Several youth horse riders braved the summer sun last week at the Jim Wells County Fairgrounds to learn basic as well as advanced reining and riding techniques in a two-day horsemanship school.
While the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has offered its Horsemanship Summer School program for more than 40 years, this summer was the first time it has been offered in Jim Wells County, County Extension Agent Barbara Wymore said.
"It's been hosted in Duval County a couple of times, but this is our first time to host," Wymore said.
Instructors Jessica McDowell and Emilee Haubner worked with six youth horse riders traveling to Alice from Orange Grove, San Diego, Bishop and even the Valley during the 16-hour course held on Monday and Tuesday last week.
"I've been riding since I was six or seven years old," McDowell said. McDowell just graduated from Texas A&M University in College Station with a Master's degree in animal science this year and is currently working on the pre-requisites for her doctorate.
McDowell said she and Haubner will be instructing six classes with the horsemanship school this summer, as four other groups are simultaneously conducting classes with the program throughout Texas.
"We went to El Paso and Georgetown, and now we're heading south," she said. During the two-day course, students learned about horse safety as well as general riding practices and problem solving.
"We're working on a lot of bending and flexing, gaits, transitions, speed control, getting control of the horse, the hips and shoulders separately and being able to work the horse's body," McDowell said. "Just basic things that you need to be able to control your horse."
McDowell said the techniques covered in the horsemanship school are the basics that any horse rider, regardless of what, if any, competition they are in, needs to be able to control and ride their horse.
"Because otherwise, you're just hopping on the horse and letting them take off," she said.
"But if you can control your horse, if you can make them do everything the way you want, then it's going to be a lot smoother ride and it's going to look a lot nicer."
Kaitlyn Hessek, an Orange Grove 4-H'er, attended the summer clinic with her three-year-old horse "Rucker." She has been riding since she was nine years old, but said she still has a lot to learn.
"I wanted to improve my horsemanship skills," Hessek said. "I want to become one with the horse. Instead of me telling him what to do, I want him to realize it before I tell him to do it."
Hessek said owning a horse has taught her responsibility. She said she tries to work with "Rucker" every day for at least an hour, depending on the mood he's in.
"I trained him from scratch," she said.
Hessek began participating in open shows this year, traveling as far as Seguin, where she said she has done average. "I'm hoping to do better next year," she said.