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  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Animal Science
  • Animals

The New York State 4-H Horse Program and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) offer a wide variety of equine projects and activities to New York youth ages 5–19. Brieanna Hughes is the New York State 4-H equine youth specialist. With a background in agricultural education, Hughes has taken on the role with enthusiasm and a commitment to making a difference. We sat down with Hughes to learn more about her position and her experience with 4-H and horses.

Hughes began her journey to 4-H education at the State University of New York, Cobleskill, where she majored in animal science. She went on to study for a master’s degree at West Virginia University, working many jobs that gave her experience in both animal science and teaching. 

“A professor at SUNY Cobleskill encouraged me to teach and pursue a career in education,” she said. “It wasn’t until I applied to CCE’s Saratoga branch that I was able to get my foot in the door and land the position I have today.”

In her current position, Hughes provides programs for over 2,000 children across the state of New York. She bridges the gap between horse accessibility and the equine industry with education, promoting positive youth development through leadership and activities.

Every county in New York State is equipped with a CCE office where 4-H is offered. Youth can express interest in the program and enroll to be a general 4-H member. From there, they can attend club meetings, participate in projects and meet new people. “What’s great about 4-H as a whole is how fluid it is,” said Hughes. “This allows for a lot of creativity from volunteers and members. I love seeing how unique every 4-H club is.” 

Integrated county, regional and state activities are part of Hughes' approach to a dynamic program. “We have a Horse Quiz Bowl every year where interested youth can participate in equine trivia,” she said. “The order of competition is county to regional to state. The winning team of the state competition gets to compete in Kentucky.” 

4H also offers horse-judging competitions, as well as Hughes’s favorite, “horse hippology,” which tests the knowledge and application of equine science. 

Hughes's vision for the 4-H program extends beyond teaching horse-related skills. She believes in the power of 4-H to instill confidence, fearlessness and a sense of responsibility in young people, preparing them to become positive contributors to society, she said. She also wants to expand the program to organize horse camps, giving youth the opportunity to attend after school programs or summer camps with horses. 

"My favorite part is witnessing the success of the 4-H volunteers I mentor. I know that I’ve played a role in empowering them to make a difference in the lives of young people."

“My favorite part is witnessing the success of the 4-H volunteers I mentor,” she said. “I know that I’ve played a role in empowering them to make a difference in the lives of young people. I love working with them to answer any questions or pressing concerns they have with their programs. And I enjoy hearing about ways they’re changing the program they’re involved in.”

As Hughes continues to shape the future of the 4-H Horse program, her vision remains clear: to ensure that every youth with an interest in horses has easy access to resources and opportunities for growth. “I’m grateful to everyone involved in 4-H programs who plans activities and helps with developing programs in inaccessible areas,” she said. “Connecting youth to horses is a challenge. Sometimes programs struggle with a lack of resources and volunteers. 

“It’s difficult to see programs not succeed or fail to go as well as I imagined,” she continued. “But that doesn’t stop me or the volunteers from working out these kinks!” 

Caroline Stamm ’24 is an animal science major and student writer for the Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science.

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