Sydney Scheckel: A Shining Light in the Equine Community

Kirstie Marie Jones interviews AQHYA member Sydney Scheckel about bullying in the equine community.

From Kirstie Marie Photography LLC

Sydney and her new cow horse, Saint Nic It, pose during their giveaway session with Kirstie Marie Photography.

In October 2015, during National Bullying Prevention Month, I wanted to speak about an area of the equine community that I don’t see discussed enough: bullying.

According to, bullying is defined as, “unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” Nearly a decade ago, Bullying Prevention Month was initiated by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center as a way to increase education and awareness around the globe.

Last October, the All American Quarter Horse Congress and AQHA Level 1 Championships generated negativity on social media that spread like a viral internet wildfire. My social media newsfeeds were filled with complaints like the movement of western pleasure horses and novice riders considering themselves champions for winning their respective classes. While some of the complaints were valid, I saw too many that were mean-spirited and offensive in nature. Condescending comments (and shares/likes) can paralyze those who genuinely love this sport and want to see it flourish and grow. The only way I know how to fight internet bullying is to replace it with positive thoughts and words, and to reward those who speak and act in a positive manner.

In an effort to encourage and reinforce those in the equine industry who are shining lights of encouragement and positivity, I offered a photography session in a giveaway contest. To enter, I required people to nominate their friends, parents, horse trainers and youth exhibitors by emailing their name and a paragraph about how this person inspires them. The response I received was overwhelming and incredibly genuine. There are so many great people in the equine industry and I am thrilled give the spotlight to someone who is extremely deserving.

The winner of my giveaway was 17-year old Sydney Scheckel, who received nominations from dozens of her friends and adoring fans. Here are some of the things said about Sydney:

“She is an absolute gem. Respectful, accountable, responsible, independent, trustworthy, hard working ... these are just a few words that can be used to describe her. These are the kinds of things that I want my [own children] to emulate.”

“Sydney is the salt of the earth.”

“As she grew into a teenager, she became a true rarity in this world. She is beyond kind and thoughtful. Always (has) a smile on her face and a hug for those around her and a kind word for everyone. She is just a delight. As someone twice her age, I'm blown away at the maturity she shows in her life choices and how she always puts her family and faith first.”

“I have known her since she was a very small girl, and have the greatest respect for her because of her kindness, sweetness, and gentleness.”

“She deserves this in honor of her phenomenal career and in setting a perfect example”

Sydney is an eight-time time All American Quarter Horse Congress Champion, the 2015 AQHYA showmanship world champion and a National Snaffle Bit Association world champion. But she is so much more than a trophy or a belt buckle, or a near-perfect showmanship score. In an effort to stay true to Sydney’s own voice and heart, here is a quick question and answer I did with her:

What is bullying?

Sydney: A great quote to start this question off with is on by Andy Biersack, “When people hurt you over and over, think of them like sandpaper: They may scratch and hurt you a bit, but in the end, you end up polished and they end up useless.”

Bullying is the result of someone wanting someone else to feel inferior to themselves. They have to feel the satisfaction of being better than someone else. It occurs in all age groups, young or old. It’s quite disappointing that people actually resort to this behavior, but it’s the result of a lack of love the bully isn’t receiving. So, a person just has to feel sorry for them.

The person being bullied must not give into the pressure. I understand how hard that is to do. Nothing’s forever – everything you experience, every hardship and ordeal is a part of a master-plan intended to teach you something or lead you somewhere. As hard as today may be, it will end, and there will be a tomorrow to look forward to. You just need the foresight and faith to see it. You have to keep your head up and know that there are only bigger and better things going to happen for you. If one can get through the negative effects of bullying, they are one strong person with a great mindset – they are victors of one of the worst social battles.

Have you ever been the victim of bullying?

Sydney: Yes, I honestly have. Not particularly by a certain person, but rather by a group. I haven’t been home-schooled during my high school career; I’ve stayed in public school. Because I am away at horse shows often, I’ve never had the opportunity to be close with my classmates. I get along with everyone, but I’ve made no best friends (or enemies) at school. They don’t necessarily put me down or bully me, but we just don’t interact. I still consider this a form of bullying – one group is excluding another person or group because of their views or their differentiating characteristics. Something that I’ve had to learn to do is look past things, don’t let them consume you. First of all, in life, you’re not going to please everyone. You have to look at the big picture, high school is short, college is going to be much better, and so will life. The way I’m getting through high school is this: getting good grades, respecting everyone’s opinion and I’m not stopping 'til I get there – college!

Why do you think people bully?

Sydney: People bully to make themselves feel accomplished or higher than someone else. The main reason people bully is to get attention. Maybe they’re not getting attention at home. Maybe a parent is neglecting them. Maybe they can’t make friends the regular way. So a bully resorts to picking on others to get attention.

Contrary to the popular notion that bullies have a superior attitude, deeper than that are feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. Bullies pick on others because it takes the focus off of themselves and what they believe are their weaknesses.

How do you see bullying in the equine community? At horse shows, online, etc.

Sydney: The most vivid quote I have in my mind, that I was told when I was very young is, “Someone is always watching.” It’s the absolute truth. We need to control our actions and think wisely before doing something that could possibly ruin our reputation.

What is your definition of success?

