“Back in my earlier Amateur years, I felt a lot of pressure to prove I could be as good in the Amateur as I was in the Youth," Carey states. Photo © Kirstie Marie Photography

Making the Transition: Tips on Moving from Youth to Amateur

As with all things in life, change is necessary for growth. So, when the time comes to transition from showing in the Youth to the Amateur division, there is no exception.

January 1st rolls around each year, and so many long-time Youth competitors’ step into a different arena, now with diverse peers, possibly a different horse and a different outlook on the rest of their horse showing career.

Though the changes may be hard to navigate, or confusing at times, the Amateur life allows exhibitors a new lease on showing. To help illuminate the challenges and rewards of what it is like to become an Amateur, after many hard-working years spent in the Youth division, we interviewed newly turned Amateur Emma Brown and show veteran Carey Nowacek.

Both women, AQHYA World Champions in Trail and Horsemanship, respectively, provided powerful insight into their careers and offered great feedback. Together, they helped to show the industry how different the perspectives are from the younger and older showing generations.

When both exhibitors were asked what the most significant change was that they experienced when becoming an Amateur, their answers were each unique to their experiences. Carey stated, “When I first became an Amateur, I had just sold Certify This Chex aka “Lugnut,” so, at the time, I didn’t have another horse to show. Then, the summer of my first Amateur year, I bought a new, young horse, which proved to be a very challenging adjustment in the show pen.”

Nowacek highlighted the fact that it was a significant change for her, due to the connection she had with “Lugnut,” and the titles they achieved in her Youth career. Another detail she shared, was that as she made the transition, it was challenging to adjust to the new peers she encountered in the show pen.

Carey said, “When I became an Amateur, I left a lot of friends behind in Youth. It was a bit of an awkward transition at first; I didn’t know many amateurs at the time, so I had to navigate that change as well.”

However, among all the new things she had to become accustomed to, Carey mentioned, “I was excited to start the next chapter, it was almost like starting with a completely clean slate.”

While speaking with Emma Brown, her experience was markedly different from that of Carey Nowacek. When asked the same question, Brown responded, “I feel like the biggest change that I have experienced is the style of riding. Since going from Youth to Amateur, the judging style has changed a lot too. They want a more mature rider, someone who is very well put together and exudes confidence.”

Brown also added, “In pattern classes, they want correctness, but they also want a flowy look, compared to Youth it’s very different.”

Moving on, the two competitors were asked about their major success as Youth exhibitors, and how they felt it affected them in their Amateur career.

Emma answered, “At first I felt a sense of pressure like I had to live up to a certain idea, but once I settled in, everything just clicked. I want to set the same goals for myself in the Amateur as I accomplished in the Youth. Some Hot Potential aka “Brett” has never had an Amateur show him, so I would like to see him achieve great success in this division too.”

Switching back to Carey, she noted many similar feelings, “Back in my earlier Amateur years, I felt a lot of pressure to prove I could be as good in the Amateur as I was in the Youth. I put a lot of excess pressure on myself, which lead to some insecurities about my riding ability. After showing for a while, I began to have more confidence in myself and realized that my ability was still the same as it was before.”

The two accomplished show women were then asked to share their personal goals and advice they would give the next generation.

We asked Carey specifically about what advice she would give a newly turned Amateur competitor. Nowacek went on to say, “The hardest thing for me to learn was that I didn’t have a deadline anymore; your Amateur status is for the rest of your life. There will always be another horse show, another time for you to shine…it allows you to relax a bit and enjoy yourself more at the shows.”

As Nowacek spoke, she made an important point, “You have to make sure that you don’t miss out on experience in real life, just because you were worried about missing another horse show.”

When asked, Emma outlined what some long-term goals were for her going forward, and stressed a few critical objectives. Brown stated, “I would like to try and show Brett as much as possible, although it is harder to take time away due to the equestrian team obligations. I try not to set any wildly unrealistic goals for myself, and I want to try and be the best that I can be.”

Furthermore, she expressed her intent for the upcoming year, “I want to continue working hard, and I put a lot of trust in my parents and trainers to help guide me through this transition period successfully. I know they will help to keep me on the right path and push me to achieve my goals.”

About the Author – Sabrina Janis is a devoted Amateur competitor from Groton, Massachusetts, and has been showing Quarter Horses for over ten years. Under the guidance of Jennifer and Judd Paul of IronGate Quarter Horses, she shows her four geldings: Cruize, Ever So Sudden, Blazin OnThe Horizon, and Ima Money Magnet in the Western All-Around Events. She also shows her mare, Assets Agenda, in the Hunter Under Saddle. Currently, she is a freshman at the University of Tennessee at Martin, majoring in Veterinary Technology. In addition to showing horses, she is an active member in Zeta Tau Alpha sorority and helps to volunteer her time on campus.