Mentors Make a Difference in Young Riders’ Lives

Mentors can take many shapes: family members, 4-H advisers or kindly horsemen and women who are willing to take youngsters and newbies under their wings. They?re often unsung heroes, laboring quite happily without much recognition.

By profiling a few of these helping hands, America?s Horse Daily would like to salute all those like them around the world. It can’t be said enough: Thanks for all you do.

Everyone Should Be So Lucky

Kristina Karlen found her mentor working alongside her in a dental laboratory in 1979. Both she and Leslie Lopardo were passionate about horses, but only Leslie had access to them at the time. ?Her fianc??s family had a small herd of horses at their farm, and she invited me to go trail riding with them,? Kristina says.

The trail riding evolved into showing, with Kristina borrowing a grade mare named Misty. Before long, she was in the market for a horse of her own, and Leslie helped her find one. A gorgeous 2-year-old named Miss Sizzlin San came home with Kristina in 1985, and Leslie was there to help find tack and a boarding facility and also field daily phone calls.

?I really do have to credit her with just about everything I know about horses,? says Kristina. Her next horse was a half-brother to Zips Chocolate Chip, but when it became clear that Kristina wasn?t able to show him to his full potential, Leslie traded horses with her. After Deller Mint, Leslie?s star futurity horse, came home with Kristina. ?He taught me so much about riding,? she says. ?It was the greatest gift of all.?

Shaping Young Lives

Connie Lechleitner considers herself pretty lucky. She, along with scores of other horse-crazy children who grew up in northeast Ohio in the 1970s, found a mentor with a very unique gift: discovering and cultivating the talents of others.

Al Maloney, advisor of the Tuscora Trail Blazers 4-H Horse Club in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, was an inspiration to his 4-H?ers. Connie remembers practice sessions with Al that were always fun, as well as educational. Some of them even ended with a treat of Dairy Queen Dilly Bars. For youngsters who didn’t have horses of their own, Al had Quarter Horses that he?d lease out.

?He was just a very welcoming person,? Connie says. ?He did not have any children of his own, so he tended to really go all out for the kids. He was one of those people who encouraged everybody to do their best with horses. And he also had a way of finding a person?s real talent.?

If a child showed leadership potential, Al urged him to run for a 4-H office. He asked older 4-H?ers to help the younger, less experienced members. For those who were good riders, he encouraged them to go beyond the 4-H show ranks.

To Connie, he said, ?You?re a really good writer. You should be doing something for our club,? she remembers. ?He was the one who introduced me to the publishing world.? She was the club?s reporter, and she began putting out a newsletter that her mother typed up at work. ?He was the first person to help me see that I might have the ability to combine my interests in horses and writing, first as a hobby and later as a career,? Connie says.

She went on to earn a degree in agricultural communications at Ohio State University and currently works as a marketing communications specialist.

Donnie Recchiuti, an AQHA Professional Horseman, says Al had a similar effect on his career path. Donnie and his brother both participated in the Tuscora Trail Blazers, and ?Al was willing to take us in and help us. We didn’t know anything. ?Al encouraged us, seeing that we had some talent,? he says. ?He didn’t want us to stay at the 4-H level. He kind of pushed us to move up to the next level.?

His father, Don Recchiuti, fondly remembers the time spent with Al and his wife, Ruth, who became family friends. ?If any guy deserves recognition for what he has done with the kids ? it’s unbelievable what he has done,? Don says.

From America’s Horse Daily.

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