PA 4-H Horse Show Turns Fifty!
The news horse owners need to know – published 12x a year. Read by 38,000+ horse owners in Pennsylvania and beyond. Don’t miss another issue,
subscribe today
Have each issue of Pennsylvania Equestrian sent to your home or farm. Just a one-time charge of $20.
Don't miss another issue
American Horse Publications Award
Pennsylvania Equestrian Honored for Editorial Excellence
click for more

PA 4-H Horse Show Turns Fifty!

October 2009

The Pennsylvania 4-H Horse Show turns fifty this year, and 4-H'ers, volunteers and leaders will celebrate throughout the three-day event, October 23-25 at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, PA. There will be recognition of those who participated in the first show, as well as displays of early programs, early tack and other memorabilia.

Donna Zang, County Extension Director in Butler County and chair of the State 4-H Horse Show 50th Anniversary Committee, said, "We want this to be a special celebration of the people who have worked hard to make the show possible for 50 years, and a recognition of the growth and expansion of the show over the years. We are especially happy to have some of the riders from the early shows coming to Harrisburg to be part of this celebration."

When the show first started, it was part of the Pennsylvania Livestock Exposition (now Keystone International Livestock Exhibition, KILE) having begun as an extension of county 4-H horse programs. In 1978, the show received its own funding from the state legislature, and the show has been expanded from one day to three days. The judges for the first show were Byron Good and Gregory Gagarin. There were 168 kids from 36 counties entered on 170 horses (two 4-H'ers used two horses) in 20 classes. The show now hosts nearly 900 4-H'ers and boasts 141 classes, with 49 performance and 92 production classes.

The final show with KILE was held in 1977 and the show committee consisted of James Gallagher, PSU, Chairman; Mrs. C. M. Dubs, Mechanicsburg; Richard Ely, Jenners; Carroll Howes, PSU; and Melvin Love, Danville. 

Pat Comerford, Extension Horse Specialist,  said, "The 50th Anniversary of the Pennsylvania State 4-H Horse Show is a celebration of people - the volunteers and professionals who have brought the show to life and the youth that have participated over the years.  The late Jim Gallagher, former Penn State Extension Horse Specialist, was instrumental to the growth and development of the 4-H Horse Program and the state show for many years through 1990. Jim's influence is still alive in the program and he is fondly remembered by many. We can be proud of the accomplishments of all that have been associated with the show over the years. We look forward to celebrating this milestone and promoting a strong program for future generations. "

Dosie Cox, Clinton County 4-H leader and volunteer for over 30 years, is one 4-H'er who was there for the beginning. She said she participated in a "parade class" representing Cambria County where she grew up as Nedra Bloom (marriage and a nickname changed her to Dosie Cox).  "I remember what I was wearing – a purple stretch suit with white trim which I had borrowed from a friend," she says with a laugh.

Her involvement with the equine industry traces to her grandfather who was a horse trader, and continues with her grandson, Joe Rankinen, 14, who will show in this year's state horse show, making it five generations who have worked with horses. Her grandfather, John B. Bloom, was on the Farm Show committee and also worked with KILE.

She traveled with her grandfather to meetings, and remembers that when they started the show they established classes, "then beat the bushes to try to get participants." She contends that's how she got to go in the first "parade" class where she earned a ninth place, adding, "The show was much smaller then."

Her three children, David Cox, Ann Brunner and Amy Rankinen, were all in 4-H . Her father Fred M. Bloom worked with the Appalachian Wagon Train.

An enthusiastic spokesman for the merits of 4-H and horse shows, Cox says, "4-H'ers learn to work to win, but to be a good sport and enjoy themselves along the way. They learn to work in a group and set goals and they learn to handle adversity. They also learn parliamentary procedure, something that was invaluable to my kids."

She said that while the horse program is important to kids, it is also important to the larger community – there is a great deal of money that is added to the economy through the equine industry and the program produces children who know how to accomplish something without someone telling them what to do.

