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Meet The "Freedom Fliers"

What do you get when you combine a love for horseback riding with a passion for music?

“A drill team is a precision riding group on horses. It’s something of a choreographed ballet,” Peg Smith said. “It’s a mental game. That horse and rider has to be one and the team has to be one.”

Smith, also known as “Granny 4-H,” is one of the women responsible for the creation of the “Freedom Fliers,” Taylor County’s first 4-H Drill Team. This year will be the first time a homegrown team competes in the State 4-H Horse Show drill team competition. Spectators are invited to head over to the Taylor County Coliseum at 6 p.m. on Monday to see teams perform.

During a recent practice Smith watched muscular quarter horses kick up a cloud of dust as they kept a trot at the Taylor County Sheriff Posse Arena. Team members worked to synchronize with one another to complete a ten-minute routine set to patriotic songs. The team is made up of ten girls, ages 9-14 and they were the ones who chose to honor veterans and military personnel with the team name, “Freedom Fliers.”

“They had a desire to pay homage to this particular group,” Smith said. “And then at the conclusion of the drill, next to the last maneuver is with half of the team facing one side of the arena and one facing the other side with them saluting.”

Appeal to the audience is judged along with horsemanship, precision of execution, maintenance of distances and gaits.

Team member Gabriella Garza described performing in front of an audience as a “rush,” but more than anything she appreciates the team because the experience helps her build confidence.

“Usually I would just shut down and be like, ‘Ok, you’re telling me what to do, thanks.’ but I’m learning to speak up,” Garza said.

Better communication skills and confidence are two benefits from participating in the drill team. Smith said 4-H offers all sorts of life skills including how to work on a team and the basics of managing others. 

“One of the things that 4-H focuses on is teaching leadership,” Smith said.  We want the youngsters to be able to go through school and college and into their careers with leadership skills.”

Smith said a prime example of someone who gained leadership skills through their 4-H involvement is Freedom Flier Team Master LeRoyce Hart.

Hart grew up in 4-H, now her two children also participate. She took on the role of team master because her nine-year-old daughter showed interest in joining a 4-H drill team. Leading a group of young girls has plenty of challenges, Hart admits working with so many personalities can be a hard but she is dedicated to 4-H.

“It’s a great program, 4-H teaches you anything from responsibility to respect to trust,” Hart said. “I think that’s what the kids need these days-they need to have that responsibility to take care of something whether it is from sewing to cooking to horses or even show animals.”