Kirsten Jeansson has had a fondness for horses as long as she can remember. “I’ve always loved horses, and constantly wanted to be around them, so I began taking lessons sporadically in elementary school,” the 16-year-old Tri-Boro 4-H Club member says. “I started consistently riding in fifth grade and haven’t stopped since.”
Beginning her junior year at Seneca High School in Tabernacle, Jeansson will continue sharing her passion as this year’s New Jersey State 4-H Equestrian of the Year. The annual contest is an ambassador program that encourages 4-H members to become well-rounded individuals in the equine field.
It’s divided into junior (grades 4 through 8) and senior (grades 9 through 12) divisions, and requires applicants to go through multiple rigorous steps, including an interview and speech.
As Equestrian of the Year, Jeansson’s responsibilities will include serving on the Horse Project Advisory Council as a youth representative, running and organizing projects, attending county award programs and more.
“I look forward to becoming more involved in the 4-H Horse Project on the state level,” Jeansson says. “I hope to visit 4-H horse events across the state and encourage others to enter the contest at the county level. This contest has given me so many skills, including how to be confident in an interview and think on the spot, and these are skills I wouldn’t have been able to learn elsewhere at such a young age.”
The New Jersey State 4-H Equestrian of the Year contest follows the model of 4-H to build great character from a young age, focusing on equine. The contest requires a written resume and essay, an individual interview and a four- to six-minute stage presentation from each candidate based on a question given beforehand. Each New Jersey county is invited to enter one candidate in the competition.
“To prepare for the interview, my friends and family helped me by asking me mock questions,” Jeannson says. “The speech involved a lot of preparation, and I wrote mine a month ahead of time.”
In her winning essay, Jeansson touched on not only her interest and passion for horses, but also how 4-H helped her pursue that interest while coaxing her out of her shell and teaching life skills such as public speaking.
“All I ever wanted was to be around horses, and 4-H enabled that. Without 4-H, I never would have met the people who are now my best friends. In 2010, I entered the Junior Equestrian of the Year contest, and I won first runner-up. 4-H public presentations had improved my public speaking skills tremendously, and it showed. The next year I tried again, and I won! I consider being honored with Sportsmanship awards on both the county and state level in 2011 as one of my greatest accomplishments.”
Though Jeansson is an active 4-H member, currently participating in three different clubs and the Work-to-Ride program, which gives kids without access to horses the opportunity to ride and care for a horse, she first entered the Equestrian of the Year contest in 2010 to become even more involved in the 4-H community. Jeansson was also selected as this year’s Burlington County Farm Fair Queen, and hopes to overlap the responsibilities of her two prestigious titles to promote 4-H, agriculture and horses.
Lynn Mathews, equine specialist at the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, says the equine industry has a strong impact on youth. The contest is another great example of the passion they have for horses. “The equestrian state-level contest had lots of participants this year,” Mathews says. “You can see how passionate they are, and it’s programs like 4-H and those at Rutgers that are really helping keep kids in New Jersey interested in the industry.” For more information on the New Jersey State 4-H Equestrian of the Year contest, visit nj4h.rutgers.edu/horses.