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Whether you grew up with horses or simply have always loved them from afar, you can learn a lot in the horse project! This project offers activities in horsemanship, horse development and training. The horse project is a great way to be able to gain valuable experience and skills through engaging activities like showing and horse judging. There are so many great skills learned through this program. You will learn responsibility, proper nutrition, care for your animal, and decision making.

CLICK HERE to download the Spark Sheet

Project Levels


In level 1, learn the basics of horse behavior, practice safety around horses, learn about horses without owning a horse, and assess horse health.


In level 2, study horse anatomy, understand horse health and nutrition, select bedding material, and practice horse judging


In level 3, learn about breeding and genetics, learn about disease and health care, design a horse health program, and explore the financial side of showing horses.


In level 4, practice riding skills, learn horsemanship skills, use training techniques, and explore trail riding.


In level 5, learn advanced riding skills, learn about ethics and competition, and teach horsemanship and safety to others.

Resources to help you learn

  • LEVEL 1: Giddy Up & Go 
  • LEVEL 2: Head, Heart & Hooves 
  • LEVEL 3: Stable Relationships 
  • LEVEL 4: Riding the Range 
  • LEVEL 5: Jumping to New Heights
  • Horse Helper's Guide
  • ALL LEVELS: Horse & Horsemanship
  • ALL LEVELS: Horse Science

Equine Headgear

All 4-H members are required to wear a properly fitted ASTM or SEI standard F1163 (or above) certified equestrian helmet whenever mounted or driving at all 4-H horse and pony events, shows, activities, or practices. Original tags must be present in all approved helmets. The 4-H member is responsible to see that this specified headgear is properly fitted with the approved harness fastened snugly in place whenever mounted. Helmet policies apply to all county, area, and state 4-H horse and pony events, shows, and activities. Protective helmets are recommended for all riders and drivers at all times. It is recommended that all adults working with 4-H members model the desired youth behavior by also wearing protective helmets whenever mounted or driving.


4-H youth must participate on county teams in the county in which they hold 4-H membership. Only when their county does not offer a particular program or event (i.e. livestock judging, horse bowl etc.) can they participate in an adjacent county in their Unit. Notify the State 4-H Educator in charge of that particular area to obtain permission. A shared membership form is not required. 

Equine Liability Act

In 1995, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Equine Activity Liability Act to provide protection to individuals and organizations that sponsor equine activities. This act stipulates that an equine sponsor or professional, or any other person, is immune from liability for the death or injury of a participant, which resulted from the inherent risks of equine activities. However, there are exceptions to this rule – a person will be held liable for injuries of an equine activity participant if he or she displays a willful and wanton or intentional disregard for the safety of the participant and if he or she fails to make reasonable and prudent efforts in ensuring the safety of the participant. In addition, a person will also be held liable for the injury of an equine activity participant if he or she is injured on the land or at a facility due to a dangerous latent condition, which was known to the equine sponsor, professional or other person. The law requires that a specific warning be posted on the premises of the equine activity in a clearly visible location in one inch black letters worded as follows:

Warning: Under the Equine Activity Liability Act, each participant who engages in an Equine activity expressly assumes the risks of engaging in and legal responsibility for injury, loss, or damage to person or property resulting from the risk of equine activities.

Horse Lease and Ownership Papers

Youth exhibiting horses at the Illinois State Fair Junior Horse Show must complete a Horse Lease/Ownership Form and submit it to the state fair by May 1. Many counties also require this ownership paper and often have an earlier deadline. If you are in the horse project and exhibiting a horse, please check with your local Extension office. DOWNLOAD FORM.

Required Training

All 4-H members enrolled in an animal project area are required to complete the online Quality Assurance and Ethics course one time in order to stay enrolled in an animal project area. The certification must be done if you are enrolled in one of the following projects: beef, dairy, cats, dogs, goats, horses, poultry, rabbits, sheep, and swine. Members who don’t complete the certification before the show will be removed from the project and not be allowed to show. Anyone who has already taken the certification does not need to retake the test. The local office has a list of those already certified. CLICK HERE to take the trainingThis rule applies to 4-H members who exhibit live animals AND poster exhibits.

State Fair Exhibit Rules

Each county may submit 2 entries total from 50135 and 1 entry from 50137.

Animal Science (SF 50135)

Prepare a display focusing on any activity related to the animal science project. Demonstrate the skills and knowledge you have gained through the animal project you studied.  The exhibit may include, but isn’t limited to, original works, objects, demonstrations, digital presentations, programs, websites, games, apps, performances, or posters which you have made. Choose whatever method best shows what you’ve learned. You must furnish any equipment you need for your exhibit. Internet service will not be provided for the exhibit. All exhibits must include something visual, such as a printed copy of a digital presentation, which will remain on display during the exhibition. Electronic equipment will only be used during your personal judging time and will not remain on display during the entire exhibit period. Live animals are not permitted as exhibits in this area. For safety reasons, exhibits cannot include glass, syringes with needles or any other sharp objects.

Animal Science Ready4Life Challenge (SF 50137)

Open to 11- to 18-year-olds enrolled in any Animal Science project. Exhibits in this category must include the following: a) a physical representation of the career or business product such as a model, prototype or display/portfolio that includes images of accomplished work; b) verbal or written explanations that demonstrate knowledge of the related career or business fields, potential careers, and the appropriate requirements for achievement in those fields. The judging criteria for this class values thoroughness of career and/or business exploration and pursuit above the workmanship of the physical specimen on display.

Horse Maker (SF 50400)

Counties may submit 3 entries TOTAL combined from all Maker exhibit divisions.

Exhibits in this category are designed to be multi-disciplinary in nature, innovative, and must not fit into any other exhibit category. To qualify for this category, your project MUST abide by the following guidelines:

  • Exhibits must be an object or device that has an intended purpose and uses technology in either a mechanical way, digital (computer) way, or combination of the two.
  • The device must be something that can be used in everyday life by multiple people (a target audience), and MUST be manufactured/built by the exhibitor (If not fully manufactured by the exhibitor, the device MUST be modified structurally or be reprogramed to perform a different function other than what it was designed to do
  • Exhibit MUST be able to interact with the outside world. (e.g. an on off switch, input sensors, feedback, etc.)
  • Exhibits MUST include a detailed build log with instructions on how to make or build the exhibit, AND contain either a 3D rendering or detailed and labeled sketches of the device/product.
  • All parts and software used in the design/build MUST be listed in a detailed Bill of Materials including cost per item and total cost. Total time spent on the build must be documented in your build log.

In addition, exhibitors are HIGHLY encouraged to use tools such as 3-D printers, laser cutters, routers and/or other hand/power tools to help in the manufacturing process (NOTE: Simply 3-D printing or laser cutting an object without the other specifications does not qualify as a Maker Project). It is also HIGHLY encouraged that exhibits use Open Source Software and/or Hardware in the build.