The Value of YOUth

Scholarship winner Kaitlyn Glass shares her experiences with Big Madam Playgun during the AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program.

American Quarter Horse Youth Association

Kaitlyn and Big Madam Playgun

A year-long commitment, monthly recordkeeping reports and show requirements can sound like a huge undertaking, but the experiences and lessons I gained by participating in the AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program gave me a better understanding of what it means to be a horsewoman. When I came across this program online, I was hooked. I had experience in working with my yearlings for the Mustang Million and with horses that others had already started, but this was different. The opportunity to build the foundation from Day 1 on my own was a big draw for me. I knew I would be able to incorporate the program with my 4-H horse project in the yearling futurity classes and try for a scholarship at the same time.

I was selected from the application process and received Big Madam Playgun, or “Madam,” on the day before Thanksgiving 2014 from Ranching Heritage breeder Sid Miller of Stephenville, Texas. I had the neat opportunity to visit Mr. Miller at his ranch to discuss the Big As I Am bloodline and decide which weanling would be a best fit for me. The start of the program was filled with excitement. Madam was so willing to learn. She learned quickly and had me doing research on what else I could teach her. During the first quarter of the program, we focused on groundwork and longeing. Madam could also sit and lay down on cue. Her biggest hurdle was the sound of clippers. She could handle a flapping grocery bag on a stick going all over her and mastered our obstacle course, but she believed the horse-eating clippers were out to get her. While training, we had to divide our time between school, rain and more rain. I looked forward every day after school to spend time with Madam, even if it was just giving lessons inside our small barn to stay dry. 

In mid-April, I thought our participation in the program had come to an end. I came home to find something had spooked Madam into the neighbor’s pasture. In going through the slick wire, she pulled the hide off of her hocks. Infection, swelling and developing proud flesh were all concerns. I was heartbroken. At the recommendation of our vet, Madam underwent salt-water therapy and laser treatments at an equine rehabilitation facility. We followed up with twice daily aqua therapy treatments once she was home. Madam was placed on activity restrictions to help aid her healing. I remember feeling disappointed. My horse was injured and I believed the chance of a scholarship was gone. My main concern became giving Madam the care she needed to make a sound recovery. I almost decided to drop out of the program. I didn’t want to quit or give up, but I felt my time should be focused on her. My parents urged me to keep on, and they suggested I document her recovery and have the feeling of accomplishment in completing the program. As we continued, training became creative. Madam learned to accept a bareback pad, line driving and bit training. She had progressed enough by mid-June that our vet okayed her to compete in halter and longeline but only in two gaits for the district 4-H horse show. We qualified for the state show in July, helping us meet our show requirements for the program. 

During the last quarter of the program, Madam was able to get back on track with our training. The trust and partnership by this point was amazing. She was picking ground tasks back up like she hadn’t had months off. She progressed to accepting a lightweight saddle while doing obstacles and exercises. I met with AQHA Professional Horsewoman Sherry Haynes of Stephenville, Texas, to sign off on my project. We discussed nutrition, deworming and training schedules. She was also generous enough to give me tips on showmanship and longeing. She was impressed with Madam’s groundwork and manners. When I sent in my final report to Mr. Stutz at AQHA, it was surreal. I found I didn’t want it to be over. 

Three hundred and three hours are what I have recorded working with Madam for the program. When I think back on those hours, I remember triumphs, tears and lots of laughter. Triumphs with the horse-eating clippers that we conquered!  Madam's curiosity and the looks she would send my way that made me laugh until my sides hurt. Then there were good and sad tears, too. I have never had to deal with wounds like this before, so while they did set us back, I feel I learned the most from them. It made me aware of dangers at our house or at events and how to sensitize horses to these dangers. Daily wound care taught me the benefits of the healing process. I made sure we have a fully stocked first aid kit in our barn and trailer. Her injuries gave me a better understanding and knowledge of swelling and heat in injured areas. I also think we created a stronger bond through her accident. She learned to trust me more through caring for her. When I opened the letter from AQHA notifying me that we won the first-place scholarship, this is where the good tears came. Through the experience of taking care of Madam, I found I want to pursue equine rehabilitation as a career.  The Young Horse Development Program has set me on the path to my future.

I’m asked, “Why should youth apply for the program?” My answer is simple: It’s more than a program. You are made more aware of the value of your project and yourself. Through the expense and health-report recordkeeping, you learn the monetary cost of upkeep of your project. The participation reports show you the value of time invested. You also gain a value of resources. The young horse development program put me in connection with great horsemen. While you go through the program, you have access to so many qualified individuals who are willing to help you. If you have a nutritional or training question, AQHA is behind you to give you the help you need. You become friends with other youth in the program through the Facebook group and are able to share your experience with them. They cheer you on when you hit a milestone and are there for you when you hit a roadblock. Most of all, you learn the value of you. Every hour you worked on your project, you learned, you grew, you achieved.   

I would like to express a special thank you to AQHA, Sid Miller and the other generous Ranching Heritage breeders who donated to the program, and the AQHA Professional Horsemen who make this program possible. Thank you for valuing our youth.