The annual 4-H Horse Camp with the Big River Riders took place last week at T.L. James Park in Wewahitchka.

The annual 4-H Horse Camp with the Big River Riders took place last week at T.L. James Park in Wewahitchka.

The program is part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extension program that brings farming, horticulture and environmental science skills to kids ages 8-18 in Gulf County.

“This program allows kids to manage their horses better and perform at events a whole lot better,” said Gulf County Extension director Roy Lee Carter.

The four-day camp focused on horsemanship, speed classes, showmanship, pleasure and trail riding and the care of the horse and riding tack.

In addition to spending their mornings on horseback, afternoon classes on nutrition for their horses and their riders allowed the 14-person class to escape the summer heat.

Jean McMillian is in her 41st year as a leader with 4-H and her fourth overseeing the horse program.

“I do it for the children,” said McMillian. “We have a very good group of parents and a congenial group of young men and women.”

She praised 4-H and its various programs for its role in developing good citizens while encouraging members to “make the best better.”

McMillian’s goal is to teach responsibility and shed light on the important role it plays in creating good attitudes and good sportsmanship.

Even though the club members compete against one another at horse shows, they encourage and root for their fellow riders.

McMillian is thankful for the extension programs and the good qualities they develop in children.

“Roy is the backbone of the program,” said McMillian. “He works hard for the children in the county.”

In April, nine of the class members placed in the Area A District competition held Marianna. Of those students, seven further qualified for the state competition which will take place in Tampa next month.

The camp focused on speed events that members will compete in at the state level including pole-bending and keyhole, stake and barrel racing.

McMillian’s son Russell and his wife, Julie, are now the main instructors for the program. Both have been heavily involved in 4-H since the age of eight.

Julie has been a leader in the horse programs since she was 18 and Russell has been involved for the past five years. They have two daughters who are in the program.

“I grew up in 4-H,” said Russell. “We’re horse people 24/7.”

Because 4-H played a large role in their own growth and development, they were eager to find a way to give back to the community.

“4-H is about making good choices and building relationships based on trust. Especially when it comes to horses,” said Julie.

Russell added, “It’s a wonderful program that gives kids something to do and allows them to set high goals for themselves.”

Local sponsorship for the program provided each member with a bag of horse feed, a bottle of fly spray and wormer medicine.

Kids looking to get involved in 4-H can contact the Gulf County Extension Office at 639-3200.