Be You-Nique

Reflection: 

How lucky I was to spend the first half of my Queen journey as a student at The Ohio State University. 

I have grown a great deal as a result of the education I received here and I know I can attribute my study habits and interview skills to the countless opportunities I had at the university inside and outside of the classroom. 

As I sit here at the end of my workday, I cannot help but reflect on how I graduated from college two months ago and how in another two months, my Queen rein will be over.

Back in college, with a real adult job looming in the horizon, I struggled  to conceptualize how I could continue to stand out as Sara Elizabeth Laughlin once my time as a student was over. 

Now, with Congress less than a hundred days away, I struggle with how I will continue to stand out as Sara Elizabeth Laughlin once my Congress Queen journey is over.

I'm feeling pretty nostalgic after visiting the state fair yesterday....

Because I met so many inspiring young riders, state fair queens and princesses, and families who once again proved to me how much of an impact equine and agriculture can have on a person's life.

Showing horses teaches individuals how to be humble and how to be kind. The importance of due diligence, perseverance, and commitment. A horse show provides the atmosphere for friendship, community, strong-willed competition, and confidence and character building. 

I had the chance to speak to Ohio State's food, agricultural, and environmental sciences learning community this winter...

And they asked me what makes a Congress Queen candidate unique, stand out in an interview, and how my involvement with horses and the community prepared me for such a role. 

I think we can all agree, that at some point we have all questioned whether we were "good enough". To win a class, to earn a title, to be a leader, to get a promotion, to get a job....

To make the cute boy that sits next to you in class like you. 

And I admit that personally, there are days where I don't feel unique, or special, or shine among a crowd. 

With this group, I talked about how I have struggled with all of these things until I went to a talk with one of Ohio State's business teachers that mentioned: like Kim Kardashian, we all have a personal brand and characteristics that others associate with us when they hear our name. 

Hold the phone, are you telling me I am identical to Kim Kardashian?

No, not quite, but just like you feel a certain way when you hear her name, people feel a certain way when they think about you. 

With the learning community we talked a lot about building our own brand, identifying what we value and what we are proud of, and reflecting on what we want others to say about us when asked "what do you think of _____."

And how often do we get the question in an interview, "so what makes you unique? Out of all of the other candidates, why should we pick you?"

Go beyond surface level qualities like working hard, being positive, or your desire to help people. Maybe you want to help people because you want to find a cure for cancer, or another life threatening illness. Perhaps your passion for saving shelter animals stems from the time you adopted a seven-year-old dog and gave him a good home.

Maybe you've overcome some type of challenge that has inspired you to give back.  Maybe you express yourself through journaling, art, or music. 

talk about the "why".

In two months I may not be Congress Queen anymore, but I know I have an irreplaceable education and many supporters that believe in my ability to make a mark in my community. 

And I am surrounded by other queens and young riders who are unique in their passions which range from breeding horses, to medicine, to habitats for snakes, to providing hope and opportunity to equestrians with disabilities.

All of these characteristics live in us regardless of the title or job we hold. 

And no matter where you are or what you are doing, what you are passionate about and what gets you out of bed everyday will always keep you unique. 

We all have that special something about us. my question is, what do you want people to think when they hear about you?

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Inspired by a conversation with Ohio State's Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Learning Community. 

Don’t Forget Your Roots – A Snapshot of My Local Impact

We begin by doing small things at the local level… this is how change takes place. Not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.
— Grace Lee Boggs

I feel like my life is stuck on a fast forward button. Can anyone else believe that it is already July? My time as Queen has been flying by!

Over the holiday I had the privilege of attending the Big A, held by the Georgia Quarter Horse Association, which was an amazing show filled with fun exhibitor parties, holiday surprises, Show for the Dough opportunities, and futurity classes sponsored by Premier Quarter Horses. Not to mention wonderful prizes and an exhibitor room stocked with yummy popsicles to keep everyone cool on a hot summer day.

I also met some incredible individuals from the south who were either competing or watching the show. And they asked asked me some pretty tough questions...

What’s been your favorite moment as Congress Queen? What has surprised you the most throughout your journey?

