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Spotsy teen has lots of horse sense

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Delaney O’Donnell has read so much about horses, from what they eat to how they digest it, that she won a national event.

But the 17-year-old would be the first to say that book smarts and the practical application of them are horses of a different color.

“You can’t replace the hands-on learning,” she said. “There’s a big difference between reading about wrapping a leg and doing it. Everything is harder in real life.”

The Spotsylvania County teen is trying to master every aspect of the equine world, from perusing veterinary journals to being the best groomer she can be. Based on the year she’s had, she’s doing a good job.

“Though there’s no specific award for this, we call her the triple crown winner,” said Kaci Daniel, 4–H Extension agent in Orange County, where Delaney is a member of the Bit N’ cqBridle Club.

Delaney recently was the state winner in three 4–H contests: hippology, which deals with feeds and breeds, internal systems and external appearances; horse presentations, in which participants address some facet of the industry and are evaluated on their public speaking; and horse quiz bowl, a team event similar to “Jeopardy!”

“Each of these requires significant preparation, research, study and practice,” Daniel said. “For a youth to win all three contests at the state level is practically unheard of.”

Delaney didn’t stop there. Her good horse sense also prevailed in the Eastern National 4–H Horse Roundup, last month in Louisville, Ky.

She earned the first individual overall award in the hippology contest and led the Virginia team to a first-place finish.

“Delaney is simply amazing,” said Mary Lee Manvell, whose daughter, Charlotte, is in the club with her.


Delaney has taken on some adult responsibility, although she’s often mistaken for a preteen. Waiters at restaurants ask her if she’d like the kids’ menu.

She’s always been drawn to horses. She took her first riding lesson at age 7, joined 4–H at 8 and got her first horse at 10. That’s Go Skipa Golden Star, a 12-year-old paint horse who’s taught her how to be a good leader.

“When he doesn’t want to do something, he plants his feet,” she said, “and he weighs over 1,000 pounds, so I’m not gonna win that battle.”

She outsmarts him, using food and praise as rewards when he sees things her way. She also stays consistent—and persistent—with her commands.

When Delaney first joined the Orange horse club, the group didn’t have teams that competed in horse knowledge events. So Delaney and her mother, Michelle, found a former 4–H’er in Louisa County who held workshops.

Delaney attended several and worked on her own to master her first speciality as a horse judge.

At the Arabian World Nationals in 2012, she competed in the teen division—and scored higher than the top individual on the college level, Daniel said.


Delaney no longer can compete in state competitions in which she placed first. But she can coach—and her willingness to pass along information to others impresses adults even more than her mastery of facts.

Delaney leads regular study sessions with club members. As she was walking out of a recent meeting, Delaney overheard a girl ask what a judging card is.

Delaney put down her bag, sat at the computer and helped the club member research the question. She also explained how to use a judging card during a contest.

Delaney, who’s been home-schooled her whole life, wants to pursue a career in a horse-related field. She hopes to attend a college where horses are part of extracurricular events.

“I really miss horse judging,” she said. “I hope to do that in college.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425