Sportsmanship Expectations for 4-H Youth & Parents - Bryan Chadd

 The development of sportsmanship is an important part of growing up.  To become contibuting, competent, caring, capable adults, youth must develop sportsmanship.  It is important for people to be fair and generous competitors, good losers and graceful winners.  All participants in 4-H, and other youth programs, are expected to demonstrate each of the following elements of sportsmanship before, during and after their participation.

A.  Conduct:  Demonstrate and maintain high standards of personal behavior and conduct which become you as an individual and as a representative of your family, your club, your community and your 4-H club.

B.  Fairness:  Learn and follow the rules.  Do not cheat.  Be objective, honest and just in evaluating yourself and others.

C.  Honesty:  Be truthful, fair and straightforward in everything you say or do.  Show integrity.  Do not lie or deceive.  Do your own work.  Do not understate or overstate your abilities, skills or accomplishments.

D.  Competition:  Accept that the nature of competition is seeking to get what others are seeking to get.  This involves rivalry between contestants to earn rewards, and results in both winners and losers.

E.  Courtesy:  Be well-mannered in your conduct.  Be respectful, thoughtful, considerate, cooperative, friendly and cheerful in your attitude and behavior, regardless of whether you do well or not, whether you win or lose.  Do not argue with the judges or program organizers.  When you have concerns, questions or suggestions, be polite in expressing them.  Be pleasant and nice toward other participants, spectators, program officials, judge, the media, your leaders, parents and others.  Give others the benefit of the doubt.  Treat people, animals and things kindly.  Hide your humor, and keep your emotions under control.

F.  Graceful Acceptance of Results:  Accept judges' suggestions and the results with a positive attitude.  If you are not selected as a winner or if you receive a lower evaluation than you expect, do not gripe, complain, whine, pout or make excuses.  Congratulate those who do win and who performed better than you did.  Recognize, appreciate and try to learn from the accomplishments and admirable traits of others.  Recognize, learn from and try to improve your own shortcomings.  Do not protest or make accusations unless you have proof and are willing to personally face the person(s) you are accusing.  If you are selected as a winner or receive a higher evaluation than you expect, graciously thank the people who congratulate you.  Be happy but do not gloat, brag, act conceited or downplay your accomplishments.  Finally, regardless of the outcome, thank your parents, leaders, program organizers, sponsors, judges and others who helped you.

WHAT THE COLORS MEAN - Danish Judging System (used in EIEE and other competitions, but not Horse Shows, which use standard competition ribbons)

In most 4-H contests, everyone gets a ribbon:  white, red or blue.  The 4-Hers are evaluated against certain standards, not against one another.  We've had contests were all the kids got blue ribbons and some where all got whites.

A WHITE ribbon does not mean a "poor job."  White means okay, good, average, but much improvement is needed to meet top standards.

A RED ribbon does not mean a "mediocre job."  Red means very good, but still one or two major improvements need to be made to meet top standards.

A BLUE ribbon does mean excellent, meets or nearly meets top standards.

Each ribbon should mean that's the best that 4-Her could do, in that particular activity, at that particular time.  The key is to learn from the experience, feel good about one's self, and move on to do better next time.


Report from the Showgrounds

 UPDATE 2/7/2012

The following article was written after the first few shows last year.  The information is still relevant, but I would also like to make note of the following additions:

Horselover's Park is a challenge as it is open to the public/members for trail riding during shows.  Please note that these horses are not allowed in the arena at any time during a show; a 4-Her riding a non-4-H horse is also not allowed in the arenas or the show grounds.  Bareback riding is not permitted unless the rider is warming up for the bareback class; riding with halters only, and double-riding is also prohibited.  Please also observe general rules of safety, courtesy and etiquette inside and outside the arena.

Parents may enjoy reading the "Dos and Don'ts of Being a 4-H Parent"

Hay, Mavericks and Parents,

We've just completed the first "go-round" of 4-H Shows for the year, one weekend Roping/Gymkhana, the second weekend, Western/English, and one thing stands out in my mind:

Many exhibitors and parents are ignorant of the rules of 4-H showing.

