Since the dawn of equestrian sports in the United States, it has been well circulated that the sport is reserved for the wealthy. Between costs of upkeep, additional medical expenses, tack, toys, grooming items, and whatever other expenses emerge, it's no wonder why the public refer to it as the "rich man's sport". Even after reducing any additional expenses, many horse owners can testify to the strain owning and showing horses places on their budget.
Clearly, not everyone is in the financial position to own a horse. However, the equestrian sports would benefit from the widespread participation that inclusion of these individuals can provide. For these individuals, it's important that they find the tools to attain a solid foundation in basic horsemanship in order to utilize their talent, intelligence, and work ethic to grow as an equestrian, regardless of how big or little their paycheck may be.
I've rounded up a few different educational programs (with some scholarship programs thrown into the mix) in order to highlight many of the opportunities that young riders or riders with limited financial backing can use to further their experience in the equestrian sports. Each program is followed by a short excerpt from the correlating webpage that provides a brief description of that particular program, this is the "So what's the deal?" section. Please scour through the links that are provided to see if any of these opportunities could be your stepping stone. If you don't see a fit, don't lose heart. I only pulled a few programs from some of the largest equestrian organizations in America. Do some digging and check for local programs or even volunteer or work opportunities near you. Never underestimate the power of a strong work ethic and the confidence to put it into action. Happy hunting!
1. USDF Youth Outreach Program (Ages 10-21)
2. USDF JR/YR Clinic Series (14-21)
So what's the deal?: "USDF offers many programs for youth and young adults. Some of the programs/competitions do require a USDF membership; be sure to confirm if programs you are interested in require membership, and if so what level. (You can find more information about the levels of membership and their respective fees here.) Your local Group Member Organization may also offer many opportunities for youth and young adults. We encourage you to contact them and to also become a member of that group. GMO locations and information can be found here."
3. Discover Dressage USEF/USDF Emerging Athlete Program (25 and under)
So what's the deal?: "Aimed at providing strategic guidance and educational opportunities to athletes under the age of 25, the USEF/USDF program, led by USEF Dressage Youth Coach George Williams, will provide access to educational opportunities and competition planning for qualified athletes. This Program is proudly sponsored and supported by Discover Dressage." (Excerpt from the Discover Dressage USEF/USDF webpage)
4. Parelli Foundation Future of Horsemanship Youth Scholarship Program
So what's the deal?: "The Parelli Foundation Future of Horsemanship (FOH) youth scholarships program gives you the ability to study progressively each year, advancing to Level 4, or the ability to seek higher education in natural horsemanship. This program is for those who need financial assistance to achieve their dreams and are motivated to show continuous improvement in horsemanship and knowledge each year of their journey." (Excerpt from Parelli Foundation's webpage)
5. USHJA Clinics/ Emerging Athlete Program
So what's the deal?: "The Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund/USHJA Emerging Athletes Program was created to provide opportunities for young riders to advance their horsemanship education and riding skills. Since the EAP's inception in 2009, athletes have gone on to earn numerous championships and titles in the Hunter, Jumper and Equitation show rings, including the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals, the ASPCA Maclay Finals, USEF Prix des States, and the IHSA Nationals, to name just a few." (Excerpt from USHJA Emerging Athlete Program's webpage)
6. USHJA Foundation
So what's the deal?: As most membership programs do, membership within the USHJA Foundation includes plenty of perks. Find a list of them here.
7. AERC Clinics/ Junior Program
So what's the deal?: AERC (American Endurance Ride Conference) provides opportunities to get involved in the sport by participating as a Junior Rider, Young Rider, or Unsponsored Rider. Whichever way you slice it, AERC provides the tools necessary to get you mounted and ready to hit the trails. Check out their membership benefits here.