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Life After Youth: Staying Involved after Aging Out

As young competitors grow up and age out of the youth division, the question of “What comes next?” often arises. It is not uncommon for a childhood show horse to be sold as its rider leaves for college. The horse has done its job, and now it’s time to teach someone new.

However, what happens to the riders? Where do they go next?

GoHorseShow did some extensive research and compiled different options for those ending their show career after their youth years but still want to stay involved in the industry.

Collegiate Equestrian Teams

Collegiate opportunities are bountiful for those wanting to stay in the horse world without necessarily showing their horse. The easiest way to continue riding while in college is to join an equestrian team. There are two pathways for collegiate equestrians: the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) and National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA).

The most common form of collegiate riding is through IHSA. With over 400 collegiate teams, IHSA is a place for more than 8,900 hunt seat and western competitors. IHSA has a division for all levels of riders, from beginner to open. IHSA houses horsemanship, reining, hunt seat over fences, and hunt seat on the flat.

NCEA competition is very different than IHSA because, with only 24 collegiate teams, there’s only room for the best of the best. The majority of IHSA riders join in a walk-on or tryout process, while NCEA riders are recruited like any other collegiate athlete. Many of these teams, both NCEA and IHSA, offer scholarship opportunities for top riders.

Equestrian teams can also provide riders with strong connections to help move ahead in the horse show industry. These opportunities are a fantastic way to get competitors through college to even be able to stand on their own and show in the amateur and non-pro divisions in the future.

Collegiate Horse Judging

Another way to stay involved in the horse industry while in college is to join a collegiate horse judging team. While horse judging is less hands-on than riding on an equestrian team, it is another opportunity for scholarships to help tuition costs and potentially put students in a place to show again down the road.

Horse judging competitors score classes such as reining, horsemanship, halter, trail, western riding, western pleasure, hunter under saddle, hunter hack, reined cowhorse, and roping. Many horse judging teams get to compete at shows like the All American Quarter Horse Congress, American Paint Horse Association World Show, American Quarter Horse World Show, and the National Reining Horse Association Futurity.

This is an opportunity to see the best of the best compete, and also to get to learn a judge’s perspective to become a stronger competitor. Many horse judging students also have the chance to scribe at small shows, which can be another money-making opportunity.

It is also prevalent for these competitors to go on to become judges for the primary breed and horse show associations like the National Reining Horse Association, National Snaffle Bit Association, and the American Quarter Horse Association.

Getting an Internship

Many breeds and show associations offer internships to college students and new graduates. While these internships don’t usually include riding duties, they do provide young people with many connections in the horse industry and often lead to permanent careers with these associations.

Internship duties vary from answering phones and giving tours, to writing press releases. Internships are also available through many publications such as GoHorseShow. These internships allow for the flow of fresh ideas from the minds of young exhibitors, which in turn gives opportunities for a writing career in the future.

Interning with a professional horse trainer is another opportunity not to be overlooked. Working under a professional teaches aspiring trainers the value of vocational skills, as well as presents the chance to sit on young and upcoming horses.

Valuable lessons can be learned from trainers in all different sides of the horse industry, and those looking to learn should find value in stepping outside of their comfort zones.


There are also many ways to stay involved through volunteer work. Since most horse shows are volunteer-run, associations and clubs are almost always searching for volunteers. Volunteer work at shows could be anywhere from office work, to announcing, to running the gate.

Another option for those looking to volunteer is joining youth advisory boards. These boards aim their efforts toward providing the best possible horse show experience for youth competitors, so they’re always ready to listen to the ideas of young people.

Donating time to an advisory board is a great way to make connections in the horse industry, as well as get fresh ideas toward bettering horse shows.

A Native Coloradan, Emma Widener, attends West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas. Emma is working on a bachelor’s degree in agriculture media and communications. She grew up showing AQHA as well as Pony of the Americas Club in the all-around events.