Warren Loper is an award-winning member of the Boots and Buckles 4-H Horse Club. Earlier this year, the Jackson County 4-H’er won awards at both the regional and state 4-H horse shows. What makes Warren unique is that he is also hearing impaired. But Warren is very much a “people person” and doesn’t like feeling different from anyone else. His mother, Melissa Loper, recently talked to me about his 4-H experience and how it has played a role in helping Warren build confidence and achieve success regardless of his challenge.
At two weeks old, Warren was diagnosed as being completely deaf due to improper functioning hair follicles in the Cochlea. At 15 months of age, he received a Cochlear implant that was activated at 18 months of age.
Melissa said Warren didn’t like the Cochlear implant at first because it allowed for all sounds to be heard at once. He had to learn how to drown out background sounds. The implant had to be turned down completely and then slowly raised to a level that was tolerable. His ability to handle the implant increased as he got older. Melissa says there are times when Warren would rather not be able to hear.
When asked what role 4-H has played in helping Warren build confidence and feel included, Melissa shared the following:
“Being involved in the 4-H Horse Project has helped him so much. He has come out of his shell. His club leader, Lindsay Kiefer, has spent hours working with Warren and is so patient with him. He lives for helping other children, and it makes him feel important. One key thing is that no one on our team treats him like he is different than they are. As a mother, that is so important to me. Seeing the improvements he has made in his social skills and seeing him develop into an amazing rider warms my heart.”
One of the key components of 4-H is developing life skills and providing a safe and inclusive environment for all youth regardless of their physical or mental conditions. 4-H allows all youth the opportunity to explore their areas of interest. For Warren, the 4-H horse project allows him to learn the valuable life skills that come from raising and showing a horse and also allows him to exhibit mastery of learned riding skills in competitive events.
Youth involved in the 4-H Horse Project learn more than just the science behind feeding and caring for a horse, and how to properly ride. Youth also compete in contests such as horse bowl, demonstrations, public speaking and art. Youth participating in this projects use their horse as a tool to increase their knowledge and enhance their life skills making them more productive young people. To find out more about the horse project in your county, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office.