This sounds harsh, but I say this  to catch your attention and keep you (or your child) from being reprimanded, penalized, or, even worse, disqualified due to a seemingly trivial matter.

I saw it happen on several occasions over the past two weekends.  I saw one parent embarrass herself and her child by yelling at the show superintendent because her child violated a dress code rule.  Yes, there are dress code rules!

So I present to you an outline of the rules of the 4-H show ring.  This is by no means a complete list, but an inventory of items that jumped out at me as I, a fellow ignoramus, painstakingly reviewed the Maricopa County  4-H Horse Rulebook after my experiences of the past weekends.   

First, an overview: 


"It is important that the primary usefulness of our 4-H Horse Shows are to provide an opportunity for our 4-H horse project members to demonstrate their horsemanship ability and the type of performance they are able to elicit from their project horse.  While doing this, safety, good taste, sportsmanship and the establishment of a good public image are paramount ."


"The purpose of local shows are to allow 4-H members the opportunity to compete against like skill-level 4-H riders to assess their competencies.  It is not the purpose of the shows to provide an opportunity for coaching or training." 


(General Behavior Statement).."The 4-H Youth Development program is for the development of youth.  This is a time to develop responsibility, learn and demonstrate leadership, acquire and demonstrate skills, improve personal skills, have fun and make friends.  Parents, leaders and club members should encourage and celebrate positive skills exhibited at shows.  Verbal assistance while in the warm-up ring is permitted, but coaching from the rail in judged events is not permitted.  Any positive encouragement is welcome....parents and leaders should minimize "hands on" participation and should be there to encourage and support youth - not do their work.  Leaders will be responsible to maintain and enforce records and rules."

Some Basic Stuff:

 Between all showmanship and riding classes, there will be a 20 minute warm-up and tack change.

  Horses are only to be exercised in assigned areas.  No riding will be permitted in the spectator area.

  Exhibitor must prepare their own animal for all classes except help from members of the family or other 4-H members working along with the exhibitor.  The exhibitor must take the leadership role and participate in the preparation. 

 From the time any project horse enters the grounds no trainer or person other than the 4-H exhibitor may ride the horse (with the exception of roping event).

  Other than the 4-Her, only the Parent, Leader or Family member may lunge the 4-Her's horse.  Lunging only allowed inside closed arenas.

  Potential causes for disqualification:....unsportsmanlike conduct; disrespectful behavior.  Show superintendents and/or judge will determine the ruling.

  The decision of the judge is FINAL. 

Now, to the Nitty-Gritty:  

  Acceptable Saddles, Bits and Equipment: (paraphrased)  

Roping/Gymkhana:  Standard stock saddle and bridle with browband....Snaffle bits allowed regardless of horse's age...

Western:  Standard stock saddle without tapaderos, bridle with browband... Horse 6 years and older must be shown in a curb bit with solid or broken mouthpiece.....Slip or gag type bits, donut and flat polos are not acceptable.  A horse 5 years and under may show in a curb bit, snaffle or bosal...No noseband can be used in conjunction with any western bit.  No martingales, draw reins or tie downs can be used while showing.

English Classes/Hunter:  hunt-seat type saddle and hunter type bridle with a snaffle (no shank), kimberwick, pelham, and/or full bridle with two reins, cavesson nosebands and leather brow bands....No draw reins are permitted.  Standing or running martingales allowed in Over Fence classes (EXCEPT Hunter Hack), but are prohibited in flat classes.  Splint or galloping boots permitted only in over fences classes.

Page 9, #37:  Proper Attire

Western, Roping/Gymkhana Classes

A.  Long sleeved shirts (ROLLED DOWN) and buttoned if cuffed, and collars, jeans or western-type slacks.  In Roping and Gymkhana classes, shirt must be tucked in completely when entering the arena.  No Warning will be give once the member enters the arena to compete!

