Inspiring New Connections

Youth from five ancillary organizations visited Amarillo for the 2017 Bank of America Youth Excellence Seminar.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Youth from various equine associations participate in a group activity. (Journal photo)

A year of intense outreach efforts by AQHYA officers paid off at the 2017 Bank of America Youth Excellence Seminar July 11-13 in Amarillo.

Members of AQHYA’s public outreach committee spent their terms connecting with fellow youth from other equine organizations. The response they received was overwhelmingly positive, says McKenzie Merritt, 2016-17 AQHYA first vice president.

“We set a goal at the beginning of the year to have at least 10 youth kids attend the YES conference from an association that was not a primary association of AQHYA,” McKenzie says. “We nearly doubled our goal and had 18 kids come this year.”

The committee’s 2017 success is just the beginning of what McKenzie hopes will become a continuous focus on improving AQHYA members’ relationships with youth equine enthusiasts of all backgrounds. YES will be at the center of the campaign, she says.

“Our goal for starting this outreach so heavily this year is that we would love to make the Youth Excellence Seminar an equine industry-wide seminar,” McKenzie says.

During the past year, outreach committee members communicated with youth involved with cattle-based organizations, such the National Cutting Horse Association and the National Versatility Ranch Horse Association, as well as members of other breed associations, including the Pinto Horse Association of America, American Paint Horse Association, International Buckskin Horse Association, Palomino Horse Breeders of America, American Morgan Horse Association and Arabian Horse Association.

The AQHYA officers also founded a partnership with the United States Equestrian Federation and maintained connections with 4-H and FFA members on local, state and national levels.

The improved connections will allow youth from different organizations to work cooperatively and efficiently for long-term positive change, McKenzie says.

“As separate organizations, we’re not going to create real, sustainable solutions,” McKenzie says. “As six or seven associations, we can compare, and solutions are going to come easy and fast.”

Collective brainstorming provides members of different organizations the opportunity to explore outreach options they may not have previously considered, says Sarah Kucza, American Morgan Horse Youth Council president.

“It’s very interesting to hear (AQHYA members) have kind of the same problems as us,” Sarah says.

Sarah learned about YES about a month before the event, so she was AMHA’s sole youth representative. She hopes to encourage more AMHA members to participate in YES in the future, cultivating a stronger bond between youth and their organization, she says.

“This year was just kind of an experiment,” Sarah says. “We just had a great time learning and meeting so many new faces. We’ve really enjoyed it.”

In addition to listening to YES speakers and participating in group breakout sessions, participants learned from examples set by their peers, says Gianna Pietrafeso, National Cutting Horse Youth Association president.

“What I thought was really important was how (AQHYA officers) ran the meetings, how everyone had their own voice,” Gianna says.

In addition to learning new leadership strategies, YES was the perfect time for the newly elected NCHYA officers to bond, which will allow them to serve their organization more successfully, Gianna adds.

“How we run things and how we get all our kids involved is really important to us,” Gianna says. “I think next year, after our other members hear about this, we’ll have a bigger group.”

For National Reining Horse Youth Association officers, YES is an annual outing, says Morgan Knerr, NRHYA president.

Three of NRHYA’s five national officers attended this year’s event in search of ideas to improve their organization, Morgan says. They will leave Amarillo with new options for member activities as well as fresh strategies leadership and meeting organization strategies, she adds.

“I love meeting all the different officers and seeing how they think,” Morgan says. “I like how they have been running everything. It has been very smooth.”

Ultimately, the magnitude of AQHYA’s success depends on its members’ ability to transcend boundaries and reach beyond what is easy and expected to create a welcoming atmosphere, McKenzie says.

“The bottom line is, as an equine industry, we are not a universal industry,” McKenzie says. “We are a small industry that impacts the people who have been involved in it. If we don’t come together, and if we don’t just accept each other as we are, then we just have these big gaps.

“It doesn’t matter what association you’re from,” she adds. “You’re in the equine industry, and you’re loving every day of it.”