Youth wins first 4-H award of its kind in county

Courtesy of Tami Perez
Kagen Perez sits on AweSam with some of the awards he's won. Kagen competed on AweSam in Western equitation, working ranch horse and English equitation and his Bonneville County 4-H Gold Seal Equestrian Award. Kagen is the first to ever win the award, which was first offered about four years ago.

Courtesy of Tami Perez
From left, Kagen Perez and his grandmother, Bonnie Bolender, drive Blue, a Shetland pony, as part of the equestrian award. 4-Hers must achieve excellence in driving, English equitation, Western equitation and working ranch horse to earn the award.

Kagen Perez is Bonneville County’s first recipient of the 4-H Gold Seal Equestrian Award.

To win the award, the 13-year-old Idaho Falls boy demonstrated competency in working ranch horse, driving, English equitation and Western equitation. He spent four years working on the award.

Kagen’s grandmother, Bonnie Bolender, a Bonneville County 4-H horse committee member of Idaho Falls was instrumental in getting the award approved about five years ago. When Kagen decided to go for the award, Bolender was more than happy to help, said Kagen’s parents, K.C. and Tami Perez, of Idaho Falls.

While Kagen was working on the equitation award, he was working on the 4-H livestock award too. It’s called the Agriculturist Award. To earn an Agriculturalist Award, kids have to excel at raising six animals; a pig, a beef, a sheep, a dairy cow, a market goat and dairy goat.

Kagen said he spent about three months learning to drive a Shetland gelding named Blue. With an Arabian named Awesam, they spent about a month on English equitation. Since Awesam was already skilled in Western equitation – that didn’t take long. However, roping on Awesam didn’t come easy.

“Roping is not his thing, and it took a long time to teach him. He still doesn’t like it,” Kagen said, and Bolender added, “He didn’t like the sound the rope makes spinning over his head. That’s a horse’s blind spot, and he would raise his head instead of lower it, but we worked on it, and made it work. There’s always some issue when working with horses.”

Bolender has ridden horses since she was a youngster. She loved helping Kagen during the highs, as well as during the lows of horse training.

“It was gratifying to get the award because it was very difficult. Sometimes I was crying, and scared, and sometimes I got frustrated with a horse who didn’t want to work,” Kagen said.

In the meantime, Kagen is well on his way to earning the Agriculturist Award. He’s met the requirements with a pig, beef, sheep and a dairy cow. Now he’s working on market goat and dairy goat projects.

His sister, Kenna Perez, 16, won the award in 2016, and is helping others in her 4-H club earn the award. The Agriculturist Award is based on a point system, and some of the requirements are demonstrations, showing in quality, and showmanship and a blue ribbon-winning record book.

“I hope to finish this year but most likely it will take two years,” he said. “Anyway, that’s what I’m hoping for.”

Both awards take perseverance.

“Over the summer, I’m pretty much dedicated to 4-H, so I’m out there working with animals all the time,” Kagen said. “Sometimes when I have time off, we go camping.”

In the winter, Kagen plays on the traveling Idaho Falls Eagles hockey team.

“Hockey is my thing, but I still take care of the animals all year long,” he said.

Phil Erickson, chairman of the Bonneville County 4-H Horse Committee said the equitation award is challenging.

“We encourage the kids to get out into each of the different divisions because you can obviously learn something in each one,” Erickson said. “They get a better diversity of experience, and a better understanding of what is going on.”

One of the many benefits of learning the different events is learning better communication between rider and horse.

“You don’t always have a bit in a horse’s mouth when driving so rein control is important,” Erickson said. “Hands are everything in driving, where in English and Western, the feet also come into play as a way to talk to a horse.”

Additionally, demonstrations and record books are required.

“It’s not a simple thing,” Erickson said. “When someone earns this award they have gone and done something.”