Over the past couple of years, you’ve heard me speak about the urgent issues of building and encouraging youth horsemen, along with the problems the horse industry faces because of ever-decreasing numbers in membership. Even though these are two separate issues, they really go together as one impacts the other. I have asked you to become aware of this dual-edged dilemma because it really could be the most important factor in determining how the equine landscape looks in the future.
We’ve all been guilty of ignoring the glaring dynamic facing horse-based youth organizations. In the past six years, there has been a 30-percent decrease in the numbers of participants. A full third! The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) was no exception when it came to looking the other way and hoping the numbers would fix themselves, but that has changed. The AQHA now has a comprehensive strategic plan designed to tackle the problem straight on and aggressively over the next 10 years. A lot of research, work and planning went into the development of the program, titled “Generation Q,” and through activities that engage children and families, it’s designed to stop and reverse the decline of youth participation.
This is not just for Quarter Horses – it’s for ALL horse disciplines and breed organizations. And, its approach is not a one-size-fits-all, as it targets specific age groups with customized opportunities and objectives. Right now, it’s children aged 12 years and younger who form the priority group that’s going to receive the most attention. (I admit that if I were designing this program, the lion’s share of the focus would be on pre-school children. But no one has listened to my plea in that regard. I believe that little kids are at their most impressionable age during this time and that an effort in fortifying suggestion of the horse at this early stage has a better chance of lasting longer. So says Dr. Merrill, thank you!)
Anyway, the AQHA will initially bring horses to the 12-and-under group through a comprehensive digital resource called “Take Me Riding.” This online program will provide educational information for parents, as well as age-appropriate, fun games and activities that support and inspire a child’s love of horses. The ultimate goal is to offer flexible and affordable ways to get interested young ones horseback.
The next age group is comprised of children entering their teenage years. As we know, these kids are the ones exposed to a wide variety of athletic, social and academic organizations – all competing for what little limited free time they have. The AQHA intends to develop an easy-to-use, comprehensive record-keeping system that allows kids in this age group a place to record, store and be continuously rewarded for all their horse activities (hours spent horseback, speech and demonstration, horse bowl, leadership and competitive accomplishments).
The third group is the young adult. The American Quarter Horse Youth Association (AQHYA) will continue to address this market of young competitors and leaders by expanding its various programs, leadership conferences and team-building contests to be more inclusive and to better prepare our youth to make a positive contribution to the horse industry.
This strategic plan, “Generation Q,” will target specific core values that address three focus areas: a child’s healthy lifestyle, education and youth development.
In order to start the ball rolling in the correct direction, my good friends Art and Catherine Nicholas of Wagonhound Land & Livestock have donated the seed for funding of this program. But so much more is needed. I’m not in the habit of soliciting money, but this time is different. This plan requires the backing of every able-bodied horseman and woman in the entire equine world because, if allowed to fail, the future of our horse and the industry that supports him will become a fraction of what it is now – sooner than later!
One simple fact supports what I’ve been trying to drive home in this crusade and that is simply this: The average age of a youth in a horse-based entity is 15 and older. Correspondingly, the average age of membership in every horse-based association or organization becomes older each year, as well.
People, this tells it all! If we don’t start recruiting the members of tomorrow today, and keeping their attention throughout their formative years, we will be left with “what the little boy shot at” – NOTHING!
As always, I remain,
Reach Frank at [email protected]; 201 Sweetwater Springs Drive, Poolville, Texas 76487; or call 817-599-7074