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Special Recognition Award Winners

Three worthy horsemen are recognized for their industry contributions.

Q-Racing Journal
January 20, 2014

joann adams

JoAnn Adams is the 2013 AQHA Racing Council Special Recognition Award winner.

Each year, the American Quarter Horse Association recognizes the outstanding work and efforts of worthy members of the racing American Quarter Horse industry by giving out the AQHA Racing Council Special Recognition Award, Gordon Crone Special Achievement Award and Mildred N. Vessels Special Achievement Award. To be eligible, people must be nominated for the special recognition awards, and winners then are chosen by the AQHA Racing Committee. This is the 20th year the awards have been presented.

This year's winners will be recognized at the AQHA Racing Champions Announcements on January 22 at Heritage Place in Oklahoma City.

JoAnn Adams
JoAnn Adams is this year’s winner of the AQHA Racing Council Special Recognition Award. The award, given to a recipient for lifetime achievements in American Quarter Horse racing, is a bit different from year’s past. JoAnn, a lifelong horsewoman, well-known and well-liked at tracks across the country, died in November at age 68 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

“She would be so honored and thrilled to be receiving this award,” said JoAnn’s daughter Ashley Adams Landess. “I can only imagine how happy she would be to enjoy such a celebration and how proud she would be. She loved a good party, and I know she is smiling in heaven.”

JoAnn and husband J.R. Adams raced American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Rocket Wrangler, who in 1970 won the Rainbow and All American futurities, finished that season as the champion freshman colt and later sired 56 stakes winners and the earners of more than $9.4 million. Among Rocket Wrangler’s contributions to the breed was his son Dash For Cash, the world champion whose two-decade reign as leading sire was broken by his world champion and all-time leading sire son First Down Dash.

JoAnn and J.R. contributed to the industry in other ways, too. In 1974, they bought La Mesa Park in Raton, New Mexico, and operated the track for several years. The first licensed track in New Mexico, La Mesa Park was where 870-yard races originated for American Quarter Horses (due to a state law then prohibiting any horses except Thoroughbreds running in races of a half mile – 880 yards – or longer).

Throughout her life, JoAnn raced and bred horses, including multiple-Grade 1 winner Joanna Kate, the Rare Form mare she bought as a yearling at a Heritage Place sale and named for her granddaughter. Joanna Kate is the dam of 11 stakes winners and the earners of more than $360,000, including All American Futurity (G1) finalist I Aint Jo Chick, and Grade 1 finalist Jax Ross, who JoAnn named for her grandson.

Matt Witman
If you’ve attended any racing conference, major race or sale or checked out the stallion battery at Lazy E Ranch, you’ve probably run into Matt Witman. The AQHA director is a busy man, working hard to promote the industry in many ways. He is this year’s recipient of the Gordon Crone Special Achievement Award, which is presented to a man within the industry to recognize achievements in 2013.

The farm manager at Lazy E Ranch at Guthrie, Oklahoma, Witman is a former chairman of the AQHA Racing Council and the AQHA Racing Committee, and is currently the secretary and is also a director of the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association. He has been very involved in the industry’s push against illegal medication use. He was an active participant in the medication meetings and helped raise awareness from regulators and the general public. In 2012, he spoke in the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s hearing on medication use in horse racing. In addition, Witman has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through charity fundraisers for the Race Track Chaplaincy and Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

“He is involved in so many aspects of the Quarter Horse racing world, and all at a very high level,” said his nominator. “He has made great efforts to promote Quarter Horse racing and has never dodged the difficult and thorny issues that are detrimental to this industry. He is committed to this industry in a manner in which most are not, and for that he deserves this award.”

Susan Hadley
In 2008, an 800-pound hay bale fell on horseman and leading Intermountain trainer Sherm Hadley, who had jumped underneath to save his son. Hadley pushed his son to safety but the bale crushed him, and a subsequent stroke resulted in him being paralyzed. The Hadley family is known for their ability to raise and run good horses, and even through this terrible crisis, they have managed to overcome and prosper. His wife of more than 20 years, Susan, and their sons, Jordan and Garrett, have taken over the physical aspects of the job, while Sherm continues to provide an expert eye.

Their dedication has earned them the respect of their fellow horsemen, and Susan has earned the Mildred N. Vessels Special Achievement award, given to a woman within the industry for contributions to the industry made in 2013. In 2010, son Jordan conditioned Dreaming Of Kisses to win the $100,000 Bitterroot Futurity (RG2). This year, Susan trained while Jordan rode; their winners included Blane Schvaneveldt Handicap winner PF Flyair and Merial Sun Downs Distaff Challenge winner Feature Miss Alibi, among others. Susan is also an active barrel racing competitor.

“No ambassador for AQHA could have done more to tell the world the great story of family and how important AQHA is to each of us,” said her nominator. “Few could do what she has done and continues to do. She gives 200 percent all of the time. Millie Vessels would admire her, hug her and choose her for this award herself. Surely this is what this award is about.”

Find complete stories on all of these winners in upcoming issues of the Q-Racing Journal.

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