The first ever Clydesdale Youth/Novice Congress has just ended, but the memories, learning and friendships will go on and on! The Clydesdale Breeders of the U.S.A. felt a responsibility to educate and draw new people into the Clydesdale breed, and so the idea of a Congress was proposed. Many folks have asked what exactly the Clydesdale Youth/Novice Congress is. I will base the reflective answer to that question in this editorial.
It Began With a Need
The Clydesdale industry–the draft horse industry in general–has been one of great family tradition. Many of us have been lucky in our lives to have had family, or a mentor to teach us about the trade. As the industry became a bit fragile due to the recessed economy, the need surfaced to do more to bring new people in and also to show support of those trying to become involved. Instead of getting thrown into a situation in a show ring or other venue, the need became very apparent ... we NEED to educate, to allow hands-on learning, and also practice showing in a comfortable, positive atmosphere!
A Place to Start
Often the hardest part to any project is establishing a place to start. We did not have a huge budget to work with, and decided that the best-case scenario was to come up with a “partner” event. To ensure that the most youth could attend, it had to be a summer date. Research began and a perfect “partner” was found with the Dane County Fair, held in Madison, Wisconsin. This partnership fit the needs perfectly as it is a 4-H/FFA Youth Show and is held at the state-of-the-art new facilities of the Alliant Energy Center. Meetings were scheduled, terms were met, relationships were built, a number of stalls were established along with a show ring schedule. We had a place to start!
Time to Build a Team
To “get it done” a team of individuals stepped up as team leaders. Our “team” included Ryan Mullen, Ken Airgood, Greg Bagley and myself, Cathy Behn. Soon, additional team members were added, with presenters, exhibitors and sponsors!
A schedule of events was established, an entry book was created with entry forms and deadlines. It was then time to promote the idea of the Congress. Leading off was the first sentence for our promotional brochure: “If you have dreamed of getting involved with the Clydesdale breed, or are already involved but would like to continue to learn, this is the event for YOU!” After promoting and marketing the event, we had “players!”
On July 16, 35 eager participants arrived at the Congress, along with 30 Clydesdale horses. The day started with our first seminar: “Fitting/Grooming/Showing Halter.” Kim Hughes did a superb job as the leader of this seminar, with assistance from Bob Schrock of Shipshewana Harness & Supplies, Ken Airgood, Ryan Mullen and myself. All aspects, from what to do at home prior to fitting for the show: bathing; clipping; braiding/tail tying; and presenting a Clydesdale in the show ring were covered. Afterwards, Kim Hughes, along with Ken Airgood, and Ryan Mullen, cross-tied three horses and worked with participants, one-on-one, helping to braid manes and tie tails. This activity was followed by the “Harnessing and Driving” seminar. Nelson Schrock was gracious enough to share his knowledge and talent for this forum! The night ended with a barn pizza party, providing time for everyone to meet and greet one another!
Friday morning began with a riding seminar presented by Stephanie Rupple. Stephanie brought her professionalism and knowledge to our group, instructing them on both English and Western disciplines. Mid-morning the exhibitors took the lines in the Senior Cart class (15 to 18 years of age); Junior Cart class (9 to 14 years of age); and Novice Cart class (Adults, 18 & over); all judged by Nelson Schrock. Leading the afternoon seminars was Linda Harmon-Dodge, DVM, speaking to those present on general care, breeding and reproduction. Dr. Harmon-Dodge is a veterinarian as well as a Clydesdale breeder, so her input into this aspect of the industry was of great value. The riding classes followed, as judged by Stephanie Rupple. Taking full advantage of “down time,” a spontaneous practice of showing at halter ensued. Participants were encouraged to bring their horse to the ring and individual help was given to all in need. Kim Hughes again took the microphone to help instruct the participants with the do’s and don'ts of showing at halter. Thank you to Logan Behn and Mitch Johnson for helping with this impromptu exercise. Friday evening brought our judge, Nelson Schrock, back to the ring to assess the Sr., Jr. and Novice Team competitions. WOW what a busy, but productive, day it was!
