By Rick Sobey
PEPPERELL -- Julia Harriman of the 4-H Pepperell Trailblazers and a junior at Lunenburg High School, participated in the 4-H Horse Show last weekend at the Big E in West Springfield.
In addition to showing her horse, named TH Spiked With Class, Harriman took the General Knowledge Test, Quiz Bowl and Horse Judging and was a public ambassador in the 4-H barn.
4-H is one of the largest youth-development programs in America with more than 6.5 million students, ages 5-19, and 540,000 youth and adult volunteers. 4-H aims to help students experiment, innovate and think independently through practical, "learn by doing" experiences.
The Big E runs for more than two weeks every fall and is the largest fair in the Northeast. The Big E hosts more than 3,000 4-H participants from New England.
The Sentinel and Enterprise recently caught up with Harriman, 16, to learn about her Big E experience and her deep interest in horse shows.
Q: How did you become interested in horse shows?
A: When I was little, I always really liked horses. I learned how to ride one summer, fell in love with the sport, and then joined 4-H a year after I started riding when I was 8. That's where I began showing and spread out and learned about the Big E.
Q: How was your time at the Big E?
A: It was a lot of fun. There was a good amount of competition, so I went in there and gave it my best. I came in some pretty good places in different categories, like top three in handiness, fourth place in command and top 10 in horsemanship.
Q: What did you do as a 4-H ambassador at the Big E?
A: I sat in the barn, opened the horses' door, talked to them about 4-H and showed them what goes on behind the scenes in 4-H. Most people don't even know what 4-H is because it's not common around here. 4-H is a really awesome thing, and I told them all about the community service we do. We've helped clean up a church, helped at a therapeutic riding barn, done Christmas caroling at a nursing home and food drives.
Q: What have you learned through 4-H?
A: I've learned how to be a leader. I've been the president of the club and run the monthly meetings. I'm in charge of having them participate in and choose fundraisers and community service. And public speaking, that's been a real big thing. I'm doing this presentation competition on horse racing, and I've gotten much better at public speaking because of 4-H.
Q: What goes into the presentation competition?
A: We can do a visual presentation on any topic. My partner and I went to the state competition and presented against teams from across the state. We won and will be going to Kentucky to compete in the national competition, which is really exciting. We chose horse racing because we don't really know a lot about it. It's a lot different from horse shows, and horse racing is not common in Massachusetts. It's a pretty interesting topic. So they judge us on how well we present, how clean our boards are, how well we speak in front of people. We need to memorize the whole presentation.
Q: Would you ever be interested in horse racing?
A: No, I like the Western style, being laid back and calm. And in horse racing you need to be really tiny, under 100 pounds and under 5 feet 4 inches, so I don't even fit in that category. I've seen races at Saratoga Springs, and it's pretty exhilarating, a lot different from what I do.
Q: How do you prepare for horse shows?
A: It takes a lot of work. I ride my horse almost every day at White Oak Stables in Leominster. I give Spike baths to make sure everything's clean. I brush him, get chunks of dirt off, wrap his legs, and then work on his weaknesses for the show. I try to make him as perfect as possible, so when we get to the show he's as perfect as can be.
Q: What did Spike need work on?
A: A year and a half ago, when we bought him, Spike was very malnourished. He needed to be brought back to proper weight, getting trained and building up his muscle and endurance. Now he's 17 and a really good boy. He rides and moves well, is very calm and is doing a great job. Halfway through there were some health issues, but we got through it.
Q: What does it feel like knowing that you helped turn Spike around?
A: It's really rewarding because I did everything all by myself with him. It can be so many years in the working, but when you put it all together, it's really great. Horses are a big responsibility, and I hope to make a career out of it.
Q: What would you like to do in the future with horses?
A: I'm looking at going to any agricultural school and being a veterinary technician or doing therapy for horses. It's not common, but a great thing to get into.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter and Tout @rsobeyLSun.