Wow. I realized that in all of the hustle and bustle that has been graduating, working, and queening, I haven’t yet taken a moment to digest the once-in-a-lifetime experience that is Congress Queen.

While I have many unforgettable moments, I haven’t yet shared details on the impact I have been able to have locally in Columbus, Ohio. The ability to engage with youth from my home state is humbling. I remember having similar ambitious hopes and dreams when I was growing up and having the opportunity to visit these individuals as Congress Queen truly makes my growth feel full-circle.

From ages 8 to 18, the 4-H, FFA, and collegiate equestrian enthusiasts I have had the chance to speak with over the past few months have truly reminded me how much potential we really have to follow the passions that we love. They’ve also grounded me in a way that continuously encourages me to think about the legacy I hope to leave as Queen as well as the work that I still aspire to do after the crown formally comes off in October.

And perhaps the ability to give back to my community and inspire other young women to be confident in themselves and cherish their unique qualities have been some of the moments I treasure most. Please enjoy these highlights of some of my local Ohio appearances!

The Ohio 4-H Public Speaking and Communications Contest

I was asked to judge the Ohio 4-H Public Speaking and Communications Contest, an event that featured many prepared speeches and presentations by 4-H members across Ohio.

I learned about famous horses from battle, the importance of rodeo, how to treat and prevent intestinal diseases, and even how to calculate my horse’s temperature, pulse, and respiration. I listened to presentations about identifying factors that cause horse-related stress and even saw (complete with props) how to properly and thoroughly groom your horse from head to toe! These kiddos had so much heart. I know firsthand that speaking in front of a crowd is not easy, and you could tell how much they practiced and prepared their speeches.

Honestly, without Mrs. Finnegan’s guidance in our high school FFA class, I’m not even sure I could’ve given as good of a presentation. And some of these young ladies were only ten years old! Public Speaking is such a valuable skill. It not only teaches us the importance of formulating our thoughts and opinions, but speech provides a platform for us to educate, advocate, and empower others. It also gives us an opportunity to stop, listen, and learn about interests or viewpoints that we may not have heard otherwise and are different from our own.

I am excited to continue seeing how these individuals will continue to take advantage of contests like these to tell the world all that they have learned through their robust 4-H programs.

Keep working hard and remember, never be afraid to use the voice you have been given!

All American Youth Horse Show

Next, I hit the All American Youth Horse Show, one of my all-time favorite horse shows as a youth exhibitor.

This was an emotional day and evening for me. As an extremely grateful scholarship recipient, a ten year competitor, and a three-time western pleasure champion, the Youth Show was the place where my first long ribbon and major title were earned. There is so much community, support, and pride among the exhibitors at this show. Honestly, it always felt like a mini Congress to me. Showing against your age group and then coming back to an 18 and under championship was an indescribable thrill, not to mention having the opportunity to show with all of your closest friends.

Daren Wright and the entire AAYHS staff have been such a huge part of my life not only personally, but as a student and a rider. They truly support every youth and take measures to ensure the Youth Show is a magically rewarding experience that will continue even beyond your youth years.

To all exhibitors, thank you for letting me hand you ribbons, stand in pictures, and share in your celebratory moments that I know you worked extremely hard for!

And good luck to the scholarship winners, who just so happen to be BUCKEYES! (The second best place on Earth next to The Columbus Fairgrounds!)

The Ohio High School Rodeo Queen Contest

A final highlight I’d like to share with you all was a day spent in Urbana as a judge for the 2018 Ohio High School Rodeo Queen Contest. Three lovely ladies completed an interview, an impromptu speech, a rehearsed speech, modeling, and horsemanship, in which one lucky lady was chosen to represent Ohio in the National High School Rodeo Queen Contest.

These ladies were smart and confident, not to mention excellent riders! Each had their own unique personality, interests, and involvement in the community that it was so hard to make the final decision! I just hope that each contestant remembers that regardless of outcome, or title on the sash, they still have the power to make a difference and influence the lives of others. What a fun experience being a part of the reign of another beautiful queen!

 OHSRA Judging Team

OHSRA Judging Team

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to seeing you all throughout the remainder of the year!

