The Versatile Volunteer

2018 USDF Youth Volunteer of the Year Emma Kane (second from left) receives her award at the 2018 Adequan®/USDF Annual Convention’s Salute Gala & Annual Awards Banquet. Presenters, from left: USDF Youth Programs Committee chair Roz Kinstler, 2017 USDF Youth Volunteer of the Year Meghan Slaughter, USDF FEI Junior/Young Rider Committee chair Roberta Williams, and USDF Youth Programs Advisory Subcommittee chair Mickayla Frederick. (Jennifer Bryant photo)

For 2018 USDF Youth Volunteer of the Year Emma Kane, dressage volunteering is just one facet of a busy lifestyle that’s included college, work, and an impressive array of equestrian pursuits

By Jennifer M. Miller

Honored last year with the prestigious USDF Youth Volunteer of the Year Award, Emma Kane, Algonquin, Illinois, is not only a committed volunteer but also a horse enthusiast who lives the power of cross-training.

“I always wanted to ride,” says Kane. “Growing up, I begged my parents for pony rides and Breyer horses. When I was eight, I began riding saddle seat in a local park-district summer camp.”

Two years later, Kane switched to a barn that specialized in trick riding, drill team, and a little eventing. In high school, she showed, well, pretty much everything: vaulting, drill team, trick riding, hunters, jumpers, equitation, Western and English pleasure, halter, speed, eventing, dressage, reining, Western dressage, and even a bit of rodeo.

With her Haflinger, Nice and Big LVH, Kane earned the national-championship title in several divisions at the 2014 Haflinger National Show. That same year, “DaVinci” was named the American Haflinger Registry’s Performance Haflinger of the Year. The pair’s successes also brought them several Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds awards.

A turning point in the young equestrian’s career came when Kane attended the 2015 Midwest Horse Fair in Madison, Wisconsin. There she met dressage professional Patti Gruber, who offered the girl a working-student position at Bull Valley Equestrian Center in Bull Valley, Illinois, where Gruber is the barn manager and the head trainer at Xtreme Dressage.

Kane with her Haflinger and Haflinger/warmblood cross (Lil Kane photo)

“Patti is absolutely amazing,” Kane enthuses. “She taught me about taking care of show horses, as well as how to give back and always put the horses first.”

Watching Gruber train her Mustang stallion, Padre, from wild horse to Dressage at Devon (Pennsylvania) “taught me that it is the journey with your horse and not just about competing,” Kane says. “I’m very grateful to have her in my life—and she is the one that got me into volunteering!”

Learning to Give Back

“When I started working for Patti, she was the VP of dressage for IDCTA [the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association] and brought me along to meetings,” says Kane.

With Gruber’s encouragement, Kane began serving on the IDCTA Dressage Committee. During the 2018 competition year, Kane was elected to the IDCTA board. By spring, she was named co-chair of the USDF group-member organization’s (GMO) Education Committee.

A current major focus for Kane is promoting the USDF Region 2 Schooling Show Awards Program.

“Schooling shows are the base of the sport. I used to work all year to go to one IDCTA schooling show,” Kane says. “Qualifying for our IDCTA Schooling Championships was a big deal. Not everyone has the resources or is ready to compete at a recognized show. Having the Schooling Show Awards Program allows all riders have a year-end goal to work toward.”

Volunteering with Operation Wild Horse (courtesy of Emma Kane)

Kane’s volunteerism doesn’t stop with dressage. Thanks again to Gruber’s own involvement, she works with Veterans R&R Operation Wild Horse, a nonprofit organization that teaches military veterans and their families horsemanship and riding skills using Mustangs. Kane is now the organization’s event planner for a Wild Horse Fair specifically for Mustang horses.

To Kane, the benefit of volunteering is about the people. “There are so many people I met through volunteering that I never would have otherwise. I am friends with farm owners, technical delegates, judges, trainers, and other adult amateurs. I enjoy having a huge support system in the sport!”

Kane’s advice to other young would-be volunteers? “Just start volunteering, and talk to as many people as you can. The more you do, the more people you meet and the more opportunities you find.”

Getting involved may seem daunting to a young and inexperienced prospective volunteer, Kane acknowledges. Just keep at it, she advises.

“I kept showing up at events and meetings, and people got to know me. There are always events with things that need to be done. Any time you can give will make a difference.” 

In that spirit, Kane organized a Dressage4Kids clinic to promote youth participation in her region. She coordinated all the clinic logistics and rode two horses—a Mustang belonging to a client of Gruber’s and a mare she had restarted two weeks before the event.

For her commitment to the USDF’s mission through exceptional volunteer effort, Kane was recognized with the 2018 USDF Youth Volunteer of the Year award.

“It was amazing!” Kane says of the honor. “I was honestly shocked and cried when I read the e-mail.” She received her award on stage at the Salute Gala & Annual Awards Banquet at the 2018 Adequan®/USDF Annual Convention in Salt Lake City.

In the press release announcing the award, USDF Youth Programs Committee Chair Roz Kinstler said that “Emma Kane clearly shows her commitment to promoting dressage and her love for the sport. It’s always so rewarding to see a youth rider paying it forward already. They ensure a great future for USDF and dressage.”

From dressage to Western dressage, Kane enjoys cross-training with her horses (Aullmyn Photography)

Still Giving

As a student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Kane competed on the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) team.

“It was fun to ride hunter schoolmasters and work on equitation. I learned so much about equitation by riding different horses,” she says.

Completing her bachelor’s degree in psychology in only three years, Kane now works as a police records clerk and coordinates both the planning and zoning commissions for a small town in northern Illinois. But entering the working world hasn’t dimmed her enthusiasm for volunteering: “My goals are to keep working to promote schooling shows, as well as to make educational opportunities accessible to everyone, and to continue to promote Operation Wild Horse.”

Nor has Kane stopped riding. DaVinci is retired now, but Kane has a new mount, Mein Liebling, a 14.2-hand American Warmblood/Haflinger-cross gelding. A previous rescue, “Tonka” has jumped and also has Western dressage training, she says.

“Dressage is my main focus, but my horses seem happier when doing multiple disciplines,” says Kane. So she plans to keep cross-training while she strives to achieve her next goal: to earn her USDF bronze medal and to “work toward Prix St. Georges.”

To learn more about the USDF Youth Volunteer of the Year Award, visit the USDF website at or send e-mail to

Jennifer M. Miller is a freelance writer and dressage rider from upstate New York.

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