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Our Illinois 4-H Story

Looking back as a horse bowl and hippology alumna

As the horse bowl and hippology season in Illinois nears its culmination in the state competition this weekend, the efforts of dedicated 4-Hers are soon to be rewarded.

Every year, horse-crazy 4-H members from around the state of Illinois spend the fall, winter, and spring preparing for a rigorous competition where they showcase their equine knowledge. After eight straight seasons of my participation, I am taking this first season as a program alumna to reflect on my past experiences and lifelong gains from involvement in these outstanding programs.

In Illinois, the horse bowl and hippology competitions take place in conjunction. While horse bowl is like quiz (scholastic) bowl in that a team of 4-Hers work together to answer horse-related questions, hippology is a contest where individuals work through a series of different testing styles demonstrating their equine knowledge. The events move forward from regional to state levels for the junior division, while top senior division participants can advance to the national level. These events not only create the next generation of well-spoken horse people, but also foster the development of an abundance of other practical life skills.

I remember one day vividly, towards the beginning of the year in my 6th grade biology class. The teacher said we would be learning about mitosis and meiosis that day in class, and I remember feeling so ahead of the game as my classmates struggled for several weeks to fully understand a biological process that I had understood since at least two years prior. We had gone over these concepts in my weekly horse bowl and hippology practices because basic biology was an important part of learning about the anatomy and physiology of the horse.

The state competition gives 4-Hers the opportunity to learn more about horses and the horse industry, as well as improve their study skills and test-taking abilities, gain confidence to orally defend their decisions, and work with teammates to complete tasks in a set amount of time. As a result of participating in these competitions, I have become increasingly efficient in both studying and test-taking at the high school and even college level. My teamworking skills and public speaking abilities have proved to be extremely valuable as I continue my professional development. I know that I owe these abilities to my full participation in horse bowl and hippology over the span of my 4-H career.

Participation in the senior division of the state competition also gives you the opportunity to participate at the national level if your scores merit. While the state competition is extremely valuable to any student who chooses to participate, the national contest allows for a different kind of growth. The national team is composed of the highest placing individuals and allows for team-bonding between 4-H members from different areas of the state. It also allows these individuals to become more connected to coaches and 4-H faculty. I was also able to tour equine facilities around the country such as Keeneland Racetrack and Churchill Downs, and I got to meet with and learn from horse industry professionals from Kentucky, as well as professors and faculty at the University of Illinois.

Horse bowl and hippology was ultimately one of the biggest forces in my inspiration to attend the University of Illinois. After traveling to Champaign for many years in a row to participate in the state competition, I fell in love with the campus and faculty. This year, I am a freshman on campus in the agricultural communications major. I am also employed at both the horse research farm and large animal veterinary clinic, as I continue to expand my equine knowledge every day. This year, I am able to look at the state competition from a different perspective as I help prepare campus for the competition and will serve as a volunteer on contest day. My greatest hope is that 4-Hers will become just as engrossed in and inspired from this event as I was and continue to make the horse industry a better one as they continue in their growth, both in general life skills and in equine knowledge.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Olivia Charles attends the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana to study agricultural communications. In high school, she was an eight-year member of Carroll County’s horse bowl and hippology team in Northwestern Illinois. She also competed at Eastern National 4H Horse Roundup in horse judging, horse formal speech, and hippology. Last year, she was the national champion individual in hippology. In 4H, she participated heavily in the equine and rabbit projects, and served on her county’s Youth Leadership Team as the President.