Sara

"I worked my whole life for this." - A Review of the L1 East Championships

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Wilmington, Ohio

Pictured: Olivia Tordoff, AQHYA Representative, Dr. Scott Myers, AQHA Executive Committee member, and Rhonda Replogle, trainer at Rhonda Replogle Show Horses 

The L1 Championships are magical moments for many exhibitors, and this past weekend we welcomed 2,700 entries to the Roberts Arena in Wilmington, Ohio. 

From halter, to western pleasure, to equitation, trail, and hunter hack, hundreds of exhibitors came with dreams of joining those individuals from Oklahoma City (L1 central) and Las Vegas (L1 west) as a 2018 L1 Champion. 

For me, the week was filled with many emotions. During one of my first awards presentations, I had an exhibitor stand for a picture with her finalist medallion. With tears in her eyes she exclaimed how hard she had worked for the last two years to come and attend a L1 Championship. This was her goal, her dream. I can attest that she had earned that moment. 

As many more exhibitors shared in these same feelings of accomplishment throughout the week, it truly put into perspective why these types of world shows truly matter.

I am proud of each and every exhibitor who left feeling empowered, accomplished, and worthy. I hope you are equally as proud of your successes and learning moments, as well as made some new friends along the way! 

And a special thank you to all of my queen sisters for sharing in these special memories with me <3 

 

Also, side note, for those of you who may have missed me this week, I had to drive back up to Columbus, Ohio to graduate! Extremely thankful for the Ohio Quarter Horse Association for supporting me as a queen and as a college student! 

If you are attending the SOQHA Challenge or the Madness, remember to check out the Congress Classroom! OQHA is delighted to provide wifi and other resources to help youth and amateurs keep up with their academic studies! 

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Master's of Arts from The Ohio State University

Next Up: fundraising at Nationwide Children's Hospital!

So, You Are Running For Congress Queen?

"I didn't come this far to only come this far."

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Why Run for Congress Queen?

The Congress Queen is a unique title that I have the privilege of holding.

As Congress Queen you embody beauty, intelligence, grace, and horsemanship and advocate on behalf of the quarter horse breed and a sport that you are passionate about. It provides a platform for you to share your own story with the AQHA industry as well as empower young women and riders across the country to be proud of what they accomplish.

Rarely do we have the opportunity to highlight our passions and interests across such a wide audience. As Congress Queen, the opportunity to be an authentic leader is at your fingertips.

The world becomes your oyster.

Who you are, where you travel, and what you accomplish is up for you to decide in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

How to Apply

First, you must represent a recognized AQHA state association. Reach out to the executive board or leadership team of the organization you wish to run for and inquire about queen opportunities.

If you are selected as a state association queen, you must then download and complete the Congress Queen Application by August 1st. The application consists of personal information, essay questions, and professional headshots. Within the application you will also find the rules and regulations of the contest and Congress Queen title.

 

I Am A State Queen, What Next?

 

Plan Your Travels and Appearances

What horse shows do you want to attend as Queen? Are there certain groups [4-H, FFA, state association youth groups, etc.] that you would like to speak with?

Personally, as Congress Queen, I have reached out to Ohio’s 4-H and FFA extensions to see if there were any opportunities to give back to the clubs that gave me my start in the horse industry. I am excited to announce I will be judging the state’s public speaking competition as well as passing out awards at the State Fair!

I encourage everyone to think about the impact they hope to have as Queen and seek opportunities throughout the year that will lead to fulfilling these goals.

 

Fundraise/Find Sponsors

Running for Congress Queen can incur some expenses. Whether it be the application fee, traveling throughout the year, hauling and stalling your horsemanship horse, needing a new jacket, skirt, or Queen attire, there are people and businesses out there who would love to support you on your journey!

My motto is: You never know unless you ask! When seeking sponsorships from others, be sure to describe the benefits of the contest and why it is important to you.

As an aspiring fundraiser (yes, I actually am seeking a career in raising money), I have learned that people love to contribute opportunities to others that provide personal and professional growth.

Tell your story, be proud of what you hope to achieve, and remember: it is always okay to ask for help. Personally, as a graduate student, there was no way my endeavors in the contest, and my current experiences as Queen, would have been possible without the help of my generous sponsors. I appreciate and value each and every one of those individuals who has contributed to my Congress Queen journey!

