Showing horses for two Ellsworth sisters turns out to be a family thing


ELLSWORTH, Ohio — Many people believe what goes around comes around. For an Ellsworth, Ohio, family, that is just what is happening. Love, horses and passion for competing repeats itself in another generation.

As the grandfather of two girls who dominated the competition in the horse arena at this year’s Canfield Fair stated: It’s recycling of the good things in life!

“You showed,” Chuck Phipps Sr. said, pointing to his son, Chuck Jr., “your mother (Julie Phipps) showed, and it all started with Grandma.”

Crediting 4-H

Phipps Sr. said he credits 4-H with doing a lot of good things for families. He said it is difficult to find a hobby or activity that involves the whole family, but 4-H does — from the work involved in the barn every day and the teamwork involved in horse shows.

“It’s a total family thing. A father can spend time with his daughters riding and doing the barn work,” Phipps Sr. said.

Two sisters

McKenzie Phipps, 16, and her sister, Marissa, 13, started showing horses four years ago and joined the Mahoning Valley Horsemen 4-H Club.

The duo have clearly made a name for themselves, but the effort wouldn’t have been possible if two people hadn’t fallen in love.

Family beginnings

Shelly and Chuck Phipps Jr. met showing horses more than 25 years ago while in the Mahoning County Vaqueros 4-H Club. Their parents were advisers for the club, and each year, the Canfield Fair provided a memorable experience.

Chuck said it was what the family did each year — attended the fair.

Chuck’s grandmother, Martha (Marty Phipps) Rogers had a strong passion for the fair and never missed the annual event until this year when illness hit her at age 94. Rogers did not get to leave the hospital this year and died Sept. 8, the day after the fair ended.

“It was like she waited to know if the girls did well at the fair this year,” Chuck said.

The family received a double blow when his wife’s grandmother, Margery Ogle, of Coshocton, also died within hours of the other.

Chuck said she also did not miss the event and was very interested in finding out how youth did in competition.

“It’s a family thing. Both of their great-grandmothers would have been proud to know how they did,” Chuck said.

History repeats itself

Chuck said he and his wife had gotten away from showing horses after they were married and had no plans on returning to the life. Then it happened.

Chuck Phipps Sr. told the girls they could keep horses at his home, which is right around the corner. So the first ponies were purchased. And soon after, the first horses were purchased and the showing life returned for the Phipps.

Tough competition

The Phipps girls didn’t just compete this summer — they dominated, not just with their riding ability or horsemanship skills, but with their equine knowledge.

Both girls earned more than 10 awards between competition at the Canfield Fair and the Ohio State Fair. McKenzie earned the 2009 Horsewoman of the Year honor, which involved a written essay, written test, horsemanship demonstration before a judge, and then competition in a certain style of riding and a panel interview with the county extension educator.

“When you work all winter and then show all summer and have something to show for it, it’s a real accomplishment and that is what moves me,” McKenzie said.

Marissa earned the first place in the junior competition and McKenzie earned first place in the senior skillathon. The girls earned reserve champion in the pleasure versatility in the junior and senior classes, respectively.

“It’s a lot of work all year long, but it really is fun,” Marissa said.

Marissa earned the reserve champion place in freestyle reining and McKenzie, placed below her younger sister.

The honors don’t stop there. Both girls are also on the Mahoning County Equine Judging team and attended the state Horse Bowl and earned honors there.

The girls are not finished with their showing careers and plan to show again next year.

Phipps Sr. said he thinks back to when his mother built a barn for his children’s horses more than 35 years ago, and thinks of the memories his family shared. Now, the next generation gets to share the same experiences, gaining incentives for doing well and learning the skills necessary not to just succeed in the ring, but life as well.

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