pull plows and harrows across fields, allowing farmers to cultivate larger plots of land with increased efficiency. More food could be grown, and the surplus could be taken to nearby towns in horse-drawn wagons, to be traded or sold, creating new prosperity.
They were used to harvest timber and move stone, greatly increasing the supply of raw materials used by carpenters, masons and builders, including boat and ship builders. When you consider the work done by horses, it’s no wonder we still measure the capacity of modern engines using the term horsepower.
The military service of horses transformed the battlefield. Mounted warfare dates back to the Macedonian cavalry of Alexander the Great (338 BC), ancient Roman chariots and medieval knights in armour. Even in the 18th and 19th centuries, cavalries of mounted combatants were able to outflank and outwit enemy armies of foot soldiers.
The horses also facilitated better communication. Records from the fifth century BC indicate that Persian authorities used mounted couriers to deliver messages by hand. And consider the importance of Paul Revere’s Pony Express or Night Ride in American history.
Obviously, these extraordinary animals can be trained for many tasks. But being able to train, handle, ride and humanely care for horses successfully takes time, patience, kindness, determination and a healthy dose of skill and experience.
I am not a horse person. But during my years at Cooperative Extension, I have seen many child 4-H club members grow up to be capable riders. I remember those children decorating and preparing the stalls that would temporarily house their precious horses. I could feel the fiery enthusiasm of these boys and girls as they prepared to show off their skills, showmanship and animals at the Franklin County Fair. And words cannot describe the affection, pride, joy, dedication, respect and mutual care I saw shared between some of these children and their horses. As 4-H educator Pat Banker says, “If you want to help a horse…find a kid for it.
If you have or know a child who loves horses, New York State’s 4-H Horse Program and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) offer programs and clubs that help young people ages 5-19 develop fundamental equestrian skills, as well as an understanding and knowledge of horse grooming, nutrition, horse safety and the equine industry. Children learn these skills through educational events including demonstrations, hands-on activities, contests and competitions, horse judging and horse camps. And you don’t need to own a horse to be part of this program.
Club membership is available regardless of gender, race, color, national origin, religion or disability. Our adult volunteers receive leadership training, project instruction, and help and support from extension staff. And, in addition to fulfilling their responsibilities as club officers and special interest group instructors, they serve on 4-H boards of directors and advisory committees.
For more than 40 years, the Franklin County CEC 4-H Equestrian Program has offered young 4-H club members the opportunity to attend horseback camp at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Malone. This year, children will work with their horses in the main arena, the infield and the new indoor arena. And the standardbred harness racehorses will offer their annual educational program and the exciting 4H spring races. The 4H Horse Camp program is made possible by a grant from the New York State Horse Breeding and Agriculture Development Fund, commonly referred to as the Standardbred Grant.
If you have a child between the ages of 5 and 19 who would like to get involved in a 4-H horse program, it’s easy to sign up. And if horses aren’t their thing, you can find a club that better suits your child’s interests. All you have to do is contact your local cooperative extension office.
— Richard L. Gast, Extension Program II Educator: Horticulture, Natural Resources, Energy; Agricultural Programs Assistant (retired); Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County. 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Call 483-7403, fax 483-6214, or email [email protected]