B.  Western hat or safety hat optional, Absolutely NO BASEBALL CAPS, visors or other head apparel.

C.  Belt Optional                   D.  Western Boots

English Classes

A.  Proper Hunter Coat (can be omitted due to excessive heat at Judge's discretion).  Proper hunter shirt with tie or choker.

B.  Breeches or Jodhpurs

C.  Hunt (dress or field boots), or jodhpur boots/half chaps        D.  Helmet with Safety Harness!

Fancy dress or equipment will not count over a good working outfit that is in neat, clean condition.

Finally, here are some points to remember (again, complete rules are not cited, please read the rules in full in the Rule Book):

Showmanship classes, Western and English (pages 10 & 15)

Only the showman is to be judged.  The horse is merely a prop to show the ability of the showman...Includes leading, posing and showing the horse properly, courteously and with quickness and poise.

Western Pleasure (page 10 & 11):

Horses are to be shown at a walk, jog and lope on a reasonably loose rein without undue restraint...entries shall be penalized for being on the wrong leads.  Excessive speed is to be penalized...The class will be judged on the ability of the contestant to show the horse according to the Judge's instructions and the performance of the horse. Conformation of the horse is not to count in this class...Reins shall be held in one hand and cannot be changed during the class...The free hand shall not be placed on any part of the saddle or horse while being judged.

English Pleasure (page 16):

Horses are to be judged on performance, apparent ability to give a good pleasurable ride, and manners.  Rider's hands should not touch horse or saddle. 

Western and English (flat) Equitation:

Riders will be judged on seat, hands and ability to control and show their horse, and suitability of horse to rider.  Results as shown by the performance of the horse are NOT to be considered more important than the method used by the rider in obtaining them. 

English Equitation over Fences:

The exhibitor will demonstrate their ability in controlling their horse while going over fences at a balanced, even pace while maintaining a safe and suitable Hunt Seat Riding position... The performance of the horse is not to be considered unless it is the result of the rider's ability. 

Hunter Hack:

The horse should be obedient, alert, responsible and move freely.  His style of jumping should be smooth and consistent such that he could be relied on to take its rider over fences in a safe, obedient manner at an even hunting pace.

Three refusals cumulative will eliminate the rider.  The  fall of horse or rider shall disqualify the exhibitor.

Working Hunter over Fences:

The Working Hunter class is designed to test the horse and rider's performance over obstacles found in the hunting field.  It is to be judged on performance and manners...Snaffles with or without dropped nosebands, pelhams or full bridles are permissible....Martingales are permitted in this class.

Objectives and procedures:

1.  The horse is to be judged over a designated course on hunting pace, manners, style of jumping and way of moving. 

12.  The judged course may be used as a practice field AT THE DISCRETION of the show committee. 


Gymkhana events are judged by time

-Contestants must enter and exit the arena at a controlled walk.

-If, after stopping the time at the finish or a run, the contestant crosses the timer again, there will be a NO TIME.  There will not be a rerun.

Tack for gymkhana is as described in General Rules, page 9, #38, however, bits of other styles are subject to the approval of the Judge prior to running the pattern  Judge may disallow equipment considered too severe or unsafe.


I hope this will give you a working understanding of the basic rules of 4-H shows.  As I have given only a framework, however, I strongly suggest you read the complete Rulebook - at least the sections pertaining to your own showing interest.  I did not touch on the areas of proficiency testing and riding classifications.  These are best discussed with your group leader, after you read the rules.

The disqualifications I mentioned at the beginning?  A gymkhana competitor entered the arena at a run; a competitor entered the arena wearing a ballcap; another had her sleeves rolled up (her mom went head-to-head with the show superintendent).  Silly reasons to be DQ'd?  Maybe.  But rules are rules.  Ignorance is not an excuse when you're pleading your case before the judge! 


(by the way, Mavericks members did a great job of "playing by the rules."  Congratulations to everyone who competed these past weekends, and to the parents who brought them to the shows!) 


Respectfully yours,

Tracy Zipay

BV Mavericks co-leader and Horse Advisory Committee member 

Interested in even more Horse Show Rules?  Click HERE for the Arizona STATE Horse Show Rulebook