 

Start Studying!

The rulebook test is a doozey, let me tell you.

I started studying in February, at least once a day, until the contest began in October. Some common questions I get around the test:

 

1.     What should I study?

Literally everything. Definitions, class scorings and penalties, AQHA processes, drug regulations, registration and exhibitor fees, required and optional obstacles, class patterns, racing rules, types of recognition awards…

The list goes on and on. Any and all bullets from the AQHA rulebook will be fair game.

2.     How should I study?

Everyone has different study habits. With my photographic memory, I personally learn best by asking myself questions. I made each bullet of the rulebook into a question on a study guide and separated my guides by rulebook section/class.

Some learn best by reading and highlighting, others make charts and flashcards, and recording the rulebook and listening to it in the car on long drives is also a popular option. Do what works best for you!

3.     What types of questions are on the test?

  Let me give you some examples:

  • Descendants from which horse are at risk for HYPP? What is this horse’s registration number?
  •  What are the jumping heights for progressive working hunter?
  • List three mandatory obstacles in ranch horse trail.
  •  What does it cost to a member to register a foal less than six month old? A non-member?
  •  What is the penalty for a two-loop run in roping classes?

4.     Anything Else I Should Study?

Be sure to look for any rule changes throughout the year and updated rulebooks

It also doesn’t hurt to know facts about the Quarter Horse Congress!

You know what they say: it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!

What Else Should I Do to Prepare for The Contest?

Remember the contest consists of an oral interview, the AQHA rulebook test, and horsemanship. Therefore, studying hard and practicing as much as you can on the horse you are going to ride will be helpful come October.

The interview, though, is different altogether. This is your time to shine and let the judges know who you are, why you are running for Congress Queen, and what you hope to accomplish with your title.

I recommend thinking about your values and goals and how you will represent them as Congress Queen. Some questions I used to think about my own purpose are below:

1.     What are my values? Why are these important in a Queen?

2.     What will I bring to this role that shows I am unique among other candidates?

3.     What do I hope to accomplish as Queen?

4.     How will I personally represent the Ohio Quarter Horse Association, the Congress, and the interests of all members in AQHA?

5.     If I had a personal motto, what would that be?

What Can I Expect During the Contest?

You can expect to showcase all of your hard work, all while creating irreplaceable bonds with girls from all over the country (and Canada!) The relationships I have made from this Congress Queen contest still hold strong with me today. This past year was such a supportive environment and everyone truly rooted for the best interests of one another. I cannot begin to describe what the experience was like and I cannot wait to share it with our next group of girls!

 

Best of Luck!

We look forward to following all of your journeys this year as well as seeing all you will accomplish during the Congress Queen Contest!

 

XOXO,

Sara & The Congress Queen Committee

 


A Sensational Experience at the Silver Dollar Circuit

Viva Las Vegas!

Known for its elaborate infrastructure, vibrant strip, engaging entertainment and nightlife, and dazzling, colorful slot machines, Las Vegas, Nevada is a vacation destination that many people put on their bucket list. 

After this weekend I also learned of the city’s extensive history supporting the horse industry. From national rodeos, to ranch and cow work, mounted shooting, and AQHA-approved events, Las Vegas remains committed to supporting the dreams of riders and equestrians worldwide.

The Silver Dollar Circuit

This past weekend I had the privilege to attend the Silver Dollar Circuit in Las, Vegas. Recognized as one of the top-ten horse shows in the country, the Silver Dollar attracts hundreds of exhibitors to its three-arena facility at the South Point Hotel.

What an amazing five days it was!

I began my adventure with a tour from Andrew Gomes, nephew of Jan Bruner, the woman behind the scenes of this successful event. I was amazed at the beautiful accommodations and just how many horse activities could take place inside of a hotel!

Throughout the week I was able to get to know Jan, Garret, the Silver Dollar’s show manager, Nonny, working with awards, the show office crew, and countless other show officials and volunteers. No matter how many hours they put in that day, they always had a smile and worked towards creating an extraordinary exhibitor experience. 

