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Lesa Ramsburg, Maryland FFA Star in Agricultural Placement for 2019, holds the reins.
Lesa Ramsburg, Maryland FFA Star in Agricultural Placement for 2019, holds the reins. (Courtesy Photo / Lesa Ramsburg)

Just two days before she started college at Ohio State this past fall, Lesa Ramsburg went with Ford. No, she didn’t buy a truck.

The recent Westminster High School graduate officially bought her horse named Ford, a retired racehorse, after working to train him, help him gain weight and develop his “manners” for about a year. "[He] came to the farm very malnourished, you know, he couldn’t really do much” when she first met him, she said.

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“Oh my God, it seems like like almost every day I was up there. I mean, I was feeding and I was giving him supplements,” Ramsburg said. “Me and him really got a connection.”

For Ramsburg’s work with horses and documentation of her experiences, she was recognized as Maryland FFA Star in Agricultural Placement and a runner-up in the Northeast Region of the United States at a ceremony in September.

The American Star is the highest award in FFA and is awarded in four categories: Agribusiness, Agricultural Placement, Agriscience and Farmer. Ramsburg was honored in Agricultural Placement, which recognizes an FFA members who completes an exceptional agricultural placement supervised agricultural experience, or SAE.

Ramsburg started her SAE in high school, though her work with animals goes back much further. For her SAE project, she collected data multiple times per week when she went to the barn to work with the horses — mainly Ford and another named Jack. Another facet of the project was presenting on her experiences and explaining the project to judges.

With Ford and Jack, they prepared for shows and riding competitions. Ramsburg’s focus was “learning how to ride, learning how to teach them,” she said.

The prize money she earned from the FFA recognition will go toward her study of animal sciences at Ohio State. She hopes to work as a veterinarian.

The first horse she worked with closely was Jack, who lives at High Ridge Farm in Manchester. She leased him through 4-H and has shown him at state and county fairs.

Working on the SAE, Ramsburg said it was rewarding to see success after consistent hard work.

“This project was really interesting because in the beginning, when I first started riding, I wasn’t really placing that high... But by the end of the project, I was champion at the State Fair,”she said.

She started riding and working with the horses at High Ridge about five years ago, learning from trainer Candy Cole.

“She’s one of the most important people in my life,” Ramsburg said.

Cole said of Ramsburg that, “She started out super shy. Lots of head nodding, not as much talking.” But as she grew, she became someone for younger riders to look up to and go to for advice.

“She blossomed into a leader. She really did,” Cole said.

Cole sees many younger riders become more confident and get better at speaking up for themselves after spending time working with horses. Over the years, many of the 4-H and FFA kids she has worked with have gone on to careers in agriculture or animal-related fields.

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“Horses are good for all people,” she said.

Lesa Ramsburg is pictured in competition.
Lesa Ramsburg is pictured in competition. (Courtesy Photo / Lesa Ramsburg)

In December 2018, Ford arrived at the farm malnourished and in need of some TLC.

Helping him to relearn manners and basic training became Ramsburg’s project. She and Cole worked together to build him a nutrition plan, and watched him gain back health over time. She spent a lot of time with him at the barn making sure he got his food and supplements, and the two formed a close connection.

That connection was why she bought him, even though she was so close to starting her first semester of college. Her work with Jack helped her know what to do when caring for Ford.

“[With Jack,] he had a really stable foundation...and it was more about just perfecting and honing in on those different things ... So in a way Jack taught me what I needed to know so that when I got Ford, I was able to teach him what Jack has taught me.”

Her experience with horses stretches back to elementary school and summer camps. She soon joined the High Ridge 4-H Club and by seventh grade, she was taking weekly riding lessons.

“I’ve always had a really big passion for animals, especially horses,” she said.

In high school, Ramsburg joined the FFA with advisor Aaron Geiman and completed several agriscience courses. One included a self-directed study of how dietary nutrients affect weight gain in goats. She gained practical experience from an internship at North Carroll Veterinary Services in Hampstead.

“I completely credit the agriculture program, and my 4-H and FFA and all my horse stuff — that is 100% what allowed me to get into Ohio State,” she said.

Experiences that let her be self-directed and learn what she could do on her own were especially valuable.

“All of these self-directed programs have really been a way for me to cultivate my own skills and learn how to become independent,” she said.

“When I go into life, I’m not going to be having someone giving me cookie-cutter instructions.”

At the same regional competition on Sept. 14 the Westminster High School FFA Veterinary Science Team earned first place in the Northeast Region. The team consisted of Ramsburg, Avery Dull, Samantha Finazzo, and Abby Wimmer with coach Lynn Wimmer.

More information about FFA is available at www.ffa.org or www.mdffa.org.

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