Our industry has gained a reputation for being an exclusive, expensive hobby that is not entirely welcoming to newcomers. However, AQHA youth competitor Aidan Rizk is proving that stereotype wrong one title at a time.
It may seem hard to believe, but just a year ago, then-seventeen-year-old Aidan hadn’t competed outside of local Minnesota AQHA and 4-H shows. However, he’s had a passion for horses and competition since he was 10. It was this passion that led Clara Buchal, Aidan’s local instructor, to enroll him in a clinic put on by multi-champion professional trainer and judge Clint Ainsworth of Clint Ainsworth Show Horses.
Aidan took his open horse Shiny Good Penny (aka “Ace”) to the clinic and his drive and determination attracted Ainsworth’s attention.
“Aidan reminded me of myself in some ways. He’s very type A and pays attention to detail. It was clear he wanted to improve his horsemanship and that he had the mind and raw talent to succeed,” Ainsworth recalls.
“I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but I wanted to encourage Aidan at the end of the clinic to pursue his dreams. I told his parents that I enjoyed working with Aidan and that they should contact me if he was ever interested in showing at a higher level.”
Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way
Shortly after the conclusion of the clinic, Ainsworth was contacted by Aidan’s parents Debra and Brett Rizk about Aidan’s interest in moving up into more serious AQHA competition.
The Rizks sent Ace to Georgia with the intention of finding out whether Ace could be a suitable partner for Aidan at a top level. After months of working with Ainsworth and unforeseen changes in their show plan, Aidan and Ace’s first major show ended up being the 2022 Quarter Horse Congress – a big test, indeed!
It became clear at the Congress that Aidan genuinely wanted to work hard to pursue his dream of showing at the major shows and the Rizks decided to go “all in” and bet on their son. While at the show, they purchased the AQHA gelding There Must B A Catch (aka “Chester”) from Adam Winter and the Dixon family with the goal of showing him in the showmanship, horsemanship, and equitation under Ainsworth’s guidance at the majors in 2023.
Aidan and Chester defied the odds, showing at every major show that Ainsworth’s barn went to in 2023. And they accomplished far more than simply being competitive at a high level.
Thus far in 2023, Aidan and Chester were named AQHYA Level 1 Champion of Champions in 14-18 Showmanship and AQHYA Bronze Trophy winner in the Champion of Champions 14-18 Horsemanship at the Youth World in Oklahoma City. They were also just named Reserve World Champions in both Novice Youth 14-18 Showmanship and the Color Youth Showmanship at the NSBA World Championship show. Earlier in the year, they were Circuit Champions at the Big A Level 1 Youth Showmanship and Circuit Champions in the Georgia On My Mind Level 1 Horsemanship…just to name a few.
“My goal for everyone in my barn is to be a champion – I want to see their dreams come true,” Ainsworth smiles. “I want them to experience the struggle, and the work, and the heartache, so they can have that one moment where they reach the top and know it was all worth it.”
“I was a bit hesitant to take Aidan on because I didn’t know whether I could make those dreams come true in such a short time, given their lack of experience at this level and the fact that Aidan was already seventeen when we started this process,” Ainsworth admits. “Yet, I stand here amazed by all of Aidan’s efforts and his family’s support on this amazing journey. They have done everything I’ve asked and more and I could not be more proud of where they are at.”
What Dreams May Come
Aidan has thoroughly enjoyed showing Chester, saying, “What I love most about Chester is his personality. He’s a goofy goober who just messes around all the time and likes to nibble on everything.”
Overall, Aidan believes, “This past year has been a high-speed roller coaster of experiences with ups and downs and shining moments in between. My start with Chester was a little bit rocky since I was so inexperienced, but we’ve only improved since. Clint’s training along with Chester’s ability to soldier through as I learn has really allowed me to excel. It’s certainly not easy, but I’m not complaining.”
While at the Youth World this year, the Rizk family purchased Catch Twenty Two (aka “William”) from Dale Hamilton and Emma Tartar in an effort to add more horsepower behind Aidan’s show string.
“I’m excited to pursue the next level of riding with William!” Aidan exclaims. “He’s great in many events and seems to be a fantastic partner as well. William also knows events I want to pursue in the future, like trail and western riding.”
Aidan plans to show William (pictured left with his former owner) in the trail, horsemanship, and equitation this fall and into 2024. He will also continue to show Chester in the showmanship and some horsemanship and equitation classes.
“In 2024, since it’s my last youth year, I want to reach another level of what I can show and how I perform with William,” Aidan explains. “I’ve improved so much since I started riding with Clint last summer and I hope to keep improving at this fast-paced rate in time for next year’s Youth World Show. That’s the major I’m most looking forward to competing at.”
Dreams Can Come True
Our industry can be daunting and difficult to navigate all the shows, finances, programs, and skills necessary to find success. But, the Rizk family proves that it can be done.
“I’ve never had horse show parents catch on to the process so quickly,” Ainsworth admits. “They’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort into making sure Aidan can practice and learn. They foster the mentality of going and doing their best in each class without the pressure of demanding a specific outcome.”
“If only we could all have that ‘humble beginnings’ mentality where the goal is to do your best and let the chips fall where they may – I think it’d take a lot of pressure off kids and allow them to love the sport and really shine.”
Ainsworth continues, “With hard work, dedication, a good horse, and support from loved ones and barn families, you can find success at high levels.”
“I hope people see Aidan’s story and realize that if you have a dream to be a part of our industry, you aren’t shut out from it simply because you haven’t been in it forever. There is hope of success and there is room in the ring for newcomers. Our industry needs you – come give us a try!”