From the Office of Craig Huffhines

A Step in the Right Direction

AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines shares why he feels the Young Horse Development Program is a step in the right direction.

American Quarter Horse Association

Huffhines shares why he feels the Young Horse Development Program is a step in the right direction.

Six years ago, Jim Hunt, chairman of the AQHA Ranching Committee, and wife Joni were discussing the challenges young people have of purchasing a quality ranch-bred horse and young families have of entering a relatively expensive industry. Jim and Joni recognized the need for our equestrian world to reach out to folks who have an interest in our industry by doing something very special for them that would help them become lifelong Quarter Horse lovers.

At the time, the Hunt family, a wonderful multi-generational South Dakota ranch family that runs about 800 commercial cows and raises more than 100 AQHA Ranching Heritage foals annually, was about to host its 17th ranch horse production sale.

A higher power was speaking to their hearts when they decided to give away at least six quality weanlings a year to young teenagers who were passionately interested and capable of caring for, starting and eventually showing those horses in AQHA, 4-H and other competitions.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of spending time with the Hunts, a strong faith-based family with talent to spare. The family was holding its 23rd annual Open Box Rafter Ranch Production Sale at the Central States Fairgrounds in Rapid City, South Dakota. They brought their best horses to auction, along with consignments from their good friends Lis and John Hollmann, representing The Frenchman Foundation, a nationally renowned program, and owners of the great mare Casey's Ladylove. This 1961 buckskin mare will be inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame at the 2017 AQHA Convention, the first South Dakota-bred horse to earn this honor.

One of my reasons for attending the Hunts’ sale was to better understand the thought process that Jim and Joni have in giving away these colts. After this particular sale, the Hunts have given away more than 40 colts since they started.

What type of young person was applying for these colts? What quality of colts were they giving away? Most importantly, what impact was this program having on the lives of these young people?

The answers to those questions revealed to me something so special that I now believe the movement Jim and Joni started six years ago, and the subsequent development of the official AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program, may become one of the programs that is the savior of youth involvement in our industry. It has so much potential for engaging youth across 4-H, FFA and many other agricultural-based youth organizations and associations.

Jim’s words to me were: “It’s not important how many of these colts we have given away. It didn’t cost us anything to do this. We give away quality colts, not the bottom end, and it doesn’t cost us anything. The reward we receive is watching how these colts impact the lives of young people, and that’s way more valuable than the price these colts would bring at auction. In addition, it gives us a chance to share our faith with young people.”

Jim’s words have been rattling in my head since I heard them. I’m not an overly political person, but I have been really scratching my head lately trying to understand where the leadership of this country is heading. We have become a country of entitlements. We are becoming a country where integrity, work ethic and responsibility for self have been lost. I fear we have become a country where young people are struggling to recognize heroes whom they can aspire to become.

But we do not need to look far into rural America to witness greatness. How precious is the simple gesture of donating a $1,200 to $2,000 colt to a young person and then telling them, “Hey, if you need any help or have questions, give us a call.” Or, “If you’re just not getting along with this colt, we’ll swap it out with another.”

It’s life changing. It’s giving a young person the opportunity to exercise commitment, patience, work ethic and responsibility. It’s educational and delivers knowledge. It’s teaching a young person what it means to be a good family person, to stay hitched, to not give up and to care for those you’re responsible for. It’s an example of the importance of giving and not always taking.

It’s teaching the hungry to fish, not just handing them food.

Let’s find more ways to get behind efforts like the Young Horse Development Program, which will change the opportunities and the lives of young people.

This year, AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders have donated 50 colts to the Young Horse Development Program. Our new team of youth development staff, along with key marketing staff, is investigating ways to enhance the scope, reach and potential interest of this program. Furthermore, how can opportunities be enhanced to provide these young people a place to display the working knowledge they have gained and perhaps apply for merit scholarships to help pay for their continuing education?

What an honor it was for me to see Jim and Joni provide six great kids an opportunity to grow by giving to them beautiful Open Box Rafter Ranch-raised colts. This is truly a program that puts the American Quarter Horse squarely in the middle of the discussion of the future of America.