Even the Underdog Can be Successful

Despite being the only equestrian in her family, Emily Schimnich still reaped grand adventures and a $1,500 scholarship through the AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program.

The American Quarter Horse Youth Association

My participation in the 2017 AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I had known about the program for a couple years prior to the time when I applied in May of 2016. It had always been something I had wanted to check off my bucket list, but the timing had never seemed “right” until then. What better year to complete it than my last year as an AQHYA life member?!

When I originally applied, I didn’t really know what to expect. Neither of my parents had equine backgrounds; therefore, everything I had learned about horses was due to my constant pursuit of wanting to know more – and do more – with horses. After I applied, I wondered, “Would I be selected to receive a weanling? If I did, where would I travel to pick him/her up? Would we get along? Would I be successful in the program?” Right from the get-go I knew that if I were selected, the program would be a challenge unlike anything I have experienced before.

On August 31, 2016, I finally received the call I had been waiting nearly four months for. Katie Reynolds from AQHYA called to tell me that I was chosen to be awarded one of six weanlings at Open Box Rafter Ranch’s annual production horse sale in Rapid City, South Dakota, on September 10, 2016. I was beyond excited to be chosen, but also nervous about the possibilities. The same worries I had before flooded my mind. The Type A person in me wanted to know everything I possibly could before I arrived at the sale to pick my weanling. I watched every single sale video Open Box Rafter Ranch had posted in their online sale catalogue, and I studied the conformation and descriptions of each of their stallions. I didn’t know which weanlings were to be given away, but I had an idea about which stallion I liked the best, so I went to the sale dead-set on which weanling I wanted (on the condition that they offered a weanling to the youth by that particular stallion). I had made a pact with myself that if a palomino was offered, I wasn’t going to choose it because I knew that horse would be highly sought after by the other youth. And of course, I would choose a colt that I could geld and not a filly because geldings generally are more “agreeable.”  

I should have learned by that time that sometimes things don’t work out the way I plan. I arrived at the sale with my family and we were greeted by Jim Hunt, the owner of Open Box Rafter Ranch. He gave us a brief description of each of the weanlings that were offered. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure about which weanling I wanted to call my own. After standing by the corrals for nearly an hour, trying to decide which one I wanted, I had narrowed down my choices to five of them (yay me!) The quality was exceptional – no arguing about that. That, and I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do with my weanling in the future, which made my decision 10 times harder.

Finally, the time came to choose which weanling we were going to be paired with. Jim Hunt asked us, “Who is interested in a filly?” There I was, not sure what I wanted. “Whoever wants the palomino filly, step forward.” I heard a voice in the back of my head tell me to go against everything I had previously decided, and step forward for the palomino filly. There were four of us who wanted her; I probably wasn’t going to get her anyway. The four of us who wanted the filly put our names in a hat to draw for who would receive her. When they pulled my name out of the hat, I think my heart stopped for a split second. Then suddenly, everything I had planned melted away. All those hours I had spent watching videos, the time I had spent in between my classes scrolling through the sale catalogue, the endless research I had done on each of the stallions; it all melted away. The palomino filly was M-I-N-E. I was so overwhelmed, I almost started crying. I remember joyfully grinning at my parents (who were probably wondering what they had gotten themselves into).

The rest of the draws, the sale, and pretty much the entire day, zipped by in the blink of an eye. The next day we headed home bright and early with my filly in tow. It was on the way home that I had decided to name my filly “Lily.” I was also able to give my weanling a registered name, so I decided to use some influence from both her sire and dam’s names and pedigrees (PC Cisco Frost and Suzanna Joak) to create Miss Lillian Frost.

I spent the next several months getting to know Lily before the 2017 Young Horse Development Program started in January. Throughout my time in the program, I was always impressed with Lily’s eagerness to learn, and how quickly she caught onto new concepts. I was able to record everything I did with Lily in our monthly reports, including daily chores, training sessions, and shows. I remember taking Lily to her very first show on July 2. Lily was not even 14 months old at the time, and we were awarded second place in a senior showmanship class full of experienced exhibitors and horses! For our last show, we were awarded first place for the 4-H Horse Training Project, Step 2 at the Minnesota State 4-H Horse Show! I took her to a total of five shows during the program, and she was an absolute peach at all of them!

Along with monthly reports and show requirements, I was also required to record income and expenses, participate in a session with an AQHA Professional Horseman, perform a trail video and complete additional assignments (such as bathing and trailering videos), to name a few. I appreciate that the program not only encourages the youth to showcase and enhance their horse training ability, but it also helped me develop my communication, time-management and organizational skills. For all my hard work with Lily in the Young Horse Development Program this year, I was awarded second place (out of a record 59 participants), a $1,500 scholarship and a pair of Justin boots.

My biggest tips to those who are participating in 2018 would be to read the directions thoroughly, learn the record book like the back of your hand, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be open and eager to learning new concepts. Although this is a horse training competition, participants are also judged on completeness, accuracy, content, quality of recordkeeping and the presentation of the horse. It is possible for an underdog – like myself – to be successful in the program! You don’t have to come from a life-long horse training background to do well. A desire to do my absolute best and to learn as much as I could were important qualities I found to be vital to me during my time in the program.

It is just the beginning for us, and I am excited to see where this journey with Lily will take me in the future. A special thank you to Open Box Rafter Ranch, Jim and Joni Hunt and family, and all the other AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders who have donated weanlings for the youth! I know this experience has changed my life, and I’m sure it has changed many others, as well.

You can see what I did with Lily – and continue to follow our progress – by following us on our Facebook page, Emily Schimnich and Lily 2017 Young Horse Development Program. Congratulations and best wishes to everyone who is participating in 2018!