With a prom dress in one hand and cowboy boots in another, Chena Litzen, 17, was ready to take on her hectic Saturday.
During the day, the team captain for North Wind Riders competed in the 2014 Alaska State 4-H/FFA Horse Contest, an annual competition that took place on the Friday and Saturday at the Kenai Peninsula College and Solid Rock Bible Camp horse arena.
The horse competition had about 40 participants in junior and senior division teams from around the state. They competed in four categories, public speaking, horse bowl, hippology and judging. Teams from Tanana, Delta and the Homer and Ninilchick region descended on the central Kenai Peninsula, which took its turn hosting the contest.
Litzen, a home school student from Nikiski, placed first in an oral reasons presentation in the morning, and then led her team in the horse quiz in the afternoon. Afterwards it was off to the Nikiski prom with her boyfriend who she recruited to be a part of her horse bowl team.
“The deal was if he joined the horse bowl team, I would go to prom with him,” she said. “It was fun I got my cowboy boots in one hand, my dress in the other. Yeah, I’m ready for the day.”
Tobin Sworts, 18, from Palmer, filled in as the fourth member of the North Wind Riders along with Litzen’s sister Penelope, 15, and Makayla Derkevorkian, 17 of Soldotna. The three girls, who placed fourth in horse bowl at the National Western Roundup in Denver, Colo., in January, might have had other things on their minds during the senior division horse quiz Saturday.
Sworts said Litzen mentioned to him that she had been preparing for the horse bowl and needed another team member. Despite not having much horse knowledge, he agreed to join and spent the last few weeks studying in preparation.
“I wasn’t expecting to know a lot and didn’t help out the team too much but it was fun to be part of,” he said. “It was cool to see the level of dedication all the kids had.”
Litzen said her team had an off day competing in the horse bowl while the Homer/Ninilchick Trailblazers, led by coach Katie Matthews won the quiz and qualified for next year’s nationals.
Litzen, who placed third individually in horse bowl at nationals earlier this year, said she was happy to see another team from the Kenai Peninsula move on to compete in the Western Roundup, an experience her team enjoyed.
On Friday, the North Wind Riders won the team judging competition, while Penelope Litzen placed first in individual judging. Geri Litzen, mother of two and coach of the team said she was pleased with her team, which added four new members for their junior squad, three elementary age kids from Nikiski and one from Soldotna Middle School.
“I was proud of their hard work no matter the results,” she said.
Marla Lowder, the 4H state coordinator from Fairbanks, said the Kenai Peninsula participants were excellent hosts this year. Teams from Kodiak and Juneau were not able to travel to the contest, but she said the program on the Kenai Peninsula is getting stronger and attracting younger participants.
Lowder said she created the 400 questions and organized stations for the contest. The study skills and public speaking skills the kids have developed give them valuable life experience, she said.
“Horse judging is my favorite because it teaches kids the most life skills,” Lowder said.
Litzen’s team last hosted the state contest five years ago, when her daughters first became involved with the 4-H horse program.
She said the work of all the volunteers and donations from local businesses made the event a success.
She said they had more volunteers than there were contestants handling jobs like scorekeeping, timing, judging, moderators and food handling. Sweeney’s Clothing donated T-shirts for this year’s horse contest and Charlie’s Pizza in Nikiski provided 15-large pizzas free for all the competitors, she said.
“We had lots of kid’s participation and great support from the community with volunteers and donations it was awesome,” she said. “We are already planning for next year in Juneau, the girls just love it.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org