I was able to take part in passing out awards, speaking with vendors, laughing with leadliners, and catching up with 2016 Congress Queen Amy Brown. Not only did I truly have an amazing experience at The Silver Dollar Circuit, but I made countless new friends along the way.

I highly encourage anyone who is considering a trip out west to attend this show! From the hospitality of the show management, to the wide assortment of classes, to the Las Vegas experience, you will not be disappointed! 

Trip Highlights

A huge thank-you to TJ Romano, one of the Silver Dollar’s prized announcers, for touring me around the Vegas Strip, fulfilling my dream of seeing the inside of the Bellagio (and the five-minute fountain show!) and teaching me how to two-step! Looking forward to practicing before I head to your homestead in Arizona!

Singing karaoke among many new friends at the annual exhibitor party. I am fortunate you all came to the stage to supply back-up vocals so that my renditions of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” did not clear out the room.

Getting to know Shane Rux and his crew! I have had the pleasure of enjoying your pictures over the years and it is always fun to get to know the faces behind the camera. 

The Silver Dollar Instagram Takeover! Shout-out to Lindsey, the show’s social media expert, for letting me share my Las Vegas experience with your followers.

A personal interview with Monica Brant. I had a blast chatting with you, Lynda, and your crew during my first day at the show as well as giving your friends and followers a glimpse into the life of a Congress Queen. I cannot wait to see you all at the next show!

With That Being Said… 

I had a great first trip to Las Vegas and I am looking forward to seeing some familiar faces at the Sun Circuit in Arizona!

XOXO,

Sara

New Year, Better Me in 2018

Yeah, yeah. We've all made those pesky "New Years Resolutions." 

You know, the kind you are 100% committed to in January, make two weeks progress and feel like a rockstar, then get to the end of February and say "UGH, broke my new years resolution. Next year is my year!" 

Yes, me too. I know the feeling. I am always guilty of being too hard on myself, quick to dismiss all of the progress I have made over one tiny set-back. 

I read this quote the other day and it really got me thinking....

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Have you stopped to think..

"When people talk about traveling to the past, they worry about radically changing the present by doing something small. However, barely anyone in the present realizes they have the power to radically change the future by doing something small in their current day-to-day life."

- Unknown

Whoa. Sit back and think on this one for a second.

The Negative Impact of "Shoulding on Ourselves"

How many times have we let our own feelings of guilt or shame rule our everyday lives? 

I should've exercised today. I should've been more careful. I should've called my parents more. I should've said no to that piece of cake. I should've taken that new job when I had the chance. I should've been more grateful for _____.

Now ask yourself this... when we don't accomplish what we want to, or stray down a different path than we anticipated, who are we really letting down? What prevents us from turning these small mistakes into positive obstacles to overcome rather than as something we cannot fix?

One of my favorite professors at Ohio State introduced me to the concept of "shoulding ourselves" and how constantly focusing on what we "should" do or "should have" done stops us from getting back on track. Instead of judging ourselves, we need to acknowledge our mistakes, reflect on our self-worth, and embrace exactly what we are capable of accomplishing. We must use these New Years Resolution "cheat days" as ways to build our confidence and be proud of the direction we are heading.

Setting SMART Goals and Resolutions

When setting my goals for the year I tend to follow the SMART goal method. 

S = Specific

Spell out EXACTLY what you want your goal to be. This will make your goal...

M = Measurable

By articulating what you want to accomplish, you should be able to have a way to determine if you accomplished your goal or not. 

A = Achieveable

Make your goal feasible for you. For example, "I will not eat sugar for 365 days" would never happen for me. But cutting out sugar for three days of the week might be. Set a goal that will not discourage you or frustrate you if you get off course.

R = Results

Set a goal that will give you results, or outcomes. Ask yourself, what do I want to have accomplished when I finish this goal? 

T = Time-bound

Set a time limit! It is scientifically proven that creating a sense of urgency helps us stay on target and stay more in control of our efforts. 

Keep these goals in a place where you can look at them every. single. day. Whether this be a post-it note at your desk, a sticker on your bathroom mirror, or a vision board in your bedroom. Remind yourself of what you are working towards and NEVER GIVE UP!

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So what are my personal goals for 2018?

