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Big Changes: The Transition Out of Youth with Ellexxah Maxwell and Sara Koster

Transitioning to something new and different is often a daunting task. Change can inspire fear, but it can also boost motivation, whether that transition is from middle school to high school, from high school to college, or from youth to amateur competition.

Accomplished youth riders, Sara Koster of Holland, Michigan, and Ellexxah Maxwell of West Mansfield, Ohio, took some time to talk about what they found to be the most significant differences and the greatest challenges of Amateur competition. They discussed their favorite parts of stepping up and offered some advice to those making the transition.

Biggest Difference

Sara Koster noted that the most significant change in the amateur level is the change in competitors. “I have been showing against the same group of competitors for a long time,” said Sara. “When I became an amateur, the group changed. It was a weird feeling to start competing against some people that I have looked up to my whole life.” 

Koster also observed, “As a youth, you have a deadline until you aren’t a youth anymore, which can add pressure. But once you’re an amateur, you’re an amateur for the rest of your show career.”

Having shown at the top level for twelve years, earning a multitude of top honors and breaking a 30-year record for youth points, Ellexxah Maxwell noted that the most significant difference between the two levels was the atmosphere. “There is a certain kind of pressure as a youth and a load of competitiveness. The amateur is very laid back and is a little more about enjoying every second of the ride,” Ellexxah said.

Most Challenging Aspect

Koster said she has found that the most challenging aspect of the amateur level is the competition’s age range. “I have been showing Quarter Horse since I was 13 years old, and I’m only 20. Some of the amateurs have also been showing since they were 13, but they’re in their mid-40’s. They have been doing it for a lot longer than I have and are more well known.”

“The most challenging thing for me as an amateur has been switching horses,” Maxwell noted. She retired her record-breaking mare, Zips Bossy Chip, in November. “A lot of amateurs have been partners with their horse for a long time,” she continued. “As a youth, coming into a very competitive group on a green horse can be daunting. It has been a great experience, allowing me to build confidence with myself and my horse.”

Favorite Part

When asked what her favorite aspect of showing as an amateur was, Sara replied, “There is a different atmosphere. When you show as a youth, you have to go to the world show with your state and be a youth association. But when you are an amateur, you can do your own thing and be with your barn, which I appreciate.”

“The best part of showing as an amateur has been the ability to sit back and enjoy the ride,” Ellexxah said. “As a youth, I hauled quite a bit on the road, and it was always about the outcome of showing. However, I have several green horses, and showing as an amateur has allowed me to appreciate the small accomplishments.”


Experienced exhibitors are often the best sources of advice, and when asked what they would tell youth about to transition to the next level, Sarah and Ellexxah were happy to share their wisdom.

For Sara, her most significant piece of advice would be, “Don’t stress. You’re still doing the same thing, just a different age group.”

“Don’t get caught up in those around you,” Ellexxah added. “The transition is hard because you have gotten so used to a certain group of people and atmosphere. Focus on your goals and accomplishments. In no time, you won’t feel like the new kid on the block.”

While the transition from Youth to Amateur competition may appear daunting at first glance, it is still filled with people who are all doing the same thing for the same reason: the love of the horse and the love of the sport.

About the Author – Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Madeline Graves is currently completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Classical Studies at Case Western Reserve University. Starting her AQHA career in 2012 with her chestnut mare, “Skips Centerfold Gal,” she continues to show in novice and all-around events during her spare time.