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AQHA President Johne Dobbs' Convention Speech

Read 2013-14 AQHA President Johne Dobbs' speech from the 2014 AQHA Convention in New Orleans.

By 2013-14 AQHA President Johne Dobbs
The American Quarter Horse Journal
March 13, 2014

2013-14 AQHA President Johne Dobbs and her family

2013-14 AQHA President Johne Dobbs (right) was joined by her family at the 2014 AQHA Convention. (Credit: Journal)

My term as president has been more like a roller coaster ride than a pleasurable trail ride. I can easily say I spent my “summer vacation” in an Amarillo courtroom … not exactly the greatest tourist destination! But, you do what you have to do for family, which is what AQHA is to me.

It has been an honor to serve on the AQHA Executive Committee and as your president of AQHA this year. I am proud of what the Association has accomplished in the time I’ve served on the Executive Committee.

In fact, some of what’s been done – the youth initiative, new programs, leveling, the Animal Welfare Commission – hadn’t even been started when I became an Executive Committee member in 2010. Those programs have been tested and if they haven’t already been introduced, they will be this year. I look forward to seeing them become a reality.

Most of you know my primary goal as president was to grow our efforts to introduce horse-crazy kids to the back of a horse. While video games and TV shows offer kids a way to escape into virtual reality worlds, we want to bring youth into the real world of horses.

Research showed we needed to capture their imagination at a very early age. Being involved with horses is educational. It offers healthy competition if they choose to show, as well as, offering leadership opportunities.

But the best by-product by far is quality family time.

These programs move kids from being self-centered to being horse-centered.

AQHA is developing a number of projects to engage youth in a life of horses by first using technology. The ultimate goal – getting a child on a horse and guiding them to be positive contributors to the horse industry.

When AQHA Past President Jim Helzer stood up at the AQHA Board of Directors meeting and challenged us to do something for kids, we accepted the challenge. Then Past President Frank Merrill outlined an educational path to include the American Quarter Horse Foundation’s involvement.

The ideas were developed to include any breed and, as I have said many times, “We want to include any child interested in a four-legged animal with a long tail.” This all-breeds effort is to introduce kids to the world of horses – our world.

Take Me  Riding is a website that will use games and other horse-related activities to introduce families to hands-on horse activities. I know children ages 5 to 9 will love keeping tabs on the videos about kids and the stories these vignettes tell. This project will launch in June.

The new website, Online Stable, which went live in February, offers affordable and inclusive ways to reward youth for their horse activity – regardless of breed, type of involvement or digital device.

It’s a spot where youth can record their horse-related activities.

Both of these projects are being developed by AQHA and a group of advisers comprising the American Youth Horse Council, Certified Horsemanship Association, U.S. Pony Club and equine extension specialists who have been working together since early 2012. They have been reviewing research, raising funds and targeting necessary age-appropriate markets to make the horse and horse activities more available and accessible to today’s fast-paced and digital family lifestyle.

These are just a few of the projects, and like our kids, this AQHA-led national youth initiative has all kinds of potential!

I can’t talk about these projects without mentioning and thanking Catherine and Art Nicholas of Wagonhound Land & Livestock for their generous development donation to the youth initiative. Their gift helped get this project off the ground much sooner than we had imagined.

And, I’d encourage each of you to consider a gift to the youth initiative through the Foundation because these kids are the future of not just the American Quarter Horse industry, but the entire horse industry.

On another front, AQHA is partnering with the American Horse Council-led project, spearheaded by Patti Colbert, to target women ages 35 to 45. This program, Time To Ride, provides a social environment to help these women find ways to get horseback and to attend horse activities.

You will hear more details about this project later this morning. And, if it wasn’t for the American Quarter Horse, we wouldn’t be putting all of this effort into national initiatives. So, protecting our horse for future generations is the No. 1 priority.

