The Lessons Learned With Horses

The Lessons Learned With Horses

These former youth exhibitors now parent youth competitors of their own.

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Julie J. Bryant

Kneeling to check the luggage at the Tulsa airport for one of the American Junior Quarter Horse Association (now AQHYA) officers, my eyes were focused on the ground. 

Stepping into my view were a pair of sandaled feet with polished toenails and, as my eyes traveled upward, I saw connected to those feet another one of those officers who had overslept and missed her flight home. Sigh. When would these kids ever learn?

That officer is now the mother of three and, like many of the parents of “show kids,” she drives hundreds of miles per week for not only their horse-related activities but school, sports and other youth activities. 

I wondered, now that she’s the parent, do the words she might have heard of caution, instruction, even fear, echo in her own head?

As AQHA’s director of youth activities for nearly seven years, I was in the unique position of both mentoring and managing a group of youth leaders whose job it was to promote the value of owning American Quarter Horses and being involved in all that AQHA offered through its youth programming. During that period, from 1988 to 1994, youth membership climbed from 13,000 to more than 30,000, and AQHA’s involvement in other youth organizations, like FFA and national high school rodeo, ramped up significantly.

Yet in the midst of all this accomplishment was still the fact that we adults were dealing with pre-teens, tweens and teens, complete with the drama, hormonal angst and pressure to perform that permeates that time of life. And I, in my mid-20s, was barely “adulting” myself.

From that group I mentored came the first AQHA president to have been youth president, the late Peter J. Cofrancesco III; the first youth president to become an AQHA youth director, Heath Miller; a slew of professionals working in the industry today like AQHA Professional Horsemen Ross Roark, Jenny Jordan Frid, Jill Gomes Newcomb, Melissa Hargett Dukes, Judd Paul and C.R. Bradley, as well as a great many who have gone on to become lawyers, teachers, doctors, veterinarians, business owners, artists, bankers and more.

While the occupations might be different, one thing these former youth exhibitors and leaders have in common is parenthood.

Here are a few thoughts on why kids should ride or show horses, as shared by these former youth members-turned-parents.

1. Horses Build Responsibility

Horses teach life lessons, including having to care for the horses, building confidence, learning how to be a good winner and loser, and creating lifelong friendships. 

2. Horses Teach Organization

Youth have more to juggle than just horses. They also have to take care of school, family and additional activities they’re involved in. Having to prioritize horse care and riding is part of building the skills and work ethic they will need as adults.

3. Horses Guide Education

For many families, the demands of the horse world make homeschooling a positive option. The flexibility of the schedule allows them to not only provide high-quality education in the classroom, but also education out in the real world – including at the barn.

4. Horses Teach Budgets

Horses can be expensive, and the need to figure out and follow a budget is an important life lesson for youth. Sitting down with their parents or trainers to work through a budget can help a young person understand that it’s not always necessary to purchase the most expensive horse or equipment, if you’re willing to put in the hard work it will take to succeed. 

5. Horses Give Funding

The educational and leadership opportunities in the horse world are diverse for youth. There are also a lot of scholarships available, and taking advantage of these can help young people get a head start on their life as they attend college.

These former youth offer valuable testimony to the significance and worth as they represent a microcosm of the 60,000 parents and 120,000 grandparents willing to “do horses” with their children and grandchildren. 

No, it’s not easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. 

“I remember sleeping in the back of the truck and hauling with my dad,” youth competitor-turned-mom Dawn Falcon says. “These are the types of memories I wanted my daughter to have. It’s not just about winning belt buckles. It’s the time that you spend with your family that makes it worth it.”

Next Steps for Kids and Horses

  1. Read this quick article, "Kids and Horses: Making a Rewarding Experience." 
  2. Understand what to consider when purchasing a horse for a child
  3. Explore the wide array of programs that AQHYA offers – everything from leadership to development, competition to scholarships.