By guest blogger, Mitch Sperte
When I was invited to once again be a guest columnist for the Our Town series, I was asked if I’d write about the significance of Youth Nationals. I gave a fair amount of thought to its origins and had to confront my original concerns of adding a National show solely dedicated to our Youth. At the time there was spirited debate as to its validity. My concern was that we would be denying our young equestrians the opportunity of following their favorite trainers and their horses in open competition as they have in an all-inclusive National event. Back in the day, during my own younger years, many of us would stay up late and get up early so we could watch our favorite trainers schooling their charges. We would go so far as to sneak back in the barn area to watch the grooms preparing those famous horses for their days work. This faction wasn’t unlike being a fan of your favorite sports team. As the discussions went on, the argument was made that if we are going to grow our sport and keep our young equestrians interested, the Youth did indeed need their own show. This would also allow enough time in the schedule to add additional classes in as much as the Arabian is arguably the most versatile of all the breeds. I was won over by the founders and by the forward-thinking people such as the late Lois Finch, whose vision was the driving force. To further my newfound support of the Youth Nationals is when it became very personal for me ten years ago when my beautiful daughter, Lesta, was named National Champion competing against 56 other horses on her Half-Arabian Country Horse, JS Fire One. The previous year, Fire One’s trainer (me) didn’t have him well enough prepared and Lesta wasn’t as strong of a rider. The result was they made their cuts, but they were not consistent enough to warrant a top ten—we went home somewhat dejected. We rallied … I doing a better job of preparing Fire One, and Lesta becoming a more confident and skilled rider. She improved her physicality through diet and went to the gym consistently. The perseverance and hard work paid off. The lessons learned, the bond that was formed between Lesta and her beloved horse, and the opportunity to have had that experience with my daughter was all thanks to the Youth National format.
I’ve been honored to have been named APAHA Horseman Of The Year and have had a number of National Champions for myself, as well as my clients, but those honors pale in comparison to the very moment when the announcer called out my daughter and her beloved horse, “Youth National Champion!” Win, lose or draw, the life lessons learned and the camaraderie between your fellow exhibitors will significantly prepare our youth to achieve great things well into their futures.