Junior Handler Spotlight: Kayla Braden

By Gary N. Sadler

Jacie Braden and Bob Balasco's daughter, Kayla Braden, is a ninth grader at Clover (SC) High School. As a member of the Future Farmers of America, a soccer player in the local organized sports division and volunteer at Carolina Place Animal Hospital in Fort Mills, she is one busy young woman. Oh, and then there are the dogs.

It may be hard to imagine, but at 14, Kayla is an "old hand" when it comes to training and running pointing dogs in AKC Hunting Tests. Around dogs all of her life, Kayla was introduced at age six to German Shorthaired Pointers by her Grandmother, Stacie Smith. At seven, Kayla became involved in AKC Hunting Tests when her Grandmother took her to a fun Hunting Test at Sandhills Pointing Breeds Club in Jackson Springs, NC. There she ran her very first Shorthair, Sadie.

"When they shot the bird, Sadie left me in the field and ran back to the club house to wait on me. That was my first experience with a hunting dog."

After that, Kayla continues, “I ran in an NBHA fun hunt in Sumter, SC, with another one of my Grandmother’s GSPs, Scout. We took second place."

When she turned eight, Kayla began running in AKC Hunting Tests as a Junior Handler. "Once I got the hang of being a Junior Handler I started running all of my Grandmother’s Junior Hunter dogs to their Junior Hunter titles and I’ve a few Junior Hunter legs for some of my Aunt's dogs."

While she can remember exactly how many Junior Hunter legs or titles she has handled since Kayla began she believes she’s titled 12-14 Junior Hunters. This well-traveled young woman has run dogs in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio.

Kayla's favorite place to run a Hunting Test is at Sandhills Pointing Breed Club in Jackson Springs NC. "The grounds are a nice and easy to walk. But we always stay at The Inn at Eagle Springs and they have the best food. Especially the PANCAKES!!!"

From a family of "dog people," Kayla credits her Grandmother with influencing her the most when it comes to working dogs. "She bought me my favorite Shorthair, Thea, that I have handled. I got her Junior Hunter Title when she was only seven months old."

A member of the Armenia Winds Pointing Breeds Club (where she is Field Marshal for all of their Hunting Tests), she has been able to help a 13-year-old girl in her club begin her Junior Handler work. "She just ran her first time and passed both days. Also, my little sister, Rylee, is starting to learn how to handle a dog in the field so she can begin handling when she turns nine."

Kayla plans on continuing her training so she can start handling Senior and Master dogs. A busy and successful young woman, what about her future beyond field work?

"When I graduate, I plan to go onto college at Ohio State and become a veterinarian."


Here I am flushing a bird and firing a pistol while earning my very first JH leg with my Grandmother's dog, Mal. She finished up her brace and then went into the woods for what felt like forever when someone finally came down to help me catch her. I was beat after that but excited because I got my very first ribbon/leg!