(07/11/22) GONZALES, La. — Chip the horse has some interesting habits.
He loves peppermint candy, and his ears perk up whenever he hears the sound of a wrapper rattling. And he’s known to randomly stick his tongue out — something that always puts a smile on the face of his owner, Aliegh Pourciau.
These are just a couple of Chip’s endearing traits that Pourciau, an 11-year-old 4-H’er from Vermilion Parish, has picked up on during the long hours the two have spent preparing for horse shows — most recently, the LSU AgCenter State Horse Show.
She was among the 4-H and FFA members from across Louisiana who gathered July 5 to 8 in Gonzales for the annual AgCenter show. Youth were able to enter a variety of events — from showmanship to dressage to rodeo-inspired pole-bending and goat-tying contests.
Each event highlighted a different skill set, and show organizers have added new categories in recent years to appeal to a wider audience.
Youth advance to the state show after competing at the parish and district level. So what does it take to make it to the top?
“A lot of patience,” said Alexis Guin, 17, a Webster Parish 4-H’er. “A lot of late nights in the arena.”
The hard work pays off in more ways than one. Over the years, AgCenter agent Hilton Waits has seen many of his 4-H’ers in Vermilion Parish learn critical life lessons as they get ready for horse shows.
“One of the biggest things that the horse project teaches is the importance of preparation,” Waits said. “You cannot just go get your horse out of the barn or out of the pasture and, because they rode well a week ago, expect them to perform at a high level at the show.”
Horse project participants learn that listening to feedback can help them improve. Taking care of animals helps them develop a strong sense of responsibility. And they learn about agriculture and livestock.
“It’s important that people understand and know those industries,” Waits said. “They’re a valuable, valuable part of our society.”
Young riders tend to form close bonds with their horses. Many of the animals stay in families for years, and it’s not uncommon for multiple siblings — and even generations — to show the same horse.
“We’ve got horses here in the barn that have been shown at this show for over 20 years,” Waits said. “Maybe they’ve changed ownership, but that’s kind of unique that those horses are still providing a positive learning experience and still performing for different kids.”
Guin was at the state show with Booster — the same horse her sister showed before her. She considers him a member of the family.
Guin’s favorite contest is trail riding. Participants have to ride in certain patterns, lead their horses over obstacles like poles and ride using different gaits. It’s a high-skill event that highlights the importance of practicing and bonding with horses.
“They do have a mind of their own,” Guin said. “But you have to just kind of trust the process and trust that they’ll take care of you, and luckily, I’ve been blessed. He takes care of me.”
When Pourciau first got Chip about two years ago, “I didn’t really know how he worked.” But she was patient and took time to get to know him and his habits.
“I give him peppermints a lot as a treat,” she said. “He knows I’m his ‘mother.’ I can just pet him and walk somewhere, and he’ll follow me. I’ve learned to love him.”
For Waits, it’s rewarding to watch youngsters put their skills on display at the big show.
“I love to see young people on horseback getting out there riding. It’s not easy. It can be very scary. I see them accomplishing so much,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll put that into their memory bank and use that the rest of their life — that they can do anything if they practice and prepare.”
LSU AgCenter 4-H agent Hilton Waits, left, looks over 4-H’er Aliegh Pourciau’s horse, Chip, during the AgCenter State Horse Show July 7 at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
A contestant rides in the pole-bending event during the LSU AgCenter State Horse Show July 5 at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter