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AQHYA Heroes For Horses Program

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By Susan Graham Winslow

teen01Today’s teenagers have been dubbed everything from ‘Generation Z’ to ‘Digital Natives’. No matter what label is stamped on them, today’s teens are proving to be a socially responsible generation with the drive to make a difference in this world. The American Quarter Horse Youth Association has tapped into that positive energy with the highly successful Heroes For Horses initiative unveiled in August and set to run through June of 2014.

The Heroes For Horses program is a joint initiative between the American Quarter Horse Foundation and AQHYA to promote volunteerism, community service, and fundraising to benefit equine research studies. The program, spearheaded by Manager of AQHYA and Youth Development Robin Alden and generously underwritten by Deborah Hearst and Angela Wade, is also geared toward expanding youth interest and participation in AQHYA. Alden is a lifelong horsewoman and mother of three children who were active in 4-H and AQHYA, so she knows firsthand the benefits of youth involvement with horses. “I’m so excited about this program,” Alden says. “In this day and age, youth need to understand how important it is to give back. Through this program, they can make a difference in the future of our industry and horse health in general. For a $15 membership in AQHYA, kids have the chance to get involved with a great organization with all kinds of benefits, while giving back to their community through the Heroes For Horses program.”

At the same time, AQHYA members who raise the most funds are eligible for recognition in the form of educational awards. Participants in the Heroes For Horses program are given the task of developing and completing a fundraising activity of their own choosing. Funds raised will go through The American Quarter Horse Foundation to benefit equine health research conducted at veterinary schools throughout the United States. All aspects of equine health and welfare are covered by this important research. The American Quarter Horse Foundation has funded a wide range of projects in the field of equine health such as research into debilitating equine diseases like laminitis, navicular syndrome, and uveitis as well as studies on ways to curb hay waste and studies on musculoskeletal injury and treatment.

AQHYA members are challenged to develop and successfully implement a fundraising activity of their own choosing. The Heroes For Horses program supplies the materials necessary to get the project off the ground including publicity materials, internet web banners, flyers, donation boxes, print ads, and accounting sheets. Alden reports that many of the ideas have been creative, different, and fun. “We’ve had kids host trail rides, judging clinics, and showmanship clinics.”

Alden reports that Vicky Tebow, Youth Advisor for the Region Eight Oklahoma group, came up with a creative idea in the form of a ‘Three Minute Challenge’ during the group’s year-end banquet. Guests were challenged to pledge as much as they could within three minutes. As the seconds ticked by, excitement grew and the pledges rolled in. Alden says, “In just three minutes, they raised $1,800 for the Heroes For Horses program. That’s incredible! I like my officers and regional directors to come up with innovative and exciting ideas for fundraising and community service. That’s how the Heroes For Horses program was developed, and it’s that kind of positive creativity we’re hoping to foster in the kids, all for a very good cause. We want the groups in each region to come up with their own ideas and just run with it.”

The rewards for outstanding performance in this program are generous. AQHYA members who raise the most funds in each region are eligible for state, regional, and national awards. Alden says, “Through the generosity of Deborah Hearst, Angela Wade, and the Burns Family Foundation, the American Quarter Horse Foundation gives educational awards for the top fundraiser in each state and the top three fundraisers in each region. The top ten fundraising AQHYA members chosen from all the regions will vie for the top prize, a $2,500 educational award and trips to the 2014 Youth Excellence Seminar and Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show where they will be honored for their achievement.”

teen02Alden has worked with Chris Sitz, Senior Director of the American Quarter Horse Foundation, and Jada Buchanan, AQHA Senior Manager of Marketing, to develop the program. Penny Uecker of Lewistown, Montana has also been involved with the program in Region 2. She has personally supported AQHYA activities for four years, most recently serving as a Youth Advisor along with Barb Bouma. She’s also a lifelong rider whose daughter, Codi Ann, is an active participant in AQHYA. “I was active in 4-H and open shows, and I became a jockey at the age of 18, riding American Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds professionally,” Uecker says. “I see AQHYA as a confidence builder where horse kids learn to interact with people from all walks of life. The Heroes for Horses campaign teaches them responsibility and compassion for others, both humans and horses.”

The youth in Penny’s group have helped with therapeutic riding programs and 4-H clinics. They also placed donation boxes for the Heroes For Horses program at the SmartPak West AQHA Novice Championship Show, the Bank of America Amateur and AQHA Open World Championship Show, and the Montana Quarter Horse Association booth during the Nile Stock Show. “I would hope that the Heroes for Horses campaign teaches youth that helping others is very rewarding,” she says. “I hope they will continue giving as they get older.”

Penny’s 16 year old daughter, Codi Ann, has been involved in AQHYA activities for five years, including serving as a national director for the past two years. She is a strong proponent of youth activities to teach leadership, social skills, and the benefits of a partnership with horses. She is very proud of her group’s work with the Heroes For Horses program. Along with her stewardship of the donation boxes at the shows, she has hosted a horse judging clinic for 4-H and FFA, volunteered with younger riders at 4-H clinics, and “wrangling the kids at the stick horse rodeo” at the Montana Winter Fair. With plans to attend college and specialize in equine sports medicine, the Heroes For Horses program means something special to Codi. “The Heroes For Horses program is a great way to teach kids how valuable community service is,” Codi says. “Every little thing we contribute, whether it’s giving donations or your time, has a huge impact on so many lives around us, humans or horses.”

There’s still plenty of time for kids to join AQHYA and get involved with the program. With the spring show season on the way, there will be many opportunities to join the effort and raise awareness about the good work being done by The American Quarter Horse Foundation and the Heroes For Horses Program. It’s a great opportunity to let the next generation learn the benefits of pitching in for a worthy cause while meeting new kids, having a great time with horses, and working toward valuable educational awards for a job well done. For more information on how to join AQHYA or become involved with the Heroes For Horses program, visit

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