You can’t be in the horse industry for long without hearing about the AQHA—the American Quarter Horse Association. With more than 353,000 members and more than 4.5 million horses registered worldwide, it’s the largest single-breed equine registry on the planet. And with more than 2,800 approved shows and special events held annually, plus racing, recreation and youth divisions, the AQHA works hard to offer something for everyone, including you and your clients.
Preserving the Breed
In the 1600s, long before AQHA existed, what we now call American Quarter Horses earned the moniker Celebrated American Quarter Running Horses for their speed racing over a quarter-mile track. As time passed, the horses proved themselves as solid working ranch partners and became known as Steeldusts and Billys. It wasn’t until March 1940 that the breed acquired its official name. At that year’s Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Ft. Worth, 75 men and women gathered to form a registry that would preserve the bloodlines and unique qualities of this breed, which they dubbed the American Quarter Horse.
W.B. Warren became the fledgling group’s first president and the brand-new AQHA was off and running. By July, the first AQHA-approved show was held in Stamford, Tex. At the following year’s Exposition, the association awarded its registration number 1 to the Grand Champion Stallion, famed King Ranch horse Wimpy.
Expanding the Mission
Today, AQHA is still dedicated to recording and preserving the pedigrees of the American Quarter Horse while maintaining the breed’s integrity. But its mission has expanded along with its size. Now, the association also strives to:
• provide beneficial member services that enhance and encourage American Quarter Horse ownership and participation;
• develop diverse educational programs, material and curriculum that position AQHA as the leading resource organization in the equine industry; and
• generate growth of AQHA membership via marketing, promotion, advertising and publicity of the American Quarter Horse.
In tackling this broad mission, AQHA records all American Quarter Horse ownership, catalogs performance and produces data on all American Quarter Horses. It maintains current statistics on ownership in each state and country as well as breed population figures. In addition, the group processes approved show and race results, maintains association funds and publicizes the American Quarter Horse industry.
AQHA publishes three magazines that help educate and inform members while promoting the breed and the association. These are The American Quarter Horse Journal, The American Quarter Horse Racing Journal and the newest addition, America’s Horse. The group has also developed two new programs to further promote the breed: 1) America’s Horse TV show, a weekly program, produced by AQHA; and 2) 4aHorse program, an innovative program that works with AQHA professionals to help people get in touch with Quarter Horse breeders, trainers, riding instructors, veterinarians and others who can assist them with purchase and ownership issues. Its website (4aHorse.com) features lists of AQHA breeders and screened AQHA professionals.
A Peek at the Programs
AQHA has three primary activity divisions—showing, racing and recreation. Following are highlights of just a few of the numerous programs offered for each group.
• Incentive Fund, a multi-million dollar awards program, pays out cash prizes to Fund-nominated horses that receive points in AQHA competition.
• AQHA World Championship Show is the largest single-breed championship show in the world. Spanning 14 days and offering 86 classes, it draws more than 3,000 entries and boasts roughly $2 million in cash and prizes.
• Best of America’s Horse recognizes association members and Quarter Horses that compete in participating associations, such as the American Endurance Ride Conference, U.S. Equestrian Federation, and Barrel Futurities of America.
• MBNA America Quarter Horse Racing Challenge is a championship series known as the breed’s richest racing program. It encompasses 69 races held in 10 regions across the United States, Canada and Mexico, culminating in a season-ending meet with six championship events.
• All American Futurity is the world’s richest American Quarter Horse race. First run in 1959, in 1978 it became the first horse race in the world to offer a purse of $1 million.
• Ride Program, started in 1997, annually hosts about 80 trail rides throughout the world, with all riders and all horses welcome to participate.
• Horseback Riding Program rewards association members who spend time riding American Quarter Horses and even other breeds outside of traditional competition.
Focus on the Members
AQHA offers the standard exhibitor categories—open, amateur and youth. But the group has also added categories over the years. These include the Amateur Select classes, which cater to riders age 50 and over. The Novice and Limited Rider programs were designed to allow youth, amateur and open competitors to try out new events while competing against their skill-level peers. For instance, an amateur rider who is an experienced Western pleasure competitor would be able to compete in the Novice division of an event she’d never competed in, such as cutting or working hunter.
AQHA has also put considerable effort into its youth program, founding the American Junior Quarter Horse Association in 1970. Today known as the American Quarter Horse Youth Association (AQHYA), it boasts more than 30,000 members worldwide.
Like its parent organization, AQHYA provides plenty of programs to its members. These encompass such areas as leadership development, horse management skills, racing experiences, team competition, collegiate sports and scholarships.
For Professionals Only
Through its Professional Horsemen and Breeder Referral programs, AQHA has found a way to offer particular support and services to its professional members.
Professional Horsemen membership is open to any person who is a professional in their field. Members include not only trainers, but also instructors, farriers, equine appraisers, show managers and more. Applicants must meet certain criteria and pay a $25 annual fee (with discounts for multi-year memberships). Member benefits include:
• a client kit that includes educational materials you can pass out to clients, such as show brochures and videos;
• a set of 20 business cards, a stall plaque and sticker stating your affiliation with the group;
• a listing on the 4aHorse.com website, with a free link to your
• enrollment in a roadside assistance program, with a special 800 number just for AQHA Professional members;
• the opportunity to purchase a Markel accident or supplemental health insurance policy; and
• the potential for scholarships through a fund available only to children of AQHA Professional members.
Breeder Referral program applicants must be listed as a breeder (based on AQHA rules) or have filed a stallion report for the past four years (including the current year) to be eligible for membership. Size is not an issue, so you can join the program whether you stand a single stallion or breed a huge band of broodmares. For your $25 annual fee, you’ll receive benefits including the following:
• educational materials, such as newsletters and a convention geared toward AQHA Professional Horsemen and Breeder Referral members;
• listing on the 4aHorse.com website—AQHA also sends out a free printed list of Breeder members on request; and
• support from AQHA, for instance when problems arise with clients, as well as promotional support through the association’s efforts to generate awareness of the Breeders Referral and 4aHorse programs.
Both Professional Horsemen and Breeder Referral members also receive discounts of 14 to 24 percent from a variety of companies (including John Deere and Sherwin Williams) through AQHA’s Members Plus program.
But Wait, There’s More
AQHA has a host of other benefits, services and recognition programs, but perhaps most important, the association never seems content to rest on what it’s already accomplished. The organization always strives to develop new ways to serve its members. For example, the new Regional Experiences program combines fun AQHA competitions with trade shows, clinics, seminars and test rides as a way for people to learn more about the association and the breed.
If you’d like to learn more about how this association might fit into your own equine business, call AQHA at (806) 376-4811 or visit its website at www.aqha.com.