2010 EQUUS Foundation/USEF Youth Convention Offers Advice and Education for Young Riders

Louisville, Kentucky – Saturday at the 2010 USEF Annual Meeting was dedicated to the young riders. A focus of the day was the 2010 EQUUS Foundation/ USEF Youth Convention and the dozens of young riders who attended received some sage advice, not only from their counterparts, but from some of the equestrian industry’s top riders, trainers and judges.

The one-day Youth Convention kicked off with a morning Star Power Panel of five top horsemen from various disciplines – Morgan horse trainer, judge and current Morgan Horse Association President Cindy Mugnier; Bruce Griffin, a Virginia-based rider, driver, trainer and handler of sport horses; Martha Murdock, who has excelled at showing Arabians, Hackneys and American Saddlebreds; Jim B. Robertson II, manager and trainer of Infinity Stables in Kentucky, a judge and trainer of Hackney ponies, Road Horses and American Saddlebreds; and leading U.S. event competitor and trainer Karen O’Connor.

Educational sessions geared toward young riders were held throughout the day and covered everything from veterinary care, competition and career planning. A number of colleges were on site providing young riders with information about equestrian programs and opportunities. Mixed in with the serious topics was a bit of fun, including a luncheon fashion show featuring members of the Youth Council as runway models.

The Youth Convention is part of the USEF’s efforts to reach out to younger riders in hopes of encouraging and helping them to develop a life-long interest in horses. And, the morning Star Power Panel gave young riders the chance to quiz panelists about their own lives with horses.  When asked what opportunities their riding careers had given to them, panel members put world travel near the top of the list. Robertson said his work as a judge has given him “the opportunity to go places I otherwise wouldn’t have gone.” O’Connor said it wasn’t just that her career as a top event rider gave her travel opportunities but that those opportunities were unique. “We you travel with a horse, you are not a tourist. You are with other horse people who invite you into their homes and you really get to see how people live.” A life with horses, Murdock told the young riders, will connect them to some of the world’s most interesting people who share their passion for horses.

When it came to careers, panel members could not emphasize enough that young riders need to remain humble, no matter how successful they become.  Griffin warned them that even when all is going well, the bottom can drop out at any moment and they must, at all times, be ready to start over. O’Connor reminded them of the advice to “be nice to people on the way up, because you’ll see them again on the way down.”

Panelists also advised the young riders to get a good education, even if they planned a career with horses. O’Connor said she skipped college, with the result that she made some bad business decisions early in her career because she lacked an education. And while college is an important part of an education, it is not the only part, panelists said. Young riders can learn much while working in the barns of good horsemen, regardless of equestrian discipline. “Work for the best people you can and keep an open mind, because you can learn from other disciplines,” Murdock said and added that when starting their careers, young riders should “remember that you don’t have to start at the top. If you work hard and take good care of your horses, you’ll get there. People will come to you.”

While there are tremendous opportunities available to today’s young riders, there is one opportunity most have lost – absolute freedom to ride. “When we rode, we had fun and we were creative and played games,” Mugnier said. All of the panelists recalled a childhood spent riding their horses around town and around the countryside as they used their horses for fun and transportation. The loss of open space and fears by barns and property owners of being sued when things go wrong has led to what Griffin called “structured arena riding.” On top of that, O’Connor said, today’s youth culture is so tied to cell phones and ipods that few are actually focused on their horses when they ride. Her parting advice to young riders was to remember “that your horse needs you from the moment you are interacting with it until you leave that day.” So, turn off the technology and communicate with your horse, not your friends, she said.

Notable quotes from winners:

In accepting the 2010 USEF Youth Sportsman’s Award, Maxi Gumprecht told USEF members that the honor really belong to them for the support the organization gives to young riders. “I think you should all give yourselves a round of applause.”  

In receiving the USEF/EQUUS Foundation Humanitarian Award, Nancy Koch, of CANTER, which works to find new lives for Thoroughbred horses, barely held back the tears as she gave credit to the network of volunteers who work endlessly on behalf of the Thoroughbred horse. “They have helped t o save over 12,000 horses.”

“I can’t tell you how much this means to me. I appreciate it so much. My only claim to fame is that I’ve probably been in the horse business longer than anyone in this room,” said Mrs. David Neil in accepting the Ellen Scripps Davis Memorial Breeders’ Award.

“I feel a little out of place here tonight because the only thing I know about horses is that I’m allergic to them. That’s the God honest truth,” said Danny Tabor in accepting the Richard E. McDevitt Award of Merit for his late father Glyndle Tabor. Also receiving the award was the late Sally Swift.  

“The dinner has left me speechless. How do you thank so many people in so little time,” said Duane Esser in receiving his Pegasus Medal of Honor.  

“I’m one lucky girl. I get up every day doing what I love and being around people I care about. I don’t know if it gets any better than that,” said Suzy Stafford in accepting the Becky Grand Hart Trophy.

“I think I should have gotten Max to write my speech,” said John French, winner of the Emerson Burr Trophy. He was referring to the creative speech of Junior Equestrian of the Year Award winner Maxance McManamy.

And speaking of McManamy, she likened her equestrian success to a dream played out in a movie with her later father and current horse playing the leading men and her mother as director. The creative approach was a hard act to follow.

“Those of you who know me, know that I’m a better horse trainer than speaker. So, I won’t bore you,” said Vicki Humphrey, winner of the C.J. “June” Cronan Trophy.