1. Get A Full-Time, Big Girl Job: most of you know that I am finishing my last semester of graduate school and I am officially in the "this is not a drill" moment of adulting where all 23 years of schooling pay off and I hit the real-world work force!  

2. Spend Less Time With Social Media and More Time Building Meaningful Relationships with People: do you ever catch yourself texting or browsing social media during your free time? So many times I catch myself sitting down with my roommate at the end of the day, or walking out after class, half-listening to my friends' stories as I catch up on what I missed in cyber space. What frustrates me the most is SOCIAL MEDIA DOESN'T EVEN MATTER, but rather having deeper connections with my friends would create more meaning in these relationships. What do my friends love, what are they passionate about? What worries them? Here's to creating stronger friendships in 2018. 

3. Take Better Care of Myself: As stated earlier I am a product of my own self-doubt. Maybe this comes as a side-effect from being judged in the show arena, but I seem to care too much about what other people think of me and spend time doing what I think others want me to do rather than what truly makes me happy. I want to exercise at least three times a week and be proud of my own body. I want to spend time doing things that make me happy such as writing, riding, or playing sand volleyball (when the weather warms up of course). I want to take five minutes during the evenings, reflect, and journal about my day. I owe it to myself to take time figuring out my purpose and what makes my life meaningful. 

4. Travel to at least four new states as Congress Queen! Congress Queen is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a unique position for me to share my experiences with others as well as create positive change in the quarter horse industry. Look for me in Las Vegas and Arizona within the next couple months, and as always never hesitate to reach out!

 

So set those New Years Resolutions.

Embrace your cheat days.

Enjoy your journey.

Realize your potential in 2018!

Remember, you can and will achieve great things.

Make today great :) 

XOXO,

Sara

4-H: "Making the World's Best Better"

An Evening with Fairfield County's Rough Riders 4-H Club

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I remember my early years as a 4-H Club member... 

Particularly, at seven years old, I recall fundraising in the parking lot of Tractor Supply Company next to some really cute baby bunnies. Low and behold, my best friend's parents bought me Percy for my birthday, and I spent all summer preparing to show him at the fair. It seemed that year's fair was 100 degrees, Percy almost dehydrated, and the poor thing never let anyone take him out of his cage again for the remainder of his eight years of life. 

After that, we stuck to poster projects. Until of course I discovered my love for showing horses, and my experiences [and expertise] with animals went uphill ever since!

It has been over six years since I was actively involved in 4-H and the FFA and after a wonderful visit with Fairfield County's Rough Riders 4-H Club, I was flooded with many memories of hard work, friendships, and life lessons learned through these leadership programs. My experiences with animals and agriculture are paramount; truly shaping the way I would engage with others and pursue my interests for years to come. 

A peek into the Rough Riders annual awards banquet

First, a huge thank you to Jane Fowler and all of the advisors of the Rough Riders 4-H Club for welcoming me at your annual 4-H banquet. Your group does an amazing job educating members on the ins and outs of the horse world, recognizing improvements and accomplishments, and most importantly, empowering youth to step outside of their comfort zone and tackle new experiences head on. 

I am blown away by the amount of opportunities available through Ohio's 4H equine programs. This past year, Rough Riders's members participated in a variety of statewide programs, sending teams and individuals alike to the state fair, the state-wide competitive trail contest, and groom and clean competitions. In addition, members participated in horse judging, hippology, horse bowl, and communications contests. 

Not only are these kids knowledgeable about all things horses, but the practical skills they have gained and their willingness to mentor and help others spoke leaps and bounds about the integrity, humbleness, and kindness within this group. 

It was an honor to hear what all these kids learned through their 4-H experiences as well as share in their laughs and stories!


Thank you!

Again, thank you to the Rough Rider's 4-H Club for sharing your stories and allowing me to celebrate your successes! I had a great time learning more about how Ohio's 4-H equine programs have grown and how much you all are learning not only from these activities, but from each other through teamwork.

I look forward to seeing all you will accomplish in 2018! 

Always,

Sara

Thats A Wrap! A Take On The 2017 All American Quarter Horse Congress

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Little girls with dreams become women with visions - Unknown
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you never know the best day of your life is the best day, not until it is happening.

