Dakota won't be heading off to college on an NCAA scholarship like many of her friends but she shares a sadness with them as they finish their final year competing in youth.

Goodbye Youth Career, Hello Future

As the Youth World Show just concluded, it is a sad farewell for those of us in the class of 2011. On the way home from Oklahoma City through Tulsa, the thermostat read an incredible 120 degrees. You would have thought I would be relieved to get out of Dodge. Not so much.

Although I had three horses qualified, my show ended up on the sidelines. With 17 hours to reflect on the way home, my sadness was not over the lack of performing. It was leaving my whole experience behind. The reality has hit hard that this was my last World Show as a youth. There is a tremendous sadness that comes with leaving OKC for the final time; the friendships, the stall decorations, team spirit, the smell, the jolt of the air conditioned arenas in 100+ degree heat…and mostly my friends. It’s not like I won’t see my friends again, but not in that setting.

Those of us from the class of 2011 are at a major crossroads in our lives which means things will never be exactly the same again. While at the Youth World, I envied the younger kids who talked about next year, spoke of running for office, whispered about who was “in a relationship,” which pair of free jeans they would get with their Wrangler coupon, and so on. It actually brought me to tears.

So what does this class of 2011 have in store for their next chapter?  I caught up with a few of my colleagues, who filled me in on what they have on the horizon.

Brooke Ingstad—Brooke has left her mark on the industry with five world shows under her belt, and a reserve world champion title. As we speak, Brooke should be settling in her dorm room at Texas Christian University with her BFF, Rachel Pendergraft, also finishing her last year. When I spent a week with Brooke at YES, she was full of anticipation of the events that were in store for her. We both shared a tear when we retired our seats on the AQHYA board where she served as Vice President during my Presidency. Looking forward to a career as an amateur, Brooke elected not to ride on an NCAA scholarship like many of our colleagues. I loved the fact that she wanted to enjoy the college experience and seemed very serious about her studies. Look for this blonde beauty to be a force to be reckoned with at Congress where she will exhibit two horses. Her advice to younger competitors brought a smile to my face when she offered with great wisdom, “Kill ‘em with kindness”.

Danielle Long–Hailing all the way from Anchorage, Alaska, Danielle is also an avid skier, photographer and artist. While many of you will remember her sensational World Championship title in horsemanship in 2009, she is to be credited with a whopping six World Shows on her impressive resume. Although 2011 was admittedly “Not the best show I’ve ever had,” she maintained an incredibly good attitude, crediting her horse for an amazing performance. Putting her horse’s needs first, she rode in the middle of the night to avoid the intense heat, but admitted that Teddy lost energy fast due to the dangerous heat. Her message to others is simple: “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Everything happens for a reason.” Seemingly world’s away from Alaska, Danielle was heading straight to college when I caught up with her where she will be an NCAA competitor for Auburn. Always finding a bright spot, Danielle admitted to being sad about ending her youth career, but exclaimed as she heads into amateur, “I’ll still have the same friends!”

Nick Murphy
My favorite story on GoHorseShow.com was when I got to write about my prom, and ya’ll might remember that Nick was my date! Besties since what seems like birth, Nick didn’t have a long time to chat as he only had one day back home after Youth World before heading to the University of Missouri. This over achiever has seemingly done it all from Congress wins in pleasure and reining to his last Youth World where he is exhibited a cutting horse. As a journalism major, I thought he might be coming for my reporting job, but I had a sigh of relief when he said his ultimate goal is law school. (Can’t wait to see how this talented rapper “aka Murph Durf” will apply those skills in law school – LOL). Nick pointed out that he “leads a double life between home and horses,” but that studies will come first the next few years with a nice non-pro horse here and there. While apologizing that his advice to others was a little “cliché”, Nick wisely pointed out that the time in youth passes really quickly. “Take time to enjoy hanging with your good friends. We are truly blessed to do what we do with these great horses!”

Theresa Moran–One of the biggest stories to date on GoHorseShow.com was when this California beauty purchased the immortal Vital Signs are Good culminating in a golden trophy for this talented duo in her final Youth World! Did I forget to mention that she also took home the bronze and ninth place ribbons in the same class with her other two horses Chip Van Winkle and Show Diva. My advice: “Don’t hate her ‘cause you ain’t her,” because this is one of the nicest girls in the industry on top of being a gracious competitor. You would think her biggest worries would be completing her training for her pilot’s license or those infamous sharks that lurk off the California coast where she also enjoys scuba diving. No, actually this competitor wonders, “What she will do with her free time next August” when she will no longer compete at Youth World – LOL. I have to envy that she is staying home a semester and heading to USC for Spring 2012 term.  Since USC happens to be home to one of the cutest QB’s in college football (Matt Barkley), I wonder, “How do you enroll late and miss football season?” Her reply is “I’m going to enjoy my last Congress and the rest of the year in youth.” Smart girl, but I’ve got dibs on Matt’s number when you get it!!! Her advice: “To stay in the moment and always enjoy it.” Photo © Kelly Moran

Christopher Luba
Although one of my first biggest crushes was his older brother, Colin, Christopher was my last crush going out of youth – and for good reason. A sophomore and International Business major at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, did I forget to mention that he is also concentrating on Economics and Russian? Pretty good catch – duh, I mean “Da” (Russian for “yes”). For those ladies who were too busy drooling over this hunky competitor, let me advise you that he did have the flawless winning run in showmanship this year with Good for the Ladys. What a perfect name for this competitors last youth horse! Also a talented singer and musician, I am beginning to wonder if there was something in the drinking water at the shows because so many of the competitors featured here can sing! The bad news is he won’t be showing at Congress. The good news is he hopes to stop by and visit. Keeping my fingers crossed!

Katie Ralph–A native of Newfoundland, Canada, this top ten winner at the Youth World with her darling Save Your Assets, was raised in Kansas. A zoology major at Oklahoma State and NCAA scholarship competitor, Katie has a great attitude and looks to the future rather than looking back. Armed with a new horse, TC, Katie was the one person I spoke to who didn’t seem sad about leaving her youth roots. Her advice is “Keep your head up. Literally CHIN UP!!! Friends don’t always understand what we do and why we do it… And that can make things difficult. But also friendships with people who show can be problematic as well because of the stress of competition.”

Lindsey McMullen–With a storybook ending, my longtime friend, Lindsey McMullen is definitely the “IT” girl, and well deserved! Winning a World Championship with her spectacular mare Huntin for Money, a/k/a Honey in horsemanship, this classic pair also brought home the silver in showmanship. With no time to reminisce after Youth World as she has to report to school, Lindsey refuses to be sad. “I am gonna keep remembering how much fun this ride has been and look back on my youth career and remember all the breathtaking memories and countless hours spent driving down the road with my mom and sister! Youth World was everything I ever dreamed it could possibly be!” Her advice to other youth is right on: “Always remember you are being watched not only in the arena but out of it as well. Making the right decisions will impact you in many more ways than you can imagine!” I’ll tell ya’ this, the Oklahoma State Cowboys are getting one great Cowgirl.

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As for moi, it’s my last Youth World too. Although I didn’t have either of my hunt seat horses there, I kept focus by staying true to the path I set as a little girl. I won’t have my beloved Hopeful Assets at Congress, but I will be showing her first foal, Hopefulleigh, in the Masters Hunter Under Saddle which is a dream come true. Growing up on a ranch has always put me on the path to become a professional. I won’t be heading off on an NCAA scholarship like most of my friends, but I am on the path I selected. My advice: Be kind to others, and always remember there is another horse show. Good luck to everyone from the Class of 2011!

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