Thanks to the AQHA Animal Welfare Commission, developed by the Executive Committee in 2011, we now have a group overseeing AQHA’s animal welfare efforts. The commission focuses on exhibitor, trainer and owner education, drug testing, correct training equipment and sportsmanship. The group has developed guidelines for violations of the Association’s welfare rules.

Our AQHA stewards are also helping everyone involved in showing, racing and owning American Quarter Horses understand rules that protect the horse.

In January 2011, I attended a meeting at Los Alamitos involving racetrack owners, veterinarians and scientists. There were frank discussions about stepping up the drug testing at Quarter Horse tracks. I believe we turned the corner to set the course to make the changes that are occurring today.

We continue to make strides in the arena to make sure horses are shown as they are meant to be according to the rules our members make.

I hope the continuing education for judges can be improved and helpful in keeping them revered as the best-prepared judges to step into the show ring.

It’s been my honor and pleasure to represent AQHA this year as your president. I’ve seen so many of you at shows and events around the country. I’ve been lucky to meet new friends at the regional shows, world shows and Novice shows. Helping with the Nutrena AQHA East Novice Championship Show in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the past two years has been a real treat.

As an extension of the “re-introduced” leveling program, the Novice Championships held in early October in Tennessee and Las Vegas have been extremely well received.

An exciting addition this year is the Novice Championship show for cattle-related classes, which will be held in Oklahoma City in April. These are great shows with an exciting atmosphere with exhibitors thrilled to be competing there.

Of course, youth and kids have been a big part of my year. April 2013 was my second time to attend the National Collegiate Equestrian Association Championships in Waco, Texas. This is an exhilarating competition where two competing college students ride the same horse against each other, much like match-play in golf, as they try to win a point for their university.

These young women learn to step out of themselves and become a team player. This very worthwhile program grants college scholarships as well!

Just one example: A phenomenal young woman from Illinois received a collegiate scholarship to Kansas State University for the equestrian team.

Upon graduation, Alyssa Freeman became a youth adviser for the Illinois youth and worked for a year or two before enrolling in law school at Northern Illinois University. She is interested in equine law and her article concerning the cloning lawsuit was just selected for publication in her law school’s review.

This is one of our own, and she will continue to contribute her talents to our industry.

Attending the Youth Excellence Seminar in Amarillo in June was a great event. Talk about positive energy … being around 260 teenagers! What a wonderful experience for these boys and girls to learn the governance side of AQHYA and meet new friends and have lots of fun.

This year, YES will be held in conjunction with the 2014 American Quarter Horse Youth World Cup in College Station, Texas. I have no doubt this will broaden the horizons of our youth by meeting international members as well.

In July, I was lucky enough to be in Ruidoso, New Mexico, to see the Rainbow Futurity and Derby Finals for a very exciting weekend. It was great to rekindle old friendships at the racetracks in New Mexico and California during the year.

And speaking of the racetrack, one of the thrills of my year was leading the post parade of the All American Futurity on Labor Day. It was a very emotional experience, as I thought about my dad and all the times he and Mom had been in Ruidoso.

Special thanks to Johnny Trotter and Shawn Hubbard for arranging that fabulous day, and to Jana for being my photographer. She captured every moment in the paddock in her beautiful wedge sandals!

In November, it was great meeting the youth who applied and won a place in the AQHA National Youth Racing Experience. This was held at Los Alamitos during the AQHA Challenge Championships. These youth job-shadowed race trainers on the backside, learning while they worked, and several ended the weekend by winning scholarships.

In 2013 at the Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show in Oklahoma City, it was the first time the top 10 in each class received a jacket, and I think kids were very proud to wear them.

There were some new fun classes for kids to get creative in freestyle horsemanship and showmanship, which by the way, were won by girls who are 13 and under.

One of my favorite things to do at the Youth World is present awards for the judging team competition. This is a great way for kids to be involved by competing with their 4-H club, FFA or state affiliate team. And, hey, colleges award scholarships for judging teams.

I have to tell you the story of a young woman – Lauren Wells from my home state – who participