US Equestrian’s mission—to bring the joy of horse sports to as many people as possible—extends into the equestrian community in a number of ways, including grants that help fund a wide range of affiliate programs. And that’s making a difference, say US Equestrian’s affiliate organizations.
“It really helps us to have support from US Equestrian,” said Linda Haines, chair of the American Connemara Pony Society’s Junior Scholarship Committee, which has applied USEF grants toward a scholarship fund that has sent young equestrians and their Connemara ponies to horsemanship camps and clinics with well-known trainers in a variety of disciplines. “We don’t have a big treasury, and we appreciate being able to make these scholarships available and worthwhile for these kids.”
The ACPS program, now in its fourth year, has funded about 50 junior equestrians overall—a sizeable number for an organization with a membership that totals 300.
“Now all of a sudden, we’ve got kids that are interested in participating in what has largely been an adults’ organization,” said Haines. “That’s been very positive.
“A lot of them wouldn’t be able to do that kind of thing without that support,” she added. “If you’re 16 or 17 and you get a $100 scholarship, you’re pretty excited. And if you get a $200 one, that’s really great.”
The opportunities those scholarships provide can be educational and inspirational for a young equestrian, and they also help promote the Connemara in a variety of disciplines to other camp and clinic attendees.
“That can turn out to be a big deal for an organization,” said Haines.
The International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association has boosted its membership and youth involvement by putting some of its grant money toward free youth IALHA memberships and last year offered youth members a free Western, dressage, or all-purpose saddle pad with the IALHA logo. “Our youth membership in 2016 went from 24 to 42,” said IALHA president Janita Smith. “And we asked them to use their saddle pads in shows, out trail riding, wherever they took their horses. We used another portion of the grant money for show grants, because we want the youth out there showing. We wound up having four applicants—two went to regionals and two went to nationals.
“We definitely got kids out there doing something, whether they were trail riding or showing. And it let the kids know that the association is here and we’re doing something for them.”
US Equestrian grants also have helped raise Western dressage’s profile as a discipline. “We really want to get youth involved,” explained Bradie Chapman, the equestrian team coach at Ohio University Southern and chair of the Western Dressage Association of America’s Youth Committee. “It’s kind of new, and a lot of kids don’t know exactly what it is. But the kids at my school love it, and it’s something a lot of horses can do.”
US Equestrian funds helped support a multi-college invitational Western dressage show hosted twice by Ohio University Southern last year. “Some of those riders were showing in Western dressage for the first time,” Chapman said. “With the grant we were able to make copies of the rules and the tests and put that all together in a binder. We gave one to each participant that came in that day. We also did a seminar and lunch with another coach who also judges, to help educate them about the sport.”
The invitational shows also invited 4-H clubs and several high-school teams to compete and featured a small career fair.
“We ended up with nine teams with four riders apiece over both shows,” Chapman said. “That was as many as we could handle, because we were providing most of the horses. Without the US Equestrian funding, we wouldn’t have been able to provide the binders as an educational piece; it would have just been a horse show. … I’ve even had other college coaches find out that we did that and ask me to send one to them.”
The International Friesian Show Horse Association restricted its scholarship fund grants to clinics, encouraging young equestrians to try different disciplines and expand their vision. “This year, we’re offering four grants of $500 so someone could really take advantage of something with it,” said IFSHA director Sandy Jacob. “By encouraging them to take horses places and experience new things, we encourage them to explore outside their own barn so they’re not just taking their usual lessons but also may be learning someone else’s method. We’re seeing that the youth who are taking advantage of this really are trying new things outside their normal divisions. Maybe they normally ride saddle seat and then they’ll show up riding Western to try something different. We had one young woman who used her funds to try dressage for the first time and loved it. That also helps us show how versatile our breed is.”
Finding a sport to click with helps keep people involved in equestrian sport for the long term, and the vast majority of those lifelong participants will be at the grassroots.
“Most aren’t going to be elite equestrians,” said Jacob. “Most of our youth come from families where mom and dad work, and they have one or two Friesians for the whole family. Being able to win a scholarship or educational grant is truly encouraging.
“For a small association like IFSHA, it is a very important grant to receive,” Jacob added.
“I think it’s definitely helping the grassroots,” said IALHA president Smith, who recalled her own path into horse sports. “Back in 1998, I took this filly to a little local show and got hooked on showing the breed. Here I am 19 years later! So I feel that if you can get someone there and make them comfortable once or twice, they’ll usually keep coming back.”
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