A thought-provoking title that, when applied to the future of the horse industry, begins and ends with one word: YOUTH! If the equine industry is to remain viable and sustainable in the future, plans must be made to cultivate and nurture our youngest children. Horses must capture and hold their attention – from toddlers to teenagers, adolescents to adults.

My generation, the so-called “Baby Boomers,” was exposed to horses and a culture that included larger-than-life heroes, both equine and human. These stars reflected the Western lifestyle and attracted our attention with their stories of triumphs over adversity. These tales were portrayed by cowboys such as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy, along with horses such as Fury, Flicka, Trigger and Buttermilk. Theaters and televisions used to be filled with Westerns, and all of us, from one time or another, dreamed of being a cowboy or a cowgirl riding those beautiful horses, chasing the “bad guys” and doing good deeds for others.

Back in those times, we were exposed to the Western way of life – not by design, but simply as a result of popular programming and productions. There was no master plan at work that someone or some organization fashioned to attract and hold the youth’s imagination. There was no stated objective to ensure future participation in an industry or association. No, all of that was the natural result of a generation exposed to the aura of the horse and the cowboy through the day’s popular programming. It was subliminal suggestion by mistake! My generation was the recipient of this wonderful, unintended consequence, one that has stuck with many of us for all of our lives.

But we must admit, we are an aging generation that will fade within the next 20 years. Generations that arrived after ours will never, ever be infected or affected by the same set of circumstances as us “Baby Boomers.” Ask any marketing professional or advertising specialist and they’ll confirm – our generation is unique.

 Now comes the time in history when the equine industry faces its grandest challenge: Do we continue to experience contraction because we have, until now, done very little to preserve the image and aura of the horse and the horseman that was done for us by consequence from others not involved when we were young; or do we take on the daunting task of planning and organizing a curriculum that fascinates and captivates youngsters in order to perpetuate our future?

Some of you who regularly read this column will recall that this has been a passionate subject of mine. There are probably many of you who have chosen to ignore my recital of facts and figures that support what I contend – that the horse industry, across the spectrum, is on the decline and could cease to exist in the form as we currently know it. There are, I'm sure, many of you who feel that we already have sound and well-organized programs for youth in most of the breed associations and horse organizations. You are correct! The problem is, we’ve created programs for youth over the age of 10. Currently, nothing captures youth from a preschool age – such as we had back in the ’50s that plants the seeds of love and passion for the horse.

Good news folks! The American Quarter Horse Association has organized and secured funding for a dynamic platform designed for that express purpose. It’s called “Digital Oats,” and its centerpiece is the horse, not just Quarter Horses, but horses of all breeds. The program was conceived in conjunction with 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and other youth organizations, and its goal is to introduce horses into the lives of our littlest people. Digital Oats is designed to foster a passion for horses among youngsters, a love that will grow and build the foundation of tomorrow’s horsemen and women.

We’ve got to do something and do it now. Otherwise, we face the very real problem of not having people there to replace my generation or my kids’ generation.

You will soon learn more about this important curriculum from AQHA. It behooves all of us, every equine organization, to support and assist in funding this and other programs of this type to ensure that our horse industry enjoys growth and a sustainable future. We must entice our very young or we will become less and less significant and fewer in number. Our very existence depends on it!

The “Lone Ranger” and his faithful scout “Tonto” will become just that, a distant memory!




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