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Animal Science Programs for Youth Build Life Skills

by Katie VanderKolk, Michigan State University Extension

Since the inception of 4-H programs, we have touted that youth who are involved in animal science projects gain valuable life skills through animal ownership and exhibition. However, what we inherently know and what we can prove through evaluation data were two separate things. In order to prove that participation in animal science programs builds youth’s life skills, researchers have been evaluating the impact that 4-H animal science programs have made in the lives of youth who have participated in animal science programs.

4-H animal science alumni were surveyed within five years of their last 4-H experience and related exactly what researchers had hypothesized. In a series of questions about their 4-H experience, alumni identified that 4-H had helped them accept responsibility, influenced their ability to work with others, and helped develop their skill in decision making and public speaking (Knowlton-Ward, 1996).

Michigan 4-H animal science programs are also actively collecting data to begin to tell our own story of how 4-H impacts the lives of youth right here in Michigan. In 2011, the State 4-H Dog and Goat show participants were asked to complete an evaluation asking how preparing for and participating in the animal show helped them set goals for themselves and their projects, increase their self-esteem, enhance their decision-making skills and network with people who share the same interests. Eighty percent of participants reported that they had set goals for themselves and their project animal to accomplish during the show. Additionally, 60 percent of participants reported that they had increased their decision-making skills and met new people who share the same interests.

Why is this important? As youth development programs evolve and change to meet the needs of youth and society, the primary basis of our programs—to help youth develop skills that will allow them to be successful in a complex and changing world—remains very strong in animal science programs.

We are fast approaching spring, which brings with it a cadre of opportunities for youth to continue to develop and hone their skills through participation in 4-H. Some events that are listed on our calendar include 4-H Poultry Palooza which is a statewide poultry show and poultry skill contest that 4-H members from across the state can compete in. A complete electronic calendar of youth Animal Science events is available. The State 4-H Goat Expo and State 4-H Rabbit and Cavy Expo contests are held on the campus of MSU and are truly tests of a youth’s knowledge and skill in their respective project area. Participants compete in a series of contests that allow them to demonstrate their concept mastery and problem-solving skills relating to their project.

Information regarding upcoming activities and events in Michigan 4-H Animal Science programs is available through Michigan State University Extension.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

Adult Leader Resources by eXtension HorseQuest

The Horse Adult Leader Training and Educational Resource (HALTER) Program is a progressive series of lessons designed to offer equine science information, student activities, and techniques to foster positive youth development. HALTER encourages dialogue in Lesson One with the Positive Youth Development Forum where you can ask questions, share ideas, and lessons learned with eXtension and others enrolled in the lesson.

Once you have successfully completed each level, and their associated requirements, you will receive a certificate of completion.

While the majority of the lessons in each module are “stand alone” and do not require a textbook, we do suggest the American Youth Horse Council (AYHC) Horse Industry Handbook and companion AYHC Youth Leaders Manual to anyone actively involved in working with youth and horses. These resources may be referred to from time to time and are available at:

For more information on the HALTER program please visit: eXtension Halter Program.

Youth Horse Organizations by eXtension HorseQuest

There are many youth organizations in the United States that provide opportunities for youth to learn about horses. Some of the organizations are exclusive to horses, and others provide opportunities to learn about a wide range of other subjects in addition to horses.


4-H is the youth development arm of the Cooperative Extension Service, and the largest youth serving organization in the United States, with over 7 million members. 4-H programs provide opportunities for youth to learn about horses while developing important life skills necessary for life success. Many other projects are also available through 4-H. For more information or to join 4-H, contact the county extension office in your community. You can also visit

Horse and rider winning a trophy in a western class

Pony Club

Pony Club is a youth organization that is organized in clubs throughout the country. Programs are offered in:

  • Dressage

  • Eventing

  • Show jumping

  • Mounted games

  • Tetrathlon

  • Quiz

  • Vaulting

  • Foxhunting

  • Polocrosse

For more information, check out the Pony Club official website.

Young rider and pony clearing a jump


FFA is an organization that is a part of agricultural education in classrooms throughout the country. FFA provides an opportunity for youth to develop leadership, personal growth, and career success through involvement in agriculture. Many FFA programs have opportunities for youth to use their horses, or an interest in horses, as part of their learning. For more information on FFA, refer to the National FFA Organization.

FFA member judging a horse

Breed Youth Organizations Most of the major breed associations have a program geared specifically toward its youth members. These programs typically involve educating young members about the breed, as well as connecting youth with opportunities available through the organization. Often, scholarships are available as well. For more information on breed youth programs, contact your breed association.

Some popular youth breed organizations include:

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