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YEDA and AQHA: How Their Partnership is Providing Opportunities for Youth Members

The Youth Equestrian Development Association (YEDA) is a fast-growing, up-and-coming organization that provides learning opportunities for students from grades 4th through 12th. With nine different divisions, including equestrians with disabilities, walk-trot, alumni, horsemanship, ranch riding, and reining, YEDA offers riders an opportunity to develop a diverse range of skills. Not only does YEDA create the team-riding experience for athletes striving to ride on a collegiate level, but the association also offers a scholarship incentive program for all riders.

The program provides riders with assistance, regardless of post-secondary plans. YEDA has awarded students over $950,000 in scholarships in just six years.

YEDA provides opportunities to individuals of all abilities and financial statuses. Participants must wear oxford shirts to create a level playing field. No one needs to own a horse to be a part of the program, and many riders fundraise to assist them throughout the season.

While many riders do not own horses, many members of the AQHYA have joined in on the organization’s benefits. This past November, YEDA announced its partnership with AQHA, allowing YEDA members discounted AQHYA memberships and scholarship opportunities.

In the announcement, YEDA claims, “AQHA’s dedication to youth, education, and the enjoyment of these majestic animals we all love is in line with our mission here at YEDA.”

Chase Summerville, a former rider of YEDA and member of the AQHA, has taken advantage of the association’s various opportunities. His favorite feature of YEDA was the welcoming atmosphere it presented. “From my first to my last show, everyone I interacted with was very friendly and encouraging. I am very fortunate to have met some of my closest friends through YEDA,” he says.

For the past three years, Chase rode Its A Southern Dream at AQHA-sanctioned shows, which have brought him to the level of competition he used to dream about, achieving many AQHYA World Show and All American Quarter Horse Congress top-five finishes.

In addition, he claims YEDA has helped him on his horse. “Sometimes, the luck of the draw does not work in your favor, and you may have to ride a challenging horse that makes you appreciate your connection with your horse.”

While Chase was a member of YEDA for four years and AQHA for seven, he was advised by his former coach and trainer, Melissa Shetler, on the Circle M Equestrian Team. While he has had other instructors before her, he believes she has improved his riding immensely. “Melissa never settled for me being mediocre, and I would say she can make almost any rider that steps foot into her barn great through her teaching methods.”

The three-time National Champion was presented with many opportunities during his time in YEDA. Not only did the organization provide him with financial support through scholarships, but it also prepared him for his collegiate career at Midway University on the Equestrian Team.

When asked what he would say to riders considering joining YEDA, he answered, “I highly encourage those thinking of joining YEDA to do it. There are countless opportunities to take advantage of through the association. I truly loved my time in YEDA and will forever be thankful for it. YEDA greatly benefited me, and I believe it holds power to do so for all youth riders.”

Lynne Puthoff, an AQHA trainer of almost 33 years, has been a YEDA coach over the past six seasons. Along with her incredible success in AQHA, she has led her team to a Reserve National Championship.

One of her main reasons for joining the organization was that every rider must adapt to different horses. “Reining, ranch, horsemanship, English horses…all have to do horsemanship.”

Puthoff also loves that every rider must wear a plain button-down shirt, “no $100 shirt versus a $3,000 shirt,” she says.

Training since 1990, she believes YEDA has improved her teaching, “As for coaching, I have had to re-establish my thinking and how I handle difficulties with so many different levels of riders and their experience levels, as well as the confident, strong riders, versus the timid, beginning riders.”

The Congress, World Show, and NSBA Champion-producing trainer admits that not all of her riders have been able to adjust to the program, even youth who have had success on their horses.

In her experience, most riders improve with the program. “Many trainers have told me this riding format will mess with a rider’s timing and feel. I used to be one of those trainers. So it’s not for everyone, but if you don’t get to be a better rider doing this, then I feel you may not have given it a fair chance or been able to accept its focus is on you and getting along with the horse you have drawn.”

Debbie Arnold is one of YEDA’s four founders and has been an AQHA trainer for over 40 years. She had five years of team-riding coaching experience before she started YEDA.

Seeing the improvements she could make inspired her to create her organization. “The favorite thing about YEDA is seeing riders that do not own horses have the opportunity to fulfill a dream.”

Arnold believes that her riders not only become better riders, but also better, well-rounded people. “They learn to work together, work hard, take on leadership roles, and make decisions. They learn that winning isn’t the end goal and that learning to do their best is important, accepting victory and defeat with a grateful heart.”

Debbie believes that people getting involved in any way they can is helping the industry as a whole, which is what YEDA plans to accomplish by partnering with AQHA.

“Partnering with AQHA is huge. With youth numbers decreasing over the years, we are optimistic that we will see more growth in youth involvement in AQHA and YEDA with this partnership. YEDA is a feeder program to get youth into the horse industry. AQHA is also supporting our scholarship programs.”

YEDA has only grown over the past six years. The founders continuously look for ways to improve the program and its scholarship incentive fund. The partnership with AQHA will provide these great organizations with new opportunities.

GoHorseShow Intern Violet Shetler is a junior at Penncrest Cyber Academy. She was born and raised in Saegertown, Pennsylvania. She plans to attend Southern Methodist University in the future to study journalism. Along with academics, competing with her horses is very important to her. She has been riding her entire life but shows Im N Outsider in AQHA all-around events.