Life After 4-H: The Story of a 4-H Addict

by Caitlyn Andrews August 03, 2015

Life After 4-H: The Story of a 4-H Addict Saddle Club

It can be hard to say goodbye to the fair and move on from your 4-H career. This year alone there were 155 Elkhart County 4-H Fair members that completed their 10 years. A lot of hard work and perseverance goes into creating those cherished memories for 4-Hers.

When it came time for 24 year old Ashley Holdeman to leave the fair behind her when she graduated in 2010 she realized that was easier said than done. Instead of simply coming back to watch her younger siblings compete in the fair Ashley became involved as an adult leader in Saddle Club. Ashley took the time to discuss with me during her chaotic fair schedule just what makes 4-H so special to her, and why she comes back year after year to help.

The 4-H Life

From a young age Ashley participated in every club she possibly could. Over the years she's been in Saddle Club, Goat Club, Swine Club, Dairy Feeder Club, and Panther Paw 4-H Club Union Township. She's even participated in the Fair Queen pageants. When asked why she wanted to continue with 4-H after her 10 years were up, Ashley had this to say, "It's such a great program for youth. I learned and grew into the person I am today because of it. It's nice to help others do the same."

4-H made a big impact in Ashley's life. She was always shy as a child and being a 4-H officer and club president helped her gain her confidence. Ashley's whole family is involved with 4-H and they all stay together in their camper during fair. 4-H has helped them stay close and as Ashley says, "They always walk away from it alive."

4-H Friendships, Memories, and a Very Special Horse

Every year that she returns to the fair brings back memories of her own childhood as a 4-Her. It was hard for her to pinpoint exactly what her best 4-H memory was, she's had many wonderful experiences. After thinking about it for awhile she decided it would have to be when she won the Large Animal Round Robin Showmanship Contest in 2006. Winning her showmanship class in Goat Club qualified her and she enjoyed showing the other livestock so much that she joined Dairy Feeder Club the next year.

I asked her what the hardest part about showing was and without hesitation she told me it was how you have to "hurry up and wait" for your class. To anyone who has ever shown an animal at the fair, you know the feeling. You have to hurry up and get yourself and your animal ready, then wait. Many factors go into what time your class will start, like how fast the judge moves the classes through and how many people enter, that you just don't know what time you'll actually be showing. It's definitely a lesson in patience for the 4-Hers... and their parents! 

If You Could Show In One Last 4-H Class...

With such a variety of 4-H clubs and classes to show in it seems that everyone has a favorite class or two. As an adult you don't get to participate in 4-H as a competitor, so when I asked Ashley if she could show in one last class which one would it be, I did not expect her answer.

"I don't know if I would. Mostly because I don't have my best friend to do it with anymore." Ashley's best friend was also her favorite animal that she got to show in 4-H, and he has since passed on. His name was Boomer and in Ashley's own words he was, "Just awesome. He was the perfect first horse. He took care of me... most of the time."

Boomer had a bit of an ornery streak and more than once he would start bucking in the show ring. Ashley always left the arena with a smile. Through it all, Boomer always tried his hardest for her and she became the rider that she is today because of him.

The 4-H fair isn't just about the ribbons and awards, it's about the friendships and relationships that are formed with family, animals, and friends. The life lessons that are learned. Ashley was lucky enough to experience a strong bond with such a friend. Even though she misses being a 4-Her, showing without Boomer just wouldn't be the same. Instead, she gets to help with Saddle Club now and watch the kids grow up with their horses knowing just how significant their relationships are.

Ashley Holdeman Final Saddle Club Ride Elkhart Fair

Pictured Above: Ashley Holdeman's Final Ride as a Saddle Club Member in 2010, riding Boomer.

Why Come Back to the Fair after Graduation?

Ashley gives a lot of her personal time to help with the Saddle Club. She stays at the fairgrounds for the entire fair week fighting off exhaustion, sun burn, and arena dust. She isn't paid for the hard work that she puts in. She's not a 4-Her anymore so she isn't rewarded with ribbons and trophies at the end of the year. She does it for the love of 4-H. She does it because she knows the impact that it has on the kids that participate. She sees the confidence, the patience, and work ethic grow in the 4-Hers she meets. She knows that they are making memories that will stay with them their entire lives. She sees the friendships growing and bonds between horse and rider forming. And, truth be told, she probably also does it for Boomer, too.

Advice from Ashley to New 4-Hers

"Do everything you can and cherish every moment. Love your horse or other animals you show. Make friends. It goes by fast so take it all in."

That's great advice for any 4-Her. So, Ashley, do you think you'll always stay involved? 

"As long as they'll let me."

Caitlyn Andrews
Caitlyn Andrews


2 Responses

Ashley Holdeman
Ashley Holdeman

August 07, 2015

You couldn’t have written this any better! Thank you for shining the light in the fact that 4-H is much much more than any ribbon or trophy that one can win! The memories, lessons learned and friendships you make while involved will stay with you for a lifetime!! You know that to be true friend!!

Gloria Hamman
Gloria Hamman

August 07, 2015

Ashley…I am just so very proud to have you as my oldest grandchild. You have been down many paths, both 4-H and health issues. You have and will always rise to the top. I love you.

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