Sydney: Success shouldn’t be measured by tangible items such as, trophies, buckles and money. It should be measured by your assessment of whether or not you, yourself succeeded. Throughout my experiences of showing, a person has to realize that you’re not going to win every time you compete. It’s a tough climb to the top. If one has the mindset to get better every single day, it makes that climb much more enjoyable. When showing an animal, we must keep in mind that they’re only human. They are allowed mistakes too. Are we perfect everyday, at everything? The answer is "No." In order to be successful, you have to form a very strong bond with your horse. It has proved itself over and over.

What is your definition of beauty?

Sydney: True beauty comes from within. A beautiful person has the personality to go with the body they’re living in. Beauty knows no bounds. There isn’t any need for everyone to be a Victoria’s Secret model. No one should compare themselves to someone else. You were made to be you.

What do you wish you saw more of at horse shows?

Sydney: I would love to just see people smiling and laughing more. I’m stating that I’m guilty of it too, but most of us treat winning and losing like a life or death situation. That is by no means necessary, I speak from experience. I understand how much money and time we all spend on this sport, so it’s by all means necessary to take it serious at times. The key to success is finding the happy-medium of being relaxed/having fun and taking things seriously.  

As we all know and have been guilty of is gossip. It spreads like wildfire through our horse showing community, whether it’s true or false. I’d love to see people keep more things to themselves; you have enough to deal with in your own life. I’m generally a quiet person in nature. I know what it’s like to feel as if everyone knows your business.

What are some examples of kindness people can show in the equine industry?

Sydney: Kindness can be shown in the simplest of ways. It can be as simple as saying good morning to people you pass by or buying someone’s coffee for them.

The legacy I would love to leave is this: Sydney is a helping hand, she has advice to offer when needed, talks to everyone she comes across, and has a smile to light a room up. I feel as if it’s my responsibility to always answer any questions anyone may have. I want to pass my knowledge onto others, so they can achieve as much or more than I did. People who are experienced need to give others advice, that is indeed what makes our industry better and shows how many good people are in it. When younger girls than me come to me for advice, I absolutely love and appreciate it. I want everyone to know that, I’m more than happy to help ANYONE in any way, shape, or form.

How did you get into horses?

Sydney: Both of my parents are responsible for getting me involved with horses, or more, broadly animals. They are both dear lovers of animals. I believe that’s why they’re a perfect match made in heaven. The saying holds truth, “The way you treat an animal is a reflection of the person you truly are.”

My dad had a horse named "Sugar" on their family farm when they were kids. She was naughty, she’d scrape the kids off of her back by going underneath tree branches. My mom was horse-crazy when she was young, but her parents couldn’t afford them. My grandmother did her best to support my mom’s love for the animals by getting her involved with some very well respected local horsemen and horsewomen. These kind people gave her lessons and taught her how to love a horse.

Crazily, when I became old enough to ride (just beginning to walk), I too received lessons from the same people Mom did. My first horse was an old cow horse, "Jack." He was perfect in the fact that not much got him upset. I started showing Jack at the local shows and through 4-H. He was the horse that started it all. As I kept competing, we’d find ourselves in different parts of the state, until it turned into showing on a national level. It was a small beginning, but that’s the part that I love the most!

What is your favorite showing memory?

Sydney: My favorite memory is by a far walking out of the Jim Norick Arena carrying a gold trophy and seeing everyone’s bawling, smiling faces. Everyone was thinking the same thing I was: All of that hard work paid off! The most wonderful moments of that day were hugging everyone, telling them thank you for all they’ve done for me, and rejoicing in all of the memories it took to get to that particular moment in time.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Sydney: Winning the Youth World in showmanship is my biggest accomplishment. This accomplishment simply isn’t about the gold trophy I won. It is indeed about the wonderful memories that ran through my head as I was taking my victory lap upon my best friend. The trophy symbolizes all of the hard work we put in, mistakes we overcame and the general love we have for each other. The climb to the top was by no means easy – it was tough. Somedays you feel like throwing it out the door, but the best part is the climb to the top. Once you get to the top, it’s great, but you soon realize you need to move onto something else. I knew I had done all I was meant to do, and it’s now time for someone else to have their days in the sun.

As part of human nature, we have the desire to just keep wanting more. That isn’t the answer, folks. Once I won the "Triple Crown" of the Quarter Horse world, I knew I needed to try to conquer something else, another event. So, I’m now competing in cow horse. I retired "Pip," figuring that’s the least I could do for her, in return for all she did for me. Pip, aka A Perfect Pleasure, is part human in my eyes. She knows exactly how I’m feeling everyday, more so than my parents do most days!

In Parting

Kirstie: I truly hope Sydney’s words gave you hope and encouragement for our sport. In my personal life, the opportunity to own, ride and show horses has been an enormous blessing. I know there are many changes to be made in the equine industry, but my hope is that we can advance forward with an attitude that is grateful, humble, and always kind towards others.

About the Author: Kirstie Marie Jones is a lifetime horse enthusiast and the owner and lead photographer of Kirstie Marie Photography. Based in Texas, she strives to capture the special relationship between a girl and a horse for each and every client. Created with mostly film photography, Kirstie’s style is characterized by revealing the most beautiful elements of each girl and her horse in sun-soaked, distinctive photos to be treasured for generations to come.

Photos provided by Kirstie Marie Photography, LLC