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Youth Contest Kicks Off 67th Annual New England

by Sadie Killian Fowler

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Twenty-four youth contestants gathered Saturday, July 22 to kick off the traditional Youth Contest held every year at the New England Morgan Horse Show. For the second year in a row, the contest was held over a two-day period, concluding on Sunday, July 23, the first day of the horse show.

Contestants had prepared for months to compete in the competitive contest, which was again headed by former Grand National Youth of the Year winner Erin Van Steenburgh. Divided into three divisions again this year, (senior, junior and walk/trot), contestants were tested on a variety of elements including a very challenging written exam. Youths were also required to prepare a speech, perform a riding or driving pattern, and judge a class.

As always, Van Steenburgh said she was extremely grateful for the show’s help in making sure the contest ran smoothly. “They have been very supportive of this program in terms of sponsorship,” she said. Van Steen burgh continued by acknowledging various trainers who at the last minute donated their horses for use in the judging contest. It was indeed an effort by many Morgan enthusiasts that made this a memorable year for everyone involved.

This was the second year in which the contest provided a walk and trot division. Specific, more age-appropriate tests were geared toward the young competitors in an effort to attract more young contestants without intimidating them by requiring them to partake in the exams geared toward the older contestants. The walk and trot contestants were still tested on the four elements that the older contestants were tested on, the tests were simply more basic. For example, the speech topic for the youngest group was, “Who is your favorite Morgan?”

Following the two days of competition, winners were recognized at the New England Youth Contest Awards. This year’s contest concluded with Molly Shanley winning the New England Regional Senior Youth of the Year title. Interestingly, Shanley’s older sister Kerry was last year’s Grand National AMHA Youth of the Year winner.

Katie O’Neil, competing in only her second youth contest ever, finished as New England Regional’s Reserve Senior Youth of the Year. Both young ladies are from Marshfield, Mass., and will now be eligible to represent New England in the AMHA Grand National Youth of the Year Contest in Oklahoma City, Okla., in October.

The rewards for winning or earning reserve in October’s contest are extremely generous, enticing and will likely attract many youths to the contest from across the country. The Grand National Youth of the Year will win a free one month trip to anywhere in the world and the reserve champion will earn a two-week trip to the visit the trainer of their choice.

When scores for the New England Regional Junior Youth champion and reserve champion were tabulated, it remained in one particular family as the top two finishers are cousins. Hillary Wiles-Lafayette had the highest combined score while Madison Wiles-Haffner followed in reserve.

For the second year in a row, the youngest competitors did an excellent job in keeping up with the older contestants. Gabrielle Blackman was named the walk and trot champion and Rowan Winters earned the reserve title.

Another special part of the awards banquet occurred when the recipient for the New England Morgan Horse Association Scholarship was named. It was required that all applicants be members of the NEMHA, be actively involved with Morgan horses, and be attending school or an apprentice program in the fall. Applicants were also required to submit an essay showing their commitment to the breed and fill out an application providing two references. After evaluations were made, Steven Handy was named the well-deserving recipient of the $1500 scholarship.

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners and good luck to New England Regional’s Oklahoma representatives.

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