by Allie Seligman - Jan. 28, 2012 06:44 AM
The Republic | azcentral.com
Twice a week, 29 kids saddle up in a large arena tucked into a Tempe neighborhood.
Most of the space, the main arena, is covered in soft dirt mixed with wood shavings. Trees surround a second, smaller arena and horse stables.
This is where the Buena Vista Mavericks — a 4-H club made up of kids from Ahwatukee, Chandler and Tempe — practice riding, jumping and caring for their horses.
“This is a thing that just really blew me away when my daughter joined three years ago,” Ahwatukee parent Tracy Zipay said. “It is such a great program, and we know there’s a lot of kids out there (who ride horses), believe it or not, that don’t really know the program exists.”
Zipay’s daughter, 16-year-old Haley, joined the Mavericks soon after she got her first horse.
“She loved horses all her life, and we finally leased a horse for her for a few months, then decided to go ahead and take the plunge and buy her one,” Zipay said.
Zipay had a horse as a child and knew her daughter would need some help learning to ride and care for the animal.
“I did not want her just going to the stable and trying to figure out things on her own, nor did I wanted to get involved in lessons and training, which gets very expensive,” Zipay said. “I wanted her to have the opportunity to grow so I said let’s check out some 4-H clubs.”
Zipay was in 4-H as a kid and remembered how much fun she had riding with friends in a non-competitive way. They found the Mavericks, and Haley liked that several members focused on English-style riding. Members can choose one of five disciplines — roping, ranch sorting, English, Western and gymkhana — and all are represented in the Mavericks, Zipay said.
Haley said the club’s biweekly meetings start with updates on the club and short presentations from members. Each member is required to give a three- to five-minute talk during the year on an aspect of the horse industry.
Then the three Mavericks leaders help students learn a new skill. A few weeks ago, Haley said, they worked on leg-strengthening exercises. The club also hosts skills clinics for riders from all over Maricopa County.
Haley rides 14-year-old Shamado and almost 3-year-old Echo, whom she got about two years ago.
Members also travel to different cities for national 4-H meetings and competitions. In November, Haley and Brittany Gerald of Chandler went to Atlanta for the National 4-H Congress. Earlier this month, four Horizon Honors High School students helped Arizona 4-H win seventh place at the Western National Roundup in Denver.
Senior Shea Bontrager took third in the demonstration contest, with presentation on barrel racing. Haley and senior Hannah Brzezinski won seventh place in the “Jeopardy”-style Horse Bowl competition. Junior Molly Brzezinski was a part of the Horse Judging Team.
Haley said the competitions in other states are a good way to meet people from around the country who are interested in the same things she is.
“It’s really fun being with a bunch of other people who know the stuff that you do,” she said. “I got to have some really fun games of hangman with various horse terms.”
Members can be in 4-H until they turn 18, and Haley said she can see herself becoming a club leader then.
“You get to meet all these really fun people, and you just want to keep doing it,” she said.
Members also learn about grooming, leadership and about the horsing industry, Zipay said.
On Feb. 12, the Mavericks will host its Neighborhood Gymkhana fundraiser from 2 to 6 p.m. Riders will participate in barrel racing and pole bending, and there will be refreshments and a silent auction to benefit the club’s education fund and Heifer International.