Beau Ditmore had never saddled a horse before, but was willing to give it a try Sunday morning at the 2018 Oregon FFA State Convention.
Granted, it wasn’t an actual horse, but rather a white plastic barrel fastened to a metal stepladder. Still, Ditmore learned the proper way to cinch a saddle around the makeshift steed while Anne Livingston, advisor to Blue Mountain Community College Collegiate FFA, provided basic instructions.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Ditmore admitted when he was finished. “If it was a real horse, it probably would have bucked.”
Ditmore, a freshman at Culver High School in central Oregon, was on hand to support fellow members of his FFA chapter at the state convention, held this year at the Deschutes Fair & Expo Center in Redmond.
BMCC Collegiate FFA, from Pendleton, Ore., was also on hand, bringing along a variety of hands-on activities for the high schoolers to try when they weren’t competing in an event, or waiting for the next workshop to begin.
Livingston, who is also director of marketing for the college, said the activities were meant to give kids something to do during downtime, as well as introduce them to agricultural programs offered at BMCC.
“Nobody likes to walk up and talk to someone they don’t know,” Livingston said. “But if they have a little something interactive, they’ll do that. That inspires the conversation.”
Apart from the saddle exercise, FFA members could test their skills in soil judging, practice welding patterns with crackers and spray cheese, or fly a tiny drone around an obstacle course marked by winding orange ribbon and blue and yellow balloons.
“It’s so fun to work with these kids,” Livingston said.
The event was originally envisioned to be a competition between BMCC and other collegiate FFA teams, but Livingston said the scheduling did not work out because many schools were on spring break.
Six students from BMCC willingly gave up the first five days of their own spring break to participate in the Oregon FFA State Convention, Livingston said. They hoped to show their high school counterparts that attending college is more than just sitting in a room with four white walls listening to lectures.
“Hands-on is huge,” Livingston said. “BMCC has relevant stuff.”
Lilian Woods, a freshman from Sandy High School, worked with Juniper Cosner of BMCC mashing soil into ribbons using their hands, analyzing its fragile, loamy makeup. Woods, who is in her first year of FFA, said she hopes the program will eventually lead her to scholarships to help pay for her college education.
Though Woods said she does not come from an agricultural background, she likes working with animals and believes doing FFA can help her become a better public speaker.
Ethan Akers, a senior at Heppner High School, said FFA has taught him leadership as well as practical skills, such as welding and operating heavy equipment — the latter of which he intends to pursue for a career.
“(FFA) has opened up a whole bunch more career opportunities, honestly,” Akers said.