Groom Squad: Ready, set go ... brush, comb, show

The “Frisky Fillies” team casts shadows on the dirt of the arena floor while attempting to groom the dirt out of their horse during the Groom Squad Competition Wednesday afternoon at the Fair.

The “Frisky Fillies” team casts shadows on the dirt of the arena floor while attempting to groom the dirt out of their horse during the Groom Squad Competition Wednesday afternoon at the Fair. Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.

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4-H "Groom Squad" competition

There’s something about 4-H kids, Heidi Thomas knows.

Thomas is horse superintendent for the Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days and if there is one thing a county fair has, it’s horses. And riders.

The two are a great mix, Thomas said. It was no surprise, then, when she was approached a few years ago to create a “fun” equestrian event by 4-H club members — an event that calls for skill, knowledge, patience and team cooperation.

“That’s the way the (4-H) program is set up,” Thomas explained. “Work isn’t necessarily work if there’s reward in it.”

Thomas went about tweaking a verison of a state 4-H event to create the “Groom Squad Competition.”

In 15 minutes, teams of equestrians — which represent at least two different 4-H clubs — must clean and “pretty up” a horse they’ve never before groomed.

The teams use their own tools and create a plan on the fly when the clock starts. Afterword, one member will take the horse through an adjudicated showing, while another team member undergoes a knowledge test.

The purpose of it all is to allow youth an opportunity to demonstrate the ability to work together safely and keeping the best interest of the horse at the forefront when preparing for showing, Thomas said.

She’s added a few lighter touches, however. “We’re not as formal as the state competition.”

Hence the team names on Wednesday afternoon, such as Frisky Fillies, Spaz Razz Explosion, Danger Rising Creek and Code Name Rex … an inside joke, the team members said, blushing and laughing.

In each team, three young ladies waited to be assigned horses and go into the arena. The girls discussed strategy while eyeing the horses being brought from the fair’s horse barns. “We’ve been planning this for months,” Karissa Stubblefield of Frisky Fillies said.

Once everyone and every horse was in place, the clock began. “Oh my gosh, they’ve started,” Macy Rugraff said and grabbed a brush.

As time galloped, the teams laid wet cloths over frizzy, unruly horse manes, hooves were picked free of dirt and rocks and dusty coats were brought to a shine.

Spaz Razz Explosion, however, had been given a horse that didn’t want to be groomed, apparently. “Oh-h,” Olivia Grimaud said, allowing the animal to circle off some anxiety. “It’s OK, it’s OK.”

Participants are allowed to use some grooming items and not others. Products — hoof black, mane and tail whitener, chalk, oil or cornstarch, for example — are forbidden. Same with razors, scissors and spray containers. That evens the playing field, contestants explained.

Suggested tools include curry combs, soft and hard bristle brushes, buckets, shavings, sponges and a tote to hold everything.

Judging, done this day by Doug Evenson of Ellensburg, looks for organization, proper safety precautions and teamwork — being pleasant, focused and properly spaced.

In the end, “Code Name Rex” won the day. As all the girls left the field, however, no one seemed to mind losing.

One cowboy-shirted girl looked toward the horse barn and back to her buddy. “Let’s go find something else to do.”

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