SUBLETTE COUNTY – Practice makes perfect, it’s often said, and for the Pinedale FFA’s horse-judging teammates, they put together their knowledge and experiences to take the Wyoming state title recently in Cheyenne.
Seniors Zane Hayward and Gavin Masters have judged horses – their confirmation, gaits and abilities – at Wyoming FFA Conventions since they were freshmen. Senior Morgan Rouge had a year under his belt but for freshman Paiyzli Baker, the competition was all new.
The team took the reserve championship in 2021, Hayward said. “We knew if we practiced hard and tried we could do it.”
Hayward was also honored individually with second place overall and winning the “performance horse” judging.
Ag teacher and FFA advisor Anna Campbell, in her first year at Pinedale, gave a shout out to Jen and Gary Hayward, who helped with early morning practices after Campbell was injured last fall getting firewood.
“Since November we’ve been coming to practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have to be here at 6:30 in the morning,” Rouge said.
The four performance classes were reining, hunter under saddle, ranch riding and hunt seat equitation. The halter classes were junior geldings under 3, performance geldings over 4, junior mares under 4 and aged mares over 4.
The teammates all love and have their own horses, belong to Sublette County 4-H clubs and ride as often as possible. And they practice to not only spot a horse’s qualities – or faults – but also watch how the horse moves in different riding events.
“These are career development events,” Campbell said. “They are designed to set students up for a career in agriculture, which would be specific to each individual but it gives them other skills, like public speaking and leadership. Within the ag industry, especially within the cattle industry, horses are a really important part of having a successful business.”
They might go on to become certified judges, horse trainers and ranchers.
Hayward will use the skills throughout life – “No doubt I’ll be buying and training horses my entire life, so knowing how to judge will help me pick out a good one when I go buy one.”
Baker agreed with Hayward. “It helps you look for good things when buying a horse and teaches you leadership because it’s a new skill you can have.”
Rouge likes “being able to say exactly what you want and how you want it.” And those early-morning practices were steps to achieve a goal, important in any career.
“It’s important to remember the classes in your head, take good notes and being prepared for what you’re going to say,” Rouge said. “We practiced a lot on ‘reasons.’”
“Reasons” – with sets of three for each placement – are the make-or-break portion of the team’s success.
“You have to actually know what you are looking at,” Baker said.
Hayward explained, “Confidence is the key. Everything is based upon an opinion; you have to believe 100 percent when you give your reasons. … Not everybody gives a good set of reasons.”
Organizing these mentally takes lot of work, according to Masters. “You’re seeing both the good and bad qualities of a horse and then remembering them for an hour after seeing them.”
They enjoy what they’ve learned from FFA and going to State.
“It prepares us for public speaking, on the way we speak, our terminology and word choices,” Masters said. “It allows us to meet other people from around the state, which will give us connections as we progress through life.”
Campbell is proud of the team’s accomplishments and the four will keep sharp for the National FFA convention in Indianapolis, in late October, when they represent the entire state of Wyoming.