For Pinellas County 4-H leader Mary Faith Urquhart, 4-H has always been a way of life. The Missouri girl joined 4-H when she was nine years old and remained active until her high school graduation.
“My mother was a thirty-year club leader so there was no question about my involvement,” said Urquhart. “In those days horses weren’t a club option so I raised pigs and participated in sewing and cooking.”
The retired middle school teacher became active in 4-H later in life when her daughter became interested in horses. The Girl Scout troop that her daughter participated in wanted to learn more about horses, and that led Mary back to 4-H.
“I knew exactly where to go for good information,” said Urquhart. “I went to 4-H and we’ve now had our horse club for more than thirty years.” Her love for horses fueled her work with club members for decades.
Urquhart always works hard to provide a positive experience for 4-H members. “Mary Faith has always led her club with project books, demonstrations and camping while consistently setting the standard for leadership by serving as a role model for responsibility, intelligence and community service,” said Jean Rogalsky, Pinellas County 4-H.
In addition to leading her Seminole Rider’s 4-H Club, Urquhart has taught at Horsemanship School for more than 12 years. She volunteered and chaired Area E horse show committees.
Urquhart’s prize project, however, has been the “Horses for Handicapped” program that she has run in partnership with her local Kiwanias Club for more than twenty years. The program offers recreational therapeutic rides for people with all different kinds of disabilities.
“My 4-H’ers play a pivotal role in this program,” said Urquhart. “They take care of the horses, provide exercise and upkeep for them as well as help during the actual rides,” she said.
In addition to caring for the horses, 4-H members perform duties during the therapeutic rides that range from checking people in, to providing helmets for riders, to helping mount and dismount riders from the horse. On Saturday mornings the club runs four classes that have about 35 riders each session, so help from the 4-H members is vital.
“It usually takes three people to put someone on a horse,” said Urquhart. “The horse handlers are so important. The horse needs to bond with its horse handler so they can give a safe ride to the rider. I couldn’t run this program without my 4-H’ers.”
When asked why she thinks 4-H is important to youth today, Urquhart answers without pause, “The world is in desperate need of good people – good volunteers. 4-H teaches young people how to do this. It gets kids outside, working with their hands - doing something. I think everyone needs to find a group - there are some fantastic groups!”
Urquhart adds that 4-H provides youth the opportunity to share something they love with others.