The Crowning

I have been fortunate throughout my life to have enjoyed some powerful, impactful moments. I have ridden down the Gateway of Champions at the Build Ford Tough Youth World Show with my (then 16-year-old) Bay Gelding, an accomplishment we had never dreamed of reaching. My sophomore year of college, I cheered in the last row of the Superdome in New Orleans, watching the Buckeyes defeat Alabama, against all odds, to then go on to win the first College Football Playoff National Championship. I've stood at the podium of my high school graduation as senior class president, addressing peers that shaped my childhood experiences, speculating about who we would grow up to be in the next, five, ten, twenty years. I've linked arms with my closest friends at BuckeyeThon, Ohio's largest student-run philanthropy, an integral part of the millions of dollars the dance marathon would raise for Nationwide Children's Hospital to defeat pediatric cancer.

Yet, I have never experienced a feeling quite like the one I felt when a giant, shiny tiara was pinned to my head; tasking me with not only representing countless quarter horse industries, but also the interest of 4.6 million Americans, and our friends across the globe, involved with horses.

4.6 million Americans. Let's just take a moment to let that number sink in.

I remember growing up showing horses and representing various Ohio organizations on the National Youth Activity Team Tournament, watching the Congress Queens come before me compete tirelessly for the opportunity to be the all-around package of beauty, grace, intelligence, confidence, horsemanship, and every quality of a leader the spokeswoman of the industry should posses in this role.

I cannot even begin to express what an honor and a privilege it is to be selected as Congress Queen, to follow some of my own role models, and to set an example for young equestrians everywhere about what it means to not only be a good member, but a good citizen, humble competitor, and loyal friend.

Without a doubt, this role is one of the most pivotal in the quarter horse industry, but it does not take a shiny crown and a blue velvet sash for someone to have the chance to express themselves and make an impact. While Congress Queen has given me a platform to educate and engage others, I want to remind everyone of the countless individuals, youth, and professional horsemen and women who are making a difference everyday in the lives of our communities. You, too, are empowering others and are a hero to those you don't even know are watching. I look forward to meeting each and every one of you and watching your dreams become a reality throughout 2018 <3 data-preserve-html-node="true" data-preserve-html-node="true"

 

The Contest

This year the contest was held during the second week of the horse show with the crowning occurring during the intermission of Congress's favorite Freestyle Reining. The contest consists of an oral interview in front of a judging panel, a written test on the most current AQHA rulebook, a horsemanship pattern, as well festivities throughout the week including thanking sponsors, signing postcards, meeting spectators, and getting to hug all of the children that admire you.

The women running this year were beyond incredible. Each and every one had a platform, an agenda of what their year would look like as queen, as well as a unique story of how the equine industry became their passion. Something I have learned throughout college is the power of a person's personal story. You can never discredit the amount of dedication people have to the things they love, or the obstacles they have overcome to reach success.

Each contestant this year motivated me, inspired me, and encouraged me to be the best that I could be throughout the contest. My journey would not have been the same without their countless laughs, piles of hairspray, and genuine care for each other.
 

And I cannot forget to mention the fabulous Queen team consisting of Jaymie Drury-Wells, Elaine Wells, Brittany Barker-Hostetler, Jessica Elsass, and Sarah Johnson, our wonderful photographer. They worked tirelessly throughout the year to solidify and steward sponsors, answer all of our pre-contest questions, recruit contestants from various states, put together an amazing test, locate talented interview judges, set up a beautiful booth, print queen programs, and ensure that all patrons had the opportunity to get to know this amazing group of queens. Without their hard work, this contest would not have been possible. Thank you for making every contestant feel special, valued, and a part of this year's All American Quarter Horse Congress!

Also, I could not be where I am today without the love and guidance of former Congress Queen Amy Brown. Amy, thank you for being a faithful friend throughout the year and believing in my abilities to become Queen. I hope we reunite sometime this year!