Saturday began with a wonderful informative Nutrition and Feeding seminar presented by Craig Sandmire of Doctors Choice Supplements. Mr. Sandmire took a complicated subject–selecting the proper nutrition and feeding for your horses–and whittled it down into terms that all could understand. This was followed by the seminar: "Event Opportunities and Uses for Your Clydesdales." Mr. Tom Duffy spoke on his wedding carriage service and Nancy Osterhaus described her Clydesdale-powered Wagon Ride & Services. It was of great benefit to the participants to learn about opportunities beyond the show ring, and to hear from these entrepreneurs how they run their successful businesses. I spoke on the behalf of the Clydesdale Breeders of the U.S.A., explaining what it meant to be a member, and describing the process and perks for our new Youth Membership Program.
Then it was back to the barn to prepare for the Youth Decorating, Showmanship and Conformation Halter classes. Mr. Gary Nebergall willingly agreed to help in the judging of these classes and was a wonderful asset to the show with his experience, wisdom and professionalism. As the Youth and Novice worked at decorating their Clydesdales, Mr. Nebergall kept a close eye so he could address each participant individually. This was so valuable, as there were many participants that did not have a great amount of experience and each left the ring with tips for “next time.” As the Showmanship Classes began, I was overwhelmed looking down the ring and seeing 15 junior showmen (ages 9 to 14) in the ring. What an awesome sight for the first Clydesdale Youth/Novice Congress! In the Senior Showmanship division, there were seven participants that led the way in setting a great example for their younger counterparts. Mr. Nebergall, again, addressed each participant, encouraging, lending advice and coaching. They, too, all went out of the ring with smiles, confidence and goals. Conformation classes for stallions, geldings and mares followed, so that the participants could get a feel for “real” halter classes.
Our final day was set in motion via a seminar on Conformation and Judging, led by Mr. Nebergall. Afterwards, the participants were put to task in Youth and Novice Judging classes, where they placed the animals and fielded questions from Mr. Nebergall. Mr. Ken Airgood was next on the block, presenting a Hoof Care seminar. He did a great job instructing on everyday hoof care and shoeing principles. Mr. Logan Behn assisted, bringing in different horses to illustrate the various ways they could be shod.
Now it was time for some FUN! The Costume class involved seven entries that were original, imaginative and terrific, to say the least. The crowd loved it and it proved a perfect way to wrap up a rewarding and worthwhile event. Lastly, we had a Special Awards Assembly. Each family/participant was presented with a Certificate of Thanks listing some of their individual achievements and personal traits.
This event was nothing less of stellar. It takes many folks to pull something like this together, and those that achieved it did so with grace. The participants are all to be congratulated on their achievements and I must say they were one of the best groups of people with which I have ever worked. There was never a time when smiles were not evident. We heard “thank you” often and in a most sincere way from all of them. They were true “pioneers” of this first Clydesdale Youth/Novice Congress!
Many folks have asked, “Will you have this again next year?” The answer is YES! It is our responsibility as leaders of the draft horse industry to provide educational opportunities to bolster our breed and ensure that the associated knowledge and skills are perpetuated. I say we go forward and make this stellar event even bigger and better!
Thank you to all sponsors of this first Congress–whether you financially supported the event, volunteered, brought horses for youth or novice to use, or participated, you were all an important part of the “team.” A huge “thank you” also goes to the volunteers who made it happen. There were too many to list, but you all know who you are and should feel very good about what you helped create. Thank you to Bob Schrock of Shipshewana Harness & Supplies for assisting in the seminars and helping with tack and equipment questions. Thank you to Pam Minick and Kadee Coffman of the "Gentle Giants" program for being with us and filming the events. Both of these ladies were swept away in the positive spirit of the event and really made the kids and adults proud of what they were achieving. The "Gentle Giants" episode featuring our Congress will air in October on RFD-TV. Thank you also to Michelle Randolph for serving as the official photographer of the Congress. Please view her photos on Michellezphotos.com. They are guaranteed to brighten your day and make you smile!