By Sandra Zunino
It’s more than the aromas of fried clams, funnel cake and cotton candy; more than Ferris Wheels and amusement rides, the Queen Anne’s County Fair is the culmination of a year’s hard work and a source of well-earned pride for many young exhibitors. Two examples are Caitlin Hodges and Jiselle Zunino.
Both 18 from Stevensville, these Pony Express 4H members were bestowed the honor of presenting the flags during Opening Ceremonies last Monday. Mounted flag carriers are chosen based on club seniority, officer status and ability of both rider and horse to safely carry the flags.
2010 Pony Express President Caitlin has been in the club for six years. She joined to expand her equestrian skills and make friends, but mostly because her best friend, Jiselle was already in 4H. “We were friends since kindergarten, later we started riding together,” says Caitlin.
While Caitlin took riding lessons at various stables over the years, it was when her parents leased Jiselle’s pony, Wildfire, and she subsequently joined 4H that her riding abilities excelled. After attending meetings and riding in shows, Bob and Sue Hodges realized Caitlin’s horse bug wasn’t going away. The following year, they purchased a 4-year-old paint named “Dusty” and became avid 4H volunteers themselves.
Caitlin held the office of historian for two years before being elected this year as president.
Additionally, her 4H contacts lead her to compete for the 2010 Miss QAC Farm Bureau contest. She says the public speaking skills she honed in 4H helped her win the title. “I’m much better at public speaking because of 4H,” says Caitlin. “My leadership, teamwork, work ethic and responsibility have all gotten much better.”
2010 Pony Express Vice President Jiselle joined the club at 8 and has held almost every office available including chaplain, historian, reporter, secretary, and two terms of vice president. She served as president in 2008.
Trying to get the horses to participate with large flapping flags seemingly chasing them took much training on the part of both girls. Jiselle hung a flag in her horse, Rocky’s, stall to acclimate him to it, and practiced riding with flag in hand for an entire season before carrying the flag in 2008. Caitlin used Pat Parelli training methods to desensitizing her horse to the flag.
The duo also ride in the Pony Express Mounted Drill Team, which performs immediately before the flag presentation. Jiselle says years of riding together on drill were instrumental in choreographing the flag presentation. “Last year we won Champion Pairs Reining with a routine we put together in 10 minutes,” explains Jiselle, “but the communication evolved over many years of working together.”
The girls will be exhibiting their horses throughout the week, Caitlin showing in Western classes, while Jiselle shows English. Any achievements are well-earned as 4H exhibitors must do all the work involved with the project animal. “It’s awful sometimes, getting up early and dealing with the heat,” says Caitlin, “but when you get that award, it’s so gratifying.”
Both riders say, while it’s an honor to carry the flags, it’s also bittersweet. “All our 4H years, we’ve watched the seniors carry the flags and then move on to college,” explains Jiselle. “It’s like our final farewell.”
Following suite, the friends will both attend Anne Arundel Community College in the fall.