Growing Up Southern
Kitty Yeager

Kitty Yeager is a portrait of what it looks like to grow up Southern. Her manners are impeccable—every question is answered with “yes, ma’am” or“no ma’am.” And riding horses and passion for 4-H are in her blood.

A small-town girl at heart, Kitty appreciates the close-knit feel of her Coweta hometown. She, along with her brothers, Ethan and Nathan, was raised on her family’s small farm just 10 minutes outside of downtown Newnan, and her parents, Ray and Ashley, instilled in her a deep sense of pride and gratitude for her community.

“Growing up here, I know Newnan as small-town Newnan,” she says, “and throughout the years it’s grown up a ton. I kind of miss small-town Newnan because everybody knew everybody, and it’s just not like it used to be.” But Newnan will always be home to her, she adds. “I’m not a big-city kind of girl. I don’t like skyscrapers. I like to be able to look out and see far in front of me with not a building in sight.”

That’s why, upon graduating from high school in 2020, she chose to attend Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) in Tifton, Ga. ABAC has the small-town feel she’s comfortable with, with friendly, but few, people. The ambitious Newnan High School graduate completed 42 college credits through dual enrollment with West Georgia Tech and earned several academic scholarships to help her out with her college career.

In line with her comfortable country lifestyle, Kitty’s major is agriculture with a concentration in animal science. “I’ve always grown up in the ag world, and throughout 4-H, I was a part of the Horse and Pony Club, Forestry and Land Judging. Forestry and Land Judging were really my favorite kind of things,” she says. “I love horses, don’t get me wrong, but it was just normal for me—it was kind of like a lifestyle. And Forestry and Land Judging were something different for me, and I found it really interesting. I just wanted to give back because ag has done so much for me, so I want to be able to give back to that industry and do my part.”

Kitty started riding horses at 6 years old…drill team through 4-H, dressage, eventing, cross country, ranch riding, Western pleasure. Through the years, she’s learned nearly every discipline. “Right now I’m doing mounted shooting,” she says. “I just want to be able, when I get older, to know what I want to do and that I’ve already tried everything. Learning all the different disciplines, it really taught me how to ride and how to communicate with other horsemen who have been riding their entire lives.”

Mounted shooting is as old as the Wild West, but it became a recognized sport in the 1990s when Jim Rodgers started the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association and held the first competition with only three contestants. It has since turned into a national organization with clubs in nearly every state.

“It brings old Western back,” says Kitty. “We use .45 revolvers, and there are shotgun and rifle divisions as well.” While there is a loose dress code of boots, jeans, and cowboy hats, some ladies take it way back and wear long skirts and corsets to compete, Kitty reveals.

Ten balloons are set up around an arena which must be shot in a pattern while the horse and rider are timed. They shoot black powder rounds, or blanks, that will burn the balloon when shot within 18 feet. “Nobody’s in danger,” Kitty laughs. “A lot of people ask what we’re actually shooting because it sounds so dangerous.”

She’s spent a lot of time training her horse Blaze not to flinch at the shots. “I got him when he was 10 years old and he was wild,” she remembers. “It was mainly about trust. He didn’t trust anybody. He didn’t like anybody. It was about six years that it took me to gain his trust and for him to understand that I wasn’t trying to make him do anything he didn’t want to do, and that he could listen to me without us getting into a fight.”
Growing up with a dad who’s the coach of the 4-H shotgun team, Kitty learned to shoot from a young age—pistols, shotguns, bow and arrows, she’s proficient in all. She’s competed with both the shotgun team and the archery team, and her family often shoots rounds at Blalock Lakes in Newnan on the weekends. “It’s just fun for us…good family competition,” she adds.

Kitty joined 4-H when she started riding horses, and it’s one of the most important parts of her life. “4-H is home,” she says. “It holds a really special place in my heart. I met a lot of my closest friends and lifelong friends there. It’s taught me so much throughout the years about who I want to be, and it’s shaped me into the person I am today.”
The best part for her as she got older was being able to see younger kids come in. “I was able to see younger kids come in and grow up as I did. It was a family kind of thing. The 4-H fairgrounds on Pine Road was home away from home. I think I spent more time at the fairgrounds than I did at home.”

Kitty remembers being afraid of horses early on, but her mom, who’s also very involved in the program, pushed her in that direction, and she was hooked once she joined the Horse and Pony Club. She credits her instructor, Angela Dennis, for keeping her going. “She was who grabbed me and pulled me in and said ‘You’re home now.’”

Other leaders like Don Morris who coached the land judging and forestry teams also made 4-H special for Kitty. “Not only do they teach you what you need to know for the club, but they teach you life lessons,” she adds.

4-H is all about volunteering, says Kitty, and giving back to the community. “We take things for granted every day, and you don’t realize until you’re doing it for somebody who doesn’t have that opportunity or that privilege, and just to see them glow and appreciate it, then you really appreciate it even more.”

Working hard and not being scared of getting her hands dirty, along with doing what she can for other people, are of utmost importance to Kitty. “If you’re there for somebody, they’re going to be there for you,” she says. “You just never know when you’re going to need them.”

“A huge thing in my everyday life is religion,” adds Kitty. “I may not go to church every Sunday, but Christianity is my foundation. Praying gets me through every day. Praying before every meal and before bed. Going to God with everything is a huge part of my life. That’s how Mama and Daddy raised us—that you lean on God. You trust that everything is in his hands and that he’s going to take care of you.”

“Grace,” Kitty says, is the foundation of growing up Southern. “Be friendly, kind, and go through every day like it’s your last. I don’t burn bridges. I try to be nice to everybody and to try to handle things civilly. Sometimes I don’t do a very good job at it, but I always try my best.”

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