Have you ever seen a horse paddle? Or spotted one with a larger girth than another? There's a whole team of local kids who have, and could tell you all about it: The Wadena-Deer Creek Future Farmers of America Horse Evaluation Team.
Team members Faith Koning, Destiny Berg, Lily Roemmich and Codey Wolff recently placed first at the Minnesota State Horse Evaluation competition, after earning second at regionals along with fellow team member Jade Benning (Benning did not compete at state as only four were allowed).
With the state win on April 28, the team will go on to compete at the national level in October. They candidly admitted during an interview with the Wadena Pioneer Journal that they were surprised to place first.
“We just winged it and won state,” Roemmich said. “We did not expect this, actually.”
During a recent FFA meeting, Chapter Advisor Richard Muckala impressed upon students that “this is a big deal,” especially since the last local team to compete at nationals did so seven years ago.
In a year of virtual competitions, the team members all competed in the same room but couldn’t talk to each other about what they were seeing. They viewed pictures of six classes of horses for about four hours, and took quizzes on tack and horse management. Students looked for symmetry and specific markings, colors and patterns while judging the horses.
“In the in-person contest, you would write down a bunch of notes as each class came in and went out, and then you would memorize all your notes because you couldn’t look at your notes,” Koning described. “You’d have to be like, ‘This horse …’ and then you’d give details of, 'That horse placed higher above this horse because such and such.'”
In preparation for nationals, the team is working to better explain the reasons behind their evaluations, since four reasons will be required instead of one, as Muckala said. Members Benning and Roemmich plan to help coach their teammates on this. In 2019, Benning placed second in horse judging at the Agricultural and Natural Resources Activities Day at the University of Minnesota Crookston, earning a $600 scholarship.
Team members said their main way of studying is simply being around horses every day; they pick things up as they ride and watch others ride, compete in pleasure and game contests, and also watch barrel races on television. Assistant FFA Advisor and Horse Team Coach Heidi Wolff said these activities are helpful preparations.
"The longer you ride, you can get a better feel for every different kind of horse."
— Faith Koning
Students are usually involved in FFA for two to four years. Codey and Koning said the social opportunities the organization offers, including traveling to different places and building lasting friendships, are aspects they enjoy about FFA.
“There’s several in here (the horse team) that, their lives revolve around a horse, too,” Muckala said as the students laughed. Four of the five students on the team have their own horses, and all are constantly working with the animals.
After being in 4-H, rodeos and the Western Saddle Clubs Association, Roemmich joined FFA with her sister Michaela and has enjoyed meeting new people. Of course, it also means more horse opportunities as she’s “always been around horses.” She started riding at three years old and her family has owned horses for seven years.
Koning has been a 4-H member for 10 years, including riding in pleasure and game events before adding barrel racing. She’s worked on training young horses, too, and has had a broken collar bone twice already this year.
With plenty of experience, both Benning and Koning described how you can feel a horse tense or if they’re on the wrong lead.
“The longer you ride, you can get a better feel for every different kind of horse,” Koning said.
The national competition is tentatively set in Indianapolis for Oct. 27-30. The opportunity is “pretty cool,” as Berg said. FFA students apart from the Horse Team can also attend the national conference.
“I love working with this team, it’s a great group of kids,” Wolff said.