National Youth Racing Experience: On the Home Stretch

AQHYA member and National Youth Racing Experience scholarship recipient Hunter Duncan shares how her time at the track impacted her life and helped her learn more about Quarter Horse racing.

The American Quarter Horse Youth Assocation

Hunter Duncan won a $2000 scholarship at the AQHYA National Youth Racing Experience!

“And they’re off! They’re coming around the final turn! They’re blazing down the homestretch! It’s Timely Delivery with the win!” There’s a lot of excitement during a horse race, but once the race is over, what happens next?

What now? This is a question I have started asking myself. I am a junior in high school and the time in which I begin applying to colleges is nearing. What now? I know exactly what my abilities are in this very moment, but I am unsure of what I want to do with them. Again, this thought is profusely digging at me. What now?

At the beginning of this year, it hit me that I needed to discover who I want to be. I have been riding horses since I was about two-years-old, so I figured I should start there. I searched for various opportunities to be involved with horses in different disciplines. I came upon an application for the chance to go to the Indiana Grand Race Course. I was accepted and had a wonderful experience learning about horse racing. Then, I was presented with an application for the opportunity to attend the AQHYA National Youth Racing Experience at the Los Alamitos Race Course for the Bank of America Challenge Championships. Naturally, I applied. When I discovered that I was accepted, I thought I reached the threshold for having the best day ever. Later, I proved myself wrong.

Before going to California, the participants had to complete a lengthy workbook. This workbook included learning about diverse aspects, from the history of horse racing to the parts of a horse’s hoof.

On October 26, I boarded the plane and began my journey to California. When I landed, I met the other participants and adults. I immediately recognized that these were the kind of people that I wanted to build friendships with. We came from all over the United States: Indiana, Louisiana, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Texas, Arizona and Idaho. It was eye-opening to see the different walks of life each of us came from. We were all so diverse, yet we shared the common interest in horses. I think that’s what is amazing about the whole thing. Horses bring people together. AQHA provided us the opportunity to meet each other. AQHA brought us together, and I will forever be thankful for that.

On October 27, I woke up at 4:30 in the morning. California Chrome had a workout at the Los Alamitos track and we were bound to see him. Yes, he is a Thoroughbred, but that’s beside the point! Seeing him work was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Then, we went to the barns to work with the trainers whom we were assigned. I was so honored to accompany Brenda Schvaneveldt Figueroa and Rafael Orozco for the remainder of my time in California. They taught me about the entities that went into producing and maintaining racehorses. It was astounding to realize just how much work it took to train horses that were among the fastest in their sport. Later, the group went to Santa Anita Park, a breathtaking track. We were even able to manage getting a picture with Bob Baffert! While Bob is known famously as a highly successful Thoroughbred trainer, especially after training American Pharoah to win the Triple Crown, Bob actually got his start in Quarter Horse racing as both a jockey and a leading trainer.

On October 28, the participants went to the barns again to assist the trainers with their daily routines. There wasn’t much to do since the track was closed due to the threat of rain. Then we went to the AQHA Racing Committee Meeting, where we were introduced to the membership. It was intriguing to hear the behind-the-closed-door conversation that took place to instill integrity in horse racing. After this, we toured the Vessels Club and learned about the history of it. Later that evening, we came back to the track for the races and got to view the races from various perspectives.

On October 29, we went to the track for the final time to work with our trainers. We then attended the owner’s brunch, where we were able to talk to the people behind the horses. Finally, the dreaded time for the test to determine who would receive the scholarships approached, but by this point I was confident in my knowledge of horse racing. The races that evening were exhilarating. Simply being with Brenda in the paddock and sitting right next to her during the races made October 29 the best day of my life! In between races, I, along with two other participants, was awarded a scholarship from AQHA. This was the cherry on top of a perfect day.

On October 30, the trip to the airport was quiet. This was mostly because we were exhausted, but another reason for the silence was that we weren’t ready to leave each other. The relationships that I built with the people included in the experience will never end. I walked out of this experience with not only a scholarship and new friends, but also a new profound and deep appreciation for horse racing.

My short time in California made me realize that I want to be involved in the industry in some way. I still don’t know the exact position I want to fill, but at least I now know that the options are endless.

So, what now? Purdue University is the college of my choice at the time being. I am leaning toward majoring in either biomedical engineering or biology and minoring in business finance or marketing.

I’m on the homestretch of my high school career, and when I cross that finish line, I have a pretty good idea about what comes next thanks to the AQHA National Youth Racing Experience.