I survived 24+ hours in a van with 5 teenagers and 2 other adults. We traveled to the American Quarter Horse Congress to compete in a knowledge competition about everything equine. The kids fundraised hard for this adventure. As their coach, I was as excited as they were. Yes, there are elements of the adventure not share-worthy. But there are three particular travel takeaways that the teenagers on this trip really pointed out to me.
I’m known for telling the kids to “Smell the Flowers, Blow Out the Candles.” Whether riding a 1000# animal or hitting a buzzer to answer a horse question, breathing is a wonderful stress processor. At one point during our travels, I was stressed. I was not driving at that point. All of a sudden, I received a text from a teen sitting behind me, “Breathe.” I did. I even used my ear buds to listen to some relaxing and inspirational music, which helped me breathe deeper! It was so awesome to have a teenager support my stress level. When we stopped, she brought active listening, laughter, and a hug into the equation to further assist moving through the stress. I learned that the youth do listen and learn from us adults; they showed it by reflecting it back.
Traveling showcases money values. These kids were all very keen about our budget. They conscientiously packed their own snacks, refilled water bottles, and shared vendor food at the Congress. We stayed in a hotel that provided hot breakfast AND complimentary dinners. This overall frugality allowed us to splurge one night on a food new to all but one of us—Rolled Ice Cream. Driving the kids downtown at night and hearing them exclaim over the architecture, lights, etc was so worth the challenge of finding a parking space for a 12-passenger van. Once we got into the ice cream shop, each kid took live videos of their individual ice cream being made. The smiles were contagious. The variety was super fun—strawberry banana to cheesecake to matcha tea to candy and caramel, too. Seeing them enjoy one another was the absolute highlight for me!
Traveling to a national horse show where the horses cost more than our homes back in Minnesota created many opportunities to talk finances. Our youth wisely used this opportunity to schmooze/rub shoulders with those who have more than us, notice how to fit in (or not), and more. Two of them got escorted out of the vet building the first day. The next day, one returned, confidently walked in like he owned the place, made a cup of coffee in the Keurig, sat on the leather couch, and was promptly invited on a tour of the facility. Score! It was fun to compare notes about the differences between a regular horse show and one of this caliber.
In our family, we practice reflecting and evaluating life events. My kids and I shared with my husband all sorts of anecdotes from the trip—the good, bad, funny, fearful, etc. In the end, the kids announced that a team trip such as this increases one’s appreciation of one’s own family. Wow! That made me cry. They were right.
When our family travels, it is about getting to the destination WHILE enjoying the ride—making pit stops, enjoying scenery, respecting people’s bodily functions, etc. Traveling with others reminded us how wonderful our family values are. Knowing how to communicate and how to flex with the needs of the whole group are gifts that we are thankful for.
Driving habits was another reflection. My husband, who daily drives trucks and trailers, drills into our heads the importance of caring for our vehicles. Accelerate gently. Look ahead to avoid overuse of brakes. Follow speed limits—especially in construction zones, where my husband often works. It was hard to be a passenger, especially when the rental vehicle was in my name. The takeaway was hearing teenagers evaluate driving patterns—they reminded me that every experience is a potential learning opportunity (and that they really have internalized safe driving strategies).
Teenagers can be great traveler partners! In all those hours in the vehicle, I never had to speak sharply to them about volume or jostling around. They got along the entire time. They were ultimately respectful! The van was even relatively clean after all those hours of snacking!
Youth are capable of doing their own research. The ice cream adventure happened because someone had the idea, found the site, google mapped it, read reviews, looked up the hours, and more! Another one wanted to integrate a college tour into the trip. She scheduled it for all of us. The kids scouted out the Congress schedule and knew what they wanted to attend—they chose the departure time morning and night. Being part of this interdependence was thrilling!
I was unhappy when a couple of kids took off to watch the 2 year-old futurities-a big event after we got eliminated! Upon reflecting, the youth had a goal to make use of every minute of our time at the AQHA Congress. As the coach, my goal was to control the group for safety’s sake. We both had justifiable reasons and both had lessons to learn about boundaries, teamwork, and communication.
The Glass Is Half Full!
We lost our first round by only 2 points. We lost the second round by one measly point. Rather than moping, the team reconvened at the Judging Clinic for Ranch Riding; they continued learning. They walked miles looking at stalls, watching horse events, supporting other Minnesota competitors, and comparison-shopping at the trade shows. They reflected on what to do differently in preparation for next national trip.
Words cannot begin to express how proud I am of these kids. This trip wasn’t about winning or losing. It was about coming together as a team—every kid hit that buzzer and contributed!