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Clackamas County Extension Service horse program takes its annual horse show online this summer

When all summer activities slated for the Clackamas County Event Center in Canby were wiped out by the pandemic, it meant folks had to get creative.

The Clackamas County Extension Service 4-H horse program delivered that creativity by organizing a virtual horse show to replace the six-day event held in Canby every July. The 4-H horse program has approximately 300 youth participating each year, and the annual show at the fairgrounds provides a big chunk of them a chance to show their project horses in an array of age groups and classes.

For a while, it looked like that simply wasn't going to happen in 2020. But then, creativity and dogged determination showed up.

COURTESY PHOTO TONYA ROURKE - Instead of a dusty arena, Alyssia Puente judged riders from her home in Woodburn this year. Her set-up includes a computer to watch the videos with scoresheets, the pattern, and a rule book by her side.

"It was really important to us to find some way for these kids to show their projects," explained Tonya Rourke, Clackamas County 4-H Horse Advisory Board. "Some of these kids have been working on their projects for over a year. We wanted to do something for them and give them that chance."

Organizers and volunteers decided that pandemic or no pandemic, there was going to be a horse show this year — virtually.

"In an effort to give our kids somewhere to show, a handful of volunteers from the horse project, along with OSU Extension agent Wendy Hein and more volunteers, worked together to give our kids a virtual horse show," said Rourke, who noted that with the judges having already been hired, there were some resources in place.

"Our amazing judges agreed to watch videos of our members that entered their different classes, write comment sheets like they would if doing a live fair and give scores to our kids," said Rourke.

In all, five judges have been scoring more than 400 entries from 108 youth who participated in this year's virtual event. The scores and comment sheets were returned by Aug. 3. Ribbons will be awarded and mailed shortly.

Once the decision to hold a virtual show was made, the Extension Service and 4-H horse program volunteers swung into action, finding a platform that could handle the uploaded video entries, setting up specific rules for the event, creating the age groups and classes and getting that information out to its members.

ART BY CARLY SHANKLIN - Clackamas County 4H horse members submitted artwork to represent this year's virtual horse fair. This work by Carly Shanklin, of West Linn, was voted the favorite on Facebook out of six entries.

When contestants decided to enter, there were strict requirements about the patterns they were to use and the way the video was to be shot, even to the point of using a barrel or other apparatus — or even a human — as a stand-in judge for the event. The goal was to make it as authentic as possible while filming it.

For those competing, the effort to hold a show virtually was greatly appreciated.

"I'm very happy they put it together for us. It was really fun being able to compete again and just having the option to," said Kiana Fox, a 16-year-old Molalla High School student. "I definitely missed my teammates and cheering others on, (but) overall, I did enjoy being able to dress up, do patterns and have that experience again this year. It let me show how much I've grown from last year to this year."

Fox competed in five classes and admitted that setting up the camera angles and the patterns that were sent to her was a little weird — but she managed to make it work.

"It was a little bit nerve-wracking because it was going to be sent off to a judge to be judged," Fox explained. "Setting up the pattern itself was definitely the weirdest thing. We had to use a picture that was given to us."

Akua Swift, a 16-year-old Canby High student, said she appreciated the virtual show, though there were aspects that proved to be very different.

"I'm glad that they still had the show, because then I got some kind of fair at least," said Swift. "It was definitely pretty weird. I hadn't done an online show before, but I know others had. It was kind of cool, though, and if something weird happened in the video, I could just take another one. I liked being able to do a show."

Swift competed in four classes. She would usually do about 11 but wanted to keep it to her four favorites.

Rourke said that entrants uploaded their video entries between July 6 and 13 and judges have been working to score them since then. But there was more to it than simply submitting a video entry.

COURTESY PHOTO TONYA ROURKE - A look at what the horse fair would normally look like. Unfortunately, the pandemic cancelled it, prompting the creation of a virtual event.

"Our county's horse project is the only county in the state that requires our kids to turn in a record book for their project," said Rourke. "It includes everything from hours of training to overall costs to all medical and health items — it tracks everything they have done with the horse. It's a template for a resume they will be able to do in 4-H and out of 4-H. We still required them to turn that record book in and be approved before they could participate. We didn't want them to have a gap in the book, so we maintained that requirement."

And Rourke noted another motivator for getting the show up and running virtually. Like high schools around the state, graduating seniors had a tough finish to their high school career. That was the case in the 4-H horse realm as well.

"We have graduating seniors this year and it was really important to give them the option to do this," said Rourke, who noted that pictures of the graduating participants are now on display along the fence line at fairgrounds. "In Clackamas County, we are the largest 4-H horse program in the state. We annually have 250 to 300 youth registered [and] usually 180 of those kids show. So, getting 108 this year was really great."

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