LEARNING LEADERSHIP AT THE BARN
On an evening at the Sande School of Horsemanship, Karlynn Kenny leads a group of elementary-age girls through a lesson on the types of saddles and other horse tack. The group has just finished the riding portion of their lesson and has begun the on-ground horsemanship lesson.
Kenny got her start riding horses a decade ago, after taking a school field trip to the Sande barn. She started taking lessons, then worked her way up to being an instructor, while also competing on Scappoose High School’s equestrian team and in reining competitions, playing soccer and participating in the 4-H horse and cow clubs — all on top of school.
“The connection that you build with the animal is something that not a lot of people get to experience,” Kenny said when asked why she was drawn to riding horses.
When she first started riding, Kenny had no idea how complex equestrian competitions are.
“What really intrigued me is how smart the animal is,” Kenny said. She added that the sport “is very technical and complex, and I really had no idea until I continued learning and riding. That’s what kept me drawn in and loving the sport; just how hard it is, how truly difficult it is.”
This spring, Kenny qualified for state in four Oregon High School Equestrian Teams events. With her horse Delmar, Kenny will compete in English equitation, Western equitation, reining and, with her friend and fellow Sande instructor Ada Kay Evans, working pairs. Coach Hailey Zweigart described Kenny as “an amazing kid, both in the saddle and out.”
Kenny started competing with horses in middle school through 4-H, but missed out on her sophomore and junior years of high school equestrian competitions because of the pandemic.
Kenny has been president of the 4-H horse club for the past three years.
“She volunteered during the devastating wildfires in 2020 to help take care of the evacuated animals being housed at the Columbia County Fairgrounds,” said Kara Orr, one of the local 4-H leaders. “She’s an outstanding 4-H member and we are hopeful she will continue to volunteer with 4-H as an adult,” Orr added.
“This year, I’m kind of just a mentor. I’m trying to teach them and just share my knowledge that I’ve gained over the years,” Kenny said. Since 4-H operations were also hindered by the pandemic, the team now has many new members with little experience.
Teaching at Sande is a similar mentorship opportunity.
“I remember what it felt like for me when I was in the lesson program and the influence that my instructors had on me and how much I looked up to them,” Kenny said. “So I kind of can relate to the students in a way.”
Kenny is the sole Congressional Award Gold Medalist in Oregon this year — an award that recognizes public service, fitness, personal development and exploration for teens and young adults.
The Sande barn is a nonprofit, offering general riding lessons and specialized programs like therapeutic riding for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the Sande Youth Leadership Program, which includes kids in foster care or with other risk factors who have been referred by the Department of Human Services.
Kenny played varsity soccer her first two years of high school, before quitting to focus on her multiple horse-related hobbies.
Last summer, Kenny interned at Scappoose’s Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center, in a group working on augmented and virtual reality. In school, Kenny has been particularly focused on math and science, taking the most challenging classes available, she said.
“I’ve kind of always known that I was on the math and science track,” said Kenny. “It’s just where in that track do I fall — that’s what I’m trying to figure out.”
In the fall, Kenny will head to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, where she plans to study engineering.
But before then, Kenny will have one final summer of 4-H and teaching at the barn.
Once she makes the move to Spokane, Kenny isn’t sure if equestrian will fit into her college life.
“I don’t know those plans yet,” Kenny said. “But I really want to come back to it after I’m done with school. One really amazing thing about riding is that you can do it your whole life. It’s not something that you kind of tap out (of) in your 20s.”