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MADISON — A year's worth of work comes down to three days at the Madison County Fair’s 4-H/FFA horse show, but exhibitors do not do it alone.
It is a family affair.
"They need their parents to support their habit," said DeAnna Irish of Norfolk, who has volunteered at the horse show for 15 years.
Irish supported her children during all of their years in 4-H and she continues to be the leader of the Bits-N-Bridles 4-H club in Madison County and act as the announcer at the three-day show.
"It's the one place to show what they have learned and accomplished over the year," she added.
With the show starting at 9 a.m. on Wednesday through Friday, horse show exhibitors spend most of those days on their horses.
"It kind of gets boring at times," said exhibitor Logan Bussey of Norfolk, who is in his fifth year showing at the fair.
Many of the horse show classes Logan and the other exhibitors compete in require that riders take turns completing a course or task on their horse. Going through the large number of riders one-by-one can take a while, he said.
Taking a week off of work, Shelly Bussey — Logan's mother — has helped him prepare for the fair. His 10-year-old sister, Lexie, is also showing cooking and sewing projects at the fair and watching him compete.
It takes money to bring Logan to the show, but Logan's mother said she would not miss it. The Madison County Fair serves as a yearly vacation for her family.
"It's fun to watch them," she said during the horse show Wednesday. "But it makes me nervous because you want them to do good."
The family affair does not stop there.
Logan's grandfather, Leroy Meyer of Norfolk, also spends the week at the fair. Meyer furnishes horses for his grandson to ride and helps prepare them for the show by trimming their hooves and hair and providing Logan tips throughout the week.
The whole process is a lot of work, Meyer said. "It gets to be a long week. Day and night we're down here," he said.
Horses at the Madison County Fair are required to be stalled at the fairgrounds Wednesday afternoon through Sunday morning.
Exhibitors have to care for their animals, just as they would do at home, and each 4-H club is judged on herdsmanship — or how well their animals are cared for and how clean their areas are.
Irish said the herdsmanship judging shows how proud each member is to be a part of their club.
"They learn to be a unit instead of individuals," she said.
In terms of her role, Irish said, "I want to pass on the knowledge I have of horses and how important 4-H can be as you become an adult. It makes you a more well rounded person."
As well as building friendships within the clubs, 4-H exhibitors learns from and bond with those they are competing against, said Karen Arkfeld of Battle Creek, leader of the Elkhorn Valley 4-H club in Madison County.
Arkfeld has been a “horse show mother” for 15 years. Throughout this time, the school teacher said she has learned it is best to stay focused on the children.
"It's fun to watch the little kids and to make sure they don't get discouraged. It's also a commitment of the families," she said.
One 4-H member who shows that commitment is Katrina Olmer of Norfolk, who has shown at the fair’s 4-H/FFA horse show for 10 years. She started as one of those little kids, and at the show on Wednesday she said it was definitely worth it.
"It creates good memories. I know most of the people in my class, and although I feel like I'm working non-stop, you always make that time to relax," she said.
Olmer's hard work and dedication have paid off. The horseback rider qualified to go to the Nebraska State 4-H Horse Show to compete in showmanship, western pleasure and horsemanship.
This kind of success came after long hours in the saddle, Olmer said. She rides five times a week in the spring, and once school is out for the summer, she rides every day.
Olmer and Logan were scheduled to compete again Thursday and Friday. Their challenges Thursday? English riding classes, trail, reining, poles and barrels — all in the grandstand arena.
On Friday, 4-H horse exhibitors will compete in showmanship, halter, walk-trot, western pleasure, western horsemanship, western riding pony pleasure and 2- and 3-year-old snaffle bit — all of which will take place in the east arena.