Ag Talk: Weld County 4-H horse judging team leaves a lasting legacy

Bill Jackson
Greeley, Colo.

This is a remarkable group of young ladies who came together as a team, and the coaches who were fortunate enough to assist them realize it may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Marissa Bartmann of Windsor, Aubrey Lind of Eaton, Kristen Schmidt of Greeley and Megan Seltzer of Briggsdale comprised the Weld County 4-H Horse Judging and Hippology team.

They won state championships in horse judging and hippology at the Colorado 4-H Conference in Fort Collins last June, adding to the 4-H Horse Bowl championship they had won in 2009.

But that was just the start.

Coached by Teresa Johnson of Greeley as the hippology and horse bowl team and by Dave Moore of Greeley as the horse judging team, the teens did not finish below fourth in any of the four national contests they entered the past year – in Oklahoma, Ohio and Kentucky – and ended their career during the National Western Stock Show by winning the Western 4-H Roundup Horse Judging Contest. It was that contest where they took the top four spots in reasons, where team members have to explain to a judge why they placed horses where they did.

A sweep like that is unheard of and may have been the first time it’s ever happened, Moore, himself a member of a horse judging team as a 4-H’er back in the day, pointed out.

Johnson has been coaching teams for probably longer than she’d like to admit.

“I’ve had some good teams over the years, including ones where my daughters were on,” she said. “But I think it would be awfully hard to have another team like this one. It’s hard to commit to the time it takes and it’s not just the girls, they had the commitment of their families behind them. It might have been a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

Moore said virtually the same thing after the team won at Denver.

But, at the same time, Johnson said she doesn’t discount the team that she has coming up.

“They are hard workers, and with time, they too will be competitive,” she said.

Johnson said while it seems like this last team did it all at once, she worked with the four girls for almost five years.

“It takes that kind of dedication to become a competitive team. I remember when I first told them that they wouldn’t be competitive for two to three years, they were dumbfounded. But the breadth of knowledge that it takes for a horse bowl or hippology team to succeed is unrecognized until you have done it,” Johnson said.

Looking at horses and judging them against what the perfect horse would be is one thing, but hippology is an entirely different event.

Team members have to take a written examination where they are required to identify breeds of horses, health conditions, conformation faults, color, color patterns and then answer anatomy questions. In another part of the contest, they had to identify various types of saddles, tack, tools and equipment, grains and forages used in equine feed rations, internal and external parasites, ages of horses based on teeth, and a variety of other items that could be tossed in for good measure.

Johnson said there were a lot of things she could help the girls with in books, but they also got help from Wade Shoemaker of Countryside Large Animal Veterinary Service and at the veterinary school at Colorado State University.

Shoemaker let the girls observe four or five times at the clinic in Greeley, and a veterinary student at CSU got them in the anatomy laboratory at the vet school.

“You can look at pictures all day long, but until you actually see the anatomy firsthand, it doesn’t really register,” Johnson said. It also helps that the cumulative grade-point average of the four girls exceeds 4.0, and they are all taking college-level classes at their respective schools.

Bartmann and Lind are high school seniors while Schmidt and Seltzer are juniors. In addition to 4-H, they also are involved in their respective FFA chapters, as well as other activities in and out of school.

Johnson said in all there were more than 200 individuals, businesses and others who supported the team in one way or another the past year or more, and without that kind of support it would not have been possible for the girls to compete in the four national contests.

If you have ideas for this column, call Bill Jackson at (970) 392-4442.