2016 Merial AQHA Region Six Championships: July 16

Karli Knapp shows what she's accomplished with her AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program foal at the 2016 Merial AQHA Region Six Championships.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Karli Knapp and MRQH Dandy Hustles, “Gunner,” celebrate four years together. Karli received Gunner as part of the AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program. (Journal Photo)

Four years ago, Karli Knapp of Wardsboro, Vermont, was a 16-year-old life member of the American Quarter Horse Youth Association. In late August 2012, her mom stumbled across an email inviting youth members to apply for the AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program. If selected, Karli would receive a foal from an AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder and she would be responsible for raising, training and showing that foal.

“My dad told me we already had too many horses. I told him I was going to apply anyways because it wasn’t likely I’d be picked,” she says.

Much to the family’s surprise, Karli was chosen to participate in the inaugural program. She received a foal donated by Moreau River Quarter Horses in Mud Butte, South Dakota. Registered as MRQH Dandy Hustles, the foal spent 10 days on a trailer to reach Karli on the East Coast. The 2012 bay gelding is by Hustles Feature and out of Miss Dandy Feature by Frosty Gray Hancock.

Karli’s family eagerly awaited his arrival at a cowboy mounted shooting event in Pennsylvania. From there, they hauled him the remainder of the way home.

“I gave him the barn name ‘Gunner,’ as it was fitting since we were picking him up a mounted shooting event,” Karli explains.

When the family caught a glimpse of Gunner in the shipper’s trailer, it was obvious he’d had a rough ride. The weanling had a gash on his head and a laceration on his hind leg near his cornet band.

“The cut was deep and so close to the hoof, I worried it would affect him. Fortunately, he completely healed,” says Michelle, Karli’s mom. 

Karli’s first – and unexpected – assignment for the project was to doctor Gunner back to health.

“It really helped us bond. I spent a lot of time caring for his wounds and he learned to trust me,” she says.

Then she got to work training her young foal. Working in-hand, she spent hours introducing Gunner to a wide variety of trail obstacles. Her goal was to desensitize him and prepare him for his first show, which was part of the program requirements.

In 2013, Karli entered Gunner in open and youth yearling gelding classes at the concurrently run Region Six Super Six Show and Merial AQHA Region Six Championships. They won both the open and youth yearling gelding classes, collecting two buckles.  

Today, Karli is an AQHA life member and is training Gunner for a variety of AQHA events, but specifically has an interest in reining and ranch riding. Gunner is eligible for the AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenges because he was bred by an AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder. The Challenges are money-added ranch horse competitions for horses bred by AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders.

This year, Karli introduced to him cattle through participation in the New England Stock Horse Series, which includes working cow horse classes.

At the 2016 Merial AQHA Region Six Championships, she and Gunner also competed in showmanship, western pleasure and hunter under saddle.

Karli credits the Young Horse Development Program for helping her choose a career path. Prior to raising and training Gunner, she was unsure of what she wanted to pursue after high school.

“Now I know I want to be a trainer and I want to start young horses and sell them for finishing,” she says.

Grateful for the opportunity this program has given her, Karli is a faithful promoter of the program. She encouraged fellow 4-H’er David Gringeri of Fair Haven, Vermont, to apply to the program and he received a foal for the 2015-2016 program year.

Over the past four years, Karli and Gunner have both grown and developed their skills as a team.

“Gunner has learned an incredible amount since I got him, but I feel like he has taught me even more,” she says.

For youth interested in applying for the coming year’s program, the deadline is August 26.