There’s a lot more that goes into riding horses than the general public often thinks. High school senior Ethan Willie explained that taking care of horses comes with a lot of early mornings, late nights, and in his case even overnight stays in a horse stall at the South Carolina State Fair to ensure his horses’ comfort in a new environment.
“That’s definitely something that most people probably don’t do or think that anyone would do is sleeping in a horse stall for three nights in a hammock,” Ethan said.
This level of commitment is one of the many factors that contributed to Ethan being awarded with the Presidential Choice award for the Equine program at the 2022 S.C. State Fair. This award is given to a competitor who has built a good relationship with their horse, knows how to properly take care of equine, has good sportsmanship with other riders and competitors, and someone who interacts well with attendees of the S.C. State Fair.
Since this was the first time Ethan competed outside of rodeos with his horse, Willow, he said that he wasn’t expecting much from the competition other than getting Willow out of her comfort zone. This is why it was such a surprise to Ethan when it was announced over the intercom that he won the Presidential Choice award.
After being presented the award, Ethan spent some time in the stables teaching fair goers all that he could about his horse. He said that it makes him feel appreciated when the public takes time out of their fair day to allow him to show off the progress he’s made with his animals. One fair goer asked Ethan a question about his horse’s teeth, which allowed him to explain the anatomy and scientific side of what goes on inside of a horse’s mouth.
Ethan says that most shows he competes in – he sees the same people every time who tend to know a lot about equine, so the S.C. State Fair is a great opportunity to reach a different audience and teach them something new.
“It’s an honor that we get to present kids with this whole new world that they probably knew nothing about,” Ethan said.
But this level of knowledge Ethan has relating to horses didn’t come overnight, he’s been learning about and riding horses since he was in fifth grade when he got involved in his local 4-H club. Since joining the 4-H club, Ethan has moved from smaller level shows to state level shows, and he has even competed on the South Carolina Rodeo association for the past two seasons.
“That basis of learning to ride as a fifth grader has brought me up and it’s helping me grow my future,” Ethan said.
Ethan is now committed to attending Erskine college after graduation where he will study biology with an emphasis in wildlife biology, natural resources, and ecology while being a member of Erskine’s rodeo team.
His advice for anyone who is interested in learning more about horses and agriculture is to join their local 4-H program and to look into the Future Farmers of America organization, which Ethan is active in.
To support competitors like Ethan, be sure to spend some time in the stables at the 2023 S.C. State Fair. You may even learn something new!
(Photo by Jessica O’Connor Equine Imagery.)