Kathy Myers Brown, now in West Virginia, would have participated in the first horse show, but though she qualified, her horse became ill and she couldn't show. She recalls, "I was every bit as shattered then as a young person would be today." Her fortunes rose, however, and she showed four or five continuous years after that.

She became a 4-H leader in Centre County, where there was just one horse club, and became friends with the late Jim Gallagher who was instrumental in organizing and promoting the horse show. She became a youth advisor for the Pennsylvania Quarter Horse Association, helped horses become part of Ag Progress Days, worked hard to establish the therapeutic riding program and, generally, became a strong advocate for the horse program. At the time she ran Ka My Stables in Bellefonte, originally raising broodmares and operating it as a teaching and training center. She co-chaired the state horse show with Pat Comerford for 20 years.

Brown said the horse show has evolved over the years, becoming more competitive as greater numbers of 4-H'ers have horse projects. She said, "The level of sophistication, skill and level of commitment by parents and kids is phenomenal. There are tremendous opportunities for kids in the 4-H horse program. I am very firm in my belief that the program has grown all in good ways."

As a judge who has traveled the country, Brown says Pennsylvania's state show is unique, reflecting the diversity and educational value of the 4-H horse program. A particular joy for Brown is to read horse publications and see the names of young people who came through the program and the show and who have become noted professionals in the industry.

Duane Duncan, retired County Extension Director from Cumberland County, said, "Participation in the horse program is quite meaningful to the 4-H'ers. Like any animal project, it requires a long-term commitment in caring for the animal. The District and State shows provide a lot of opportunity for everyone." Over 1300 horses have qualified for this year's state show, according to Duncan, all having come through regional and district shows.

Nancy Kadwill, Montgomery County Extension Educator, has been around the show for about 35 years, and says what she loves about the show is the inclusion of the performance and production show, the therapeutic riding division and availability of driving classes. "These additions help more kids to have opportunities, allowing more to qualify for the state show."

She noted that the addition of events like the educational clinics, the silent auction, the  shopping with vendors and the model horse show all allow more members to feel part of the show. She added, "It gives friends and family something to do besides just see the classes.  And the decorated stalls contest and good housekeeping awards allow more kids to participate and have a purpose to be there. It helps make it more of a social event."

Dick Ely, Somerset County, has served as a national horse show judge for many years, and said, "The Pennsylvania 4-H horse show is one of the premier shows in the country." He praised the 4-H horse program as a good way for young people to learn a lifetime sport. He has served as a steward over the years, answering questions pertaining to the show and interpreting the rules for participants. He looks forward to being there again this year, and seeing 4-H'ers who have gone on to become judges as well as the volunteers he has made friends with over the years.

Sally Winckelman, Malvern, Chester County, has been a 4-H leader for 43 years, and has helped with the state horse show, including having served on the development committee. She now is a steward. She remembers the separation from KILE, saying the horse show was always the last show of the event when the two were together.

She is leader of the Northern Chester County 4-H horse club, the largest in Chester County, and both her son and daughter were horse club members. Her children both served on the horse judging team, and value the time their spent in 4-H.

She explains the value of the 4-H program. "4-H'ers learn sportsmanship, including how to lose. Traveling to the state show is a reward for doing a good job – it is not easy to get there – and once there, they meet kids from all over the state. The whole experience is a growth process.

"It's a great program. I enjoy the kids, enjoy their growth and I enjoy the parents. It's fun to watch young people grow up."

Zang notes that much of the success of the show is due to the continued enthusiasm and commitment of the volunteers, some of whom have been helping throughout the 50 years.

Dr. Terry Etherton, head of Penn State's Department of Dairy and Animal Science said, "The Pennsylvania State 4- H horse show has been an incredibly valuable part of Penn State's   4-H program.  It has helped thousands of youth learn important leadership skills over the 50 years.   I congratulate the organizers on this milestone, and commend all of the volunteers who have contributed greatly to its growth and success over the years."

Organizers invite those who participated in early shows to attend the celebration during the 2009 Horse Show in Harrisburg. For more information, visit  or contact Donna Zang, at

[top of page]