GLADE SPRING, Va. — Two Washington County equestrian students will have a leg up when it comes to spreading the word about the Virginia 4-H Horse Program.

Audrey Allen and Mattie DeBord, both 15, were recently named ambassadors for the 2019-2020 program.

The teens are the first 4-H members from the county to hold the positions, according to Crystal Peek, a Washington County extension agent for 4-H youth development.

Audrey and Mattie are among only 12 ambassadors chosen from throughout the state.

Mary Blankenship, of Tazewell County, and Rachel Buchanan, of Botetourt County, also received the honor, representing the Southwest 4-H District, which includes Washington County and several neighboring counties.

“Our district has had only one representative prior to Audrey and Mattie,” said Peek. “Having four members from our district selected as ambassadors is unprecedented.

“Mattie and Audrey are exceptional representatives of the local, district and state horse programs. I feel they have impeccable leadership skills through their many years of 4-H. This is a wonderful outlet for them to share their experiences and promote 4-H throughout the commonwealth.”

Audrey and Mattie, members of the Washington County 4-H Saddle Club, were inducted as horse ambassadors at the Virginia State 4-H Championship Horse and Pony Show in Lexington, Virginia, two weeks ago.

The state show offers classes for all disciplines, including English, Western, miniatures, gaited and speed events.

During the show, Mattie won Grand Champion Western Pleasure Senior Horse, Senior Rider (ages 14-15), among other awards in the Western pleasure class.

Audrey placed first in Hunter Equitation on the Flat, Large Horse, Senior Horse, Senior Rider (ages 14-15), and other awards in the Hunter class.

The mission of the ambassador program is to offer 4-H members the opportunity to gain skills in citizenship, leadership and public speaking while serving as spokespersons for the Virginia 4-H Horse Program at events and activities throughout Virginia.

During the year, the teens will participate in state 4-H contests, public events and supporter functions and appear before peer groups, 4-H groups, community service groups and schools and media contacts.

Mattie said she applied for the ambassador position to help spread the word about the benefits of the horse program.

“A lot of people think the 4-H Horse Program is just horseback riding, but it’s not. You can learn about the study of horses, which is called hippology,” said Mattie.

In a competitive setting, hippology participants are able to demonstrate their knowledge in horse judging, quiz bowl, speeches and practical horse management.

“You don’t have to ride horses. You don’t even have to own a horse to be part of the horse program,” she said.

“Being part of the horse program pushes you out of your comfort zone and helps you to interact with people from other areas,” said Audrey, who is president of the Washington County 4-H Saddle Club.

“I think being ambassadors will make us more mature, responsible and more organized,” Audrey said.

The girls were selected as state ambassadors based on their accomplishments in 4-H as well as in the community.

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Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at

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