For Madison Floden and Brooke Strand, horses have been a prominent part of their journey to adulthood.
"I really don't think I would be who I am without her," Madison said of her quarter horse Rhinestone, crediting the horse for teaching her patience and the value of hard work.
For Brooke, she has become a largely self-taught horse trainer, learning what dedication is and being rewarded a "sense of relief and accomplishment."
The two girls, both high school seniors, earned first-place finishes last month at the Minnesota 4-H State Horse Show. They were among 683 youths from across the state who competed in the annual event.
Up against those who have finished the 11th grade, Madison won in hunt seat pleasure, hunt seat equitation, western pleasure and western equitation and Brooke won in training, step 5. In training, 4-H'ers work with an unbroken horse to make it rideable, with step 6 the highest level.
Madison, who attends Osakis High School, credits four years of riding lessons from Anne Alderman in St. Cloud and of course, Rhinestone, who she describes as both a business associate and a little kid.
"She can get bored, tired and kinda grumpy," Madison said. The horse "likes to test you and see what all she can do to be a bother."
Jodi Hintzen, Douglas County 4-H Program Coordinator with the University of Minnesota Extension Office, said Madison has been willing to share her horse knowledge with others.
Madison helps with the Minnesota Youth Quarter Horse Association boot camp in June as a way to say thanks for the help she got as a younger rider.
"I was the poor little kid who couldn't get her horse to lope," she said with a laugh.
For Brooke, her introduction to horses came at her grandmother's hobby farm. She said her parents thought her horse fascination would be just a phase. When her interest persisted, she says her dad told her, "Well if you want them you have to do all the work."
That included learning how to hook the pickup truck to the trailer and driving herself to horse shows.
She has been working with her horse Breezy, now 5 years old, since she was a foal. Breezy is being groomed for barrel racing.
Brooke, who is taking classes at Alexandria Technical and Community College as an Alexandria Area High School senior, has a younger sister, Madison, who shares her passion for horses, while the youngest sister, Olivia prefers hockey and sports.
"They are totally self-taught," said Becky Strand of her horse-loving daughters. "They can take credit for everything they do."
Becky said the horses have also proved therapeutic after her husband, Curt, was diagnosed with cancer about three years ago and died almost a year ago. Brooke recalls her father jokingly paying Olivia as a reward for not liking horses.
But Becky says, "Thank goodness for the horses - they were able to stay a focus for the girls."
Both girls will have the opportunity to compete for two more seasons in 4-H horse events.
Hintzen said working with horses is the most popular animal science project in Minnesota 4-H and is more skill-based than other livestock categories.
"You do need a nice animal also but it is how much do you want to better your skills," Hintzen said. Madison and Brooke "have definitely improved upon their skills."
• Amy Corneliusen of Hoofbeats participated in the following gaming events for Grade 11: horse showmanship, barrels, poles, jumping Figure 8 and key race.
• Hannah Johnson of Christina Lakers participated in the following gaming events for Grade 6: poles, barrels, jumping Figure 8 and key race.
• Madison Floden of Hoofbeats: Took first place in hunt seat pleasure-Grade 11, hunt seat equitation-Grade 11, western pleasure-Grade 11 and western horsemanship-Grade 11. She also took eighth place in horse showmanship-Grade 11, 10th place in horses related-Grades 9-plus, and participated in trail class-Grades 10-11.
• Alexis Johanson of Hoofbeats took ninth place in trail class-Grades 6-7 and participated in the following events for Grade 7: horse showmanship, western pleasure, western horsemanship, and hunt seat pleasure.
• Brooke Strand of Lake Mary Troopers took first place in training step 5 and participated in the following events for Grade 11: barrels, poles, jumping Figure 8, key race.
• The following team placed fifth in intermediate judging and 15th in intermediate hippology: Morgan Bitzan-Working Wonders, Anakin Bosek-Chippewans, Janoa Hedstrom-Hoofbeats and Brenna Thompson-Hoofbeats.
• The following team placed fifth in senior judging: Madison Floden-Hoofbeats, Savannah Aanerud-Stevens County 4-H and Taylor Clemenson-Stevens County 4-H.
• The Douglas County horse delegation received honorable mention in herdsmanship.