TownNews.com Content Exchange

Erica Craig wishes she would have joined 4-H sooner.

"I love it," said Erica, 19, of Washington Township, who was busy brushing down her horse before Tuesday's Open Saddle Horse and Halflinger Halter event at the Armada Fair. As with her competitors, she was decked out for the show wearing a cowboy hat, riding boots, western shirt and a shiny, brass, belt buckle.

"I've been riding horses since I was 7," Erica said.

However, it was not until she was in high school that her friends, many of whom were also passionate about riding and showing horses, convinced her to give 4-H a try. She was 16 and Michigan State University Extension 4-H program in Macomb County is open to youth ages 5 to 19. So, this is her last year as a youth club member.

Youth who participate in Macomb County's 4-H clubs experience a variety of fun and educational activities ranging from riding and showing horses to archery workshops, gardening classes and crafts. A lot of clubs also organize outings that give members an opportunity to help out in the community.

"We volunteered at Camp Rotary," said Erica, who has won more than 200 ribbons since she joined 4-H, including that of a Grand Champion during the state finals in Lansing.

"The overall experience, of being with friends and being able to show with them, I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed most,” Erica said, before looking toward her mother, who was holding the reins of her show horse Joey.

"I had been, wanting her to join for years before she finally did," said Lisa Craig, knowing how much Erica would enjoy the opportunity to do what she loves with her friends.

Lisa was also keen on the lessons that are learned through 4-H.

Another parent in the wings agreed.

"They learn how to be responsible and respectful of others," said Naomi Trotto, whose son joined the club near their suburban home when he was 5, proving you do not have to live on a farm or own animals to be part of 4-H.

"I've been riding since I was 3 and my trainer thought it would be a good idea for me to show horses so I joined," said Tyler Trotto, who, at age 11, was among the youngest competing in the early morning event.

“He just had a passion and we cultivated it," Naomi said, looking toward the barns where students from Glen H. Peters were being amused by a horse drinking out of a bucket.

"This is Snickers," said Maria McCollom of Macomb referring to the horse doing his best impression of Mr. Ed.

Among those appreciating the show put on by Snickers was Wyatt Carrier of Macomb. The 8-year-old, from Glen H. Peters, a school for students with moderate cognitive impairments, severe cognitive impairments and severe multiple impairments, attended the fair with other students, teachers and paralegals as a visitor and as a member of Glen H Peters' award-winning 4-H Club.

"Our kids don't work with big animals but smaller creatures like crabs and goldfish," said Alanna Gentry, who had pushed Wyatt's wheelchair closer to Snickers so he could pet her nose.

Their 4-H activities also include arts and crafts and other activities that encourage them to use their hands. "It opens up a whole other world for our kids," added Gentry.

Jean Marsden, a teacher for more than 40 years and director of Glen H. Peters’ 4-H program, which had a large display at the Armada Fair covered with blue ribbons, agreed.

"We like the kids using their hands and 4-H is a great way to showcase what they can do," Marsden said. "The parents love to come too and see what their kids are doing."

"Have you seen their display?" said a woman, standing near Marsden. "It's in the barn near the chickens."

Chickens are the reason 4-year-old Shadow Razavian was most excited about Tuesday’s visit to the Armada fairgrounds. In fact, his Nana told him as soon as they were done their ice cream that is where they were headed next.

"It's been a great fair," said Martin, who traveled with her grandson from Royal Oak in order to attend the fair. "It feels local. It feels small and it has all of the makings of a good county fair - and you can't beat the weather."

The Armada Fair runs today through Saturday.

Tickets are $10 for ages 13 and up, $2 for those 9-12 and free for kids 8 and under. Parking is $5.

In addition to its animal and horticultural displays and competitions, carnival rides, food and daily vendors, Armada Fair features a variety of headliner performances.

Monday night the arena was packed to the rafters for a concert by Scotty McCreery, who was the season 10 winner of American Idol in 2011. Other expected highlights throughout the week include: Demolition Derby (Wednesday); Bump and Run (Thursday); Rodeo (Friday) and a Tractor and Truck Pull (Saturday).

For a full schedule and ticket information visit armadafair.org

Gina Joseph is a multimedia journalist at The Macomb Daily and can be reached at gjoseph@medianewsgroup.com.

This article originally ran on macombdaily.com.