If you, or someone you know, is interested in running for 2018 Congress Queen, please contact our Queen team via the Facebook page link on the main page of this blog. Or, follow the link here: https://www.facebook.com/qhcongressqueen/

 

The Congress

At this year's Congress we awarded over 24,000 entries with $3 million worth of prizes. It was an absolutely incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience to hand medallions to riders I grew up watching excel in the show pen. To me, winning the Congress is equivalent to winning an Olympic Gold Medal. To wear a blue neck ribbon, or walk out with a top-15 medallion, after competing with some of the world's most talented horses and exhibitors is no easy feat. It was an amazing experience to be able to share in this joy with all of the exhibitors!

Throughout the entirety of the show, I worked closely with OQHA's executive board, show staff and volunteers, as well as the awards committee. Many of you commented on how I was magically able to pop onto your computer screens in each of the three arenas every time a class was placed (with the exception of heading to school every now and then!) and I truly would not have been able to stay organized without the help of all of these individuals.

In addition, I have an entirely new appreciation for the show staff, announcers, awards volunteers, and all of the individual efforts it takes to put on a horse show, especially one as big as the All American Quarter Horse Congress. Sometimes they miss lunch, sometimes they miss sleep, but every morning and midnight they had a smile on their face as they were contributing to an event that they love. This experience has really taught me to appreciate those who work behind the scenes to provide the opportunities to show and grow as an exhibitor and as a Queen.

Some of my favorite Congress memories:

Presenting youth trail awards While I cannot recall your name at this exact moment, you sponsored this trail class in honor of your daughter who passed away from cancer. While the Congress was her favorite show, trail held a special place in her heart, and giving our medallions in her memory made me realize how special horses were to my childhood.

What I failed to mention in those few moments was my current job involves working with BuckeyeThon, Ohio State's Dance Marathon program, and how we raise funds to help with pediatric cancer research at Nationwide Children's. Our slogan is "every kid deserves to be a Buckeye" and while I do believe that is true, I can now blanket this statement to "every kid deserves to be a Congress champion." You reminded me how different passions throughout my life can intersect and how powerful it can be to have a community come together to accomplish common goals. I have no doubt she was smiling as you honored her memory.

All the lil' kiddo hugs

I don't think hearing "there is the princess" will ever get old!!! No doubt some of my favorite memories include getting to hear from our future. From favorite classes to show, horse's names and colors, meeting our state princesses, and even other fun facts (like Shane Gilliam's love for reptiles and her pet lizard Spike) the love our children have for horses will always continue to warm my heart!

Stallion Halter

Oh my, oh my. Nothing is an adventure quite like stallion halter in the Cooper arena.

Behind the Scenes Life Chats in the Awards Office

I learned so many nuggets of wisdom from Jaymie, Elaine, Denise, Dixie, Michelle, Mindy, Liz and the rest of the awards crew. In case you were looking for guidance on any life decisions you can take away these tidbits of knowledge: holding one medallion at a time looks better in pictures, nobody looks good in a nose ring, and always say yes to ice cream at lunch. Cannot wait to catch up at our winter outing!

Meeting my county senator and the Columbus City Council

Having lived in Columbus for the past six years it was amazing to meet some of the leaders creating positive change within my favorite city!

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Learning from our sponsors and vendors

Our sponsors and vendors take a great deal of time to have their business support the Congress and our Queen's contest. Whether it be sunglasses, jewelry, tack, fashion, boot insoles, or other equine organizations, it was a pleasure to spend three weeks getting to know everyone involved. Without their generous support, we would not be able to bring $285 million into the central Ohio economy each year.

The OQHA Foundation Gala

I had so much fun "at the races" and supporting the Foundation's work with scholarship and crisis funds! I can always count on Carey Cooper for fashion advice, President Chris Cecil Darnell for the perfect photo booth picture, and Skip Salome and Dr. Scott Myers for the biggest hugs. Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this amazing event!

Learning about hunting with AQHA President Ralph Seekins and his wife, Connie

It was a pleasure to meet Ralph and Connie and learn about their lifetime dedication to quarter horses. Did you know Connie has quite the shot?! I'm sure I could learn a thing or two!

What's Next?

It's banquet season - Looking forward to culminating an amazing year and celebrating our exhibitor's successes at the Eastern Ohio, Ohio, and local 4-h club banquets. Follow my blog for the latest and greatest updates on my life and travels. See you soon!