Program Coordinator Brittany Fischer sat down (virtually) with Dr. Kim Cole, Associate Professor and Unit Supervisor of the OSU Equine Center this week to learn more about the development of EquiSTEP. Dr. Cole is also the OSU Equine Extension Specialist and provides leadership to the 4-H Horse Program. Under Dr. Cole’s leadership, the EquiSTEP program was created through a master’s program within the Department of Animal Sciences and partially funded by the Pat Brundige 4-H Development Fund.
What does the acronym EquiSTEP stand for and could you provide some background on the program?
EquiSTEP stands for Equine State Training and Educational Program. Each year, approximately 10,000 youth compete in 4-H horse projects and approximately 1,200 youth participate in statewide educational contests and events. In a program as large as that consistency in the programming is really important, but we currently don't have any requirements in regard to material that has to be covered and when. Some counties may include all the information we would like covered while some counties may only include bits and pieces and when they come together from a state perspective, the knowledge base varies. That's a little bit different from what we have for our Youth Quality Assurance Program for food animals. We wanted to have a program that was similar so our kids and our advisors would know what expectations were included for horse projects in addition to what is covered in their project book. One kid might have a project for beginning horse management and another one might have a project for learning to jump for equine nutrition. What they experienced in those projects could be quite different and we just wanted some more consistency, information and education to not only make it a better experience for the kids, but hopefully improve the experience for our horses as well.
Why was the program important for the Equine program specifically?
We have certain rules for the state program that applies to the counties as well that the kids or the exhibitors must meet and throughout the years, we found that sometimes the kids were not aware of those requirements or those rules. It was becoming apparent that just the information that they were getting and then the manner in which that was applied was really different from county to county and also from club to club. We wanted a way to make sure that everybody had the same information as a starting block to hopefully make things a little bit smoother for everyone involved.
How long did it take to develop the program?
It took approximately one to two years. I had a graduate student, Nicole Lorig, that was funded in part by the 4-H Program Development Fund, through Pat Brundige, as well as the Department of Animal Sciences. With that, we were able to bring in a graduate student who really it was her project. She met with the State Horse Advisory Committee Members and Advisors and the different counties and conducted multiple surveys to assess and help evaluate what content was needed.
Have 4-Hers been able to complete the program this year even with impacts from COVID-19?
Actually, in some ways COVID-19 spurred the program along. The new EquiSTEP program was piloted this year in 2020 and it was optional for everyone throughout the state. Counties could require it, but it was not a state requirement. It will be a requirement in 2023 once we have gone through each of the three years of rotation. With COVID-19 restricting in person gathering, we actually had several counties use the program that might not have otherwise. This first year we had over 950 people enrolled in the program and we had over 400 take the 10-question quiz at the end. Great first year.
Do you have any results to share with us today from the large group of members who have taken the course so far? Any feedback that you’ve gotten or anything you would like to mention?
Alright, so we did pilots of the program. A survey was distributed at the 2020 advisor training in January and we had approximately 150 advisors evaluate the finished program and its first-year content and received very positive results. We are going to continue to move forward with the program. The average quiz score was 94% for the 400 people, which was really good, but it did highlight that most frequently missed question was regarding the requirement for body condition scoring. The second question was with regards to knowledge on what the name of our statewide rulebook was so that highlighted the need for consistency so that all members could be on the same page.
For those who may not be aware, how many counties are in Ohio?
We have 88 counties throughout the state of Ohio and a relatively strong horse program in most of those counties from a state perspective. I think we get participation from at least 85 counties in our state events.
Anything else about the program that you would like to mention?
I think it's a really good example of human-animal interactions and how working to provide information and education for our use exhibitors that work with animals, not only improves their experience, but also will hopefully benefit the experience and the welfare of the horses that they are partnering with.
To learn more about the Ohio 4-H Youth Development program visit their website here.