Amanda Autrey loves horses.
The Oakdale High School sophomore has been riding horses since she was four years old. Now at the tender age of 14 she is hard pressed to remember a time when she did not love being around a horse. While she is still weighing her options on career choices, there is one thing she is certain of, she aspires to work in the equine business.
“It’s something I do and it doesn’t stress me out,” she said of riding and working with horses. “I guess it’s just always been a thing I like.”
The saying goes “If you do what you love, you are bound to be successful.” Amanda recently put this adage to the test, organizing and orchestrating a seven-mile trail ride at Kistler Ranch (K-Arrow) west of Jamestown. The single day event ultimately raised over $8,500 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
As a five-year member of the Waterford 4-H, Amanda began discussing with her mother a project she could take on for her Emerald Star Project. Her mother DeAnn recalled a conversation she had with the St. Jude’s organization several years back. During this initial conversation, the organization was in search of an individual interested in organizing a ‘Saddle Up for St. Jude’ trail ride. While the timing of the initial call was not right for the family, DeAnn held on to the contact information and when her daughter expressed an interest in pursuing the Emerald project, they gave St. Jude’s a call.
The Emerald Star Project is a County Rank in the 4-H organization. It is not part of the State Star Rank system. It is designed to expand the horizons of the applicant and benefit the Stanislaus County 4-H program. Applicants are challenged to take on either a brand new program to the 4-H organization or redo an important county 4-H experience.
Once reconnected with the St. Jude’s group, Amanda, with the help of her mother, began planning the event. St. Jude’s helped the 14-year-old set a goal, giving her the nuts and bolts for hosting a successful event. Participants would be asked to donate a minimum of $20 to participate in the ride; $175 in fundraising money would earn them a St. Jude’s goody pack, with a T-shirt, lapel pin and various other items and ultimately the organization hoped the local ride would earn about $1700 (the national average for such an event).
New to the fundraising circuit, Amanda set a personal goal of $2,000 for her event and started getting the word out. With her mother shuttling her around, she paid a visit to the Back Country Horsemen’s Club and asked for help getting the word out on the event. She shared the details she had worked out, such as date, time and goal with the group. However, she was still working on a location.
Excited by the task the young horsewoman had taken on, the group members began offering not only suggestions but manpower to help with events the day of the event. One of the group members shared that Steve and Jeannie Kistler had opened their ranch once before for a trail ride and might be willing to do so again.
The Autreys contacted the Kistlers and a plan was solidified.
“When we contacted the Kistlers,” Amanda said, “they said they would love to host the ride.”
With the ranch secure and the help of the Back Country Horsemen, CSHA and her own 4-H group, word began to circulate on the pending trail ride.
A total of 150 people attended the event and 100 people saddled up and took to the trail.
Before the guests arrived, Amanda did her fair share of pre-planning and donation gathering. She secured additional prizes from area businesses to award to top fundraisers the day of the event; solicited musicians and poets to provide entertainment for riders as they awaited their turn on the trail and secured food and beverages to be sold and offered throughout the event.
“This was my first time ever putting on a large event to fundraise,” Amanda said. “People were very generous and they donated whatever they could when they were asked.
“My mom was a big help,” she continued. “She had the idea of the flyer (event program) which helped a lot.”
Since the group was so large in size, they were broken up into smaller groups and lead along the trail by the Back Country Horsemen and friends of the Kistlers.
At the conclusion of the trail ride, Amanda was able to award eight additional prizes to the top fundraisers. Don Butler earned the coveted buckle donated by Escalon Feed for his contribution of $2,500. It was a prize he in turn gave to the event’s youngest rider of the day — a five-year-old cowboy.
“It was a good turnout,” Amanda said of the overall event, adding that while the rainy weather was not on their side the day before, it broke just in time for the riders to hit the trail.
“It was amazing,” she said of the money they raised. “I was surprised.”
“I know she wasn’t always comfortable asking for donations,” DeAnn Autrey said of her young daughter. “Everyone being willing to help, has made her more confident.”
Both agreed that people were generous and very willing to give for the research hospital.
“It took a lot of time,” Amanda summarized, “but all the time was worth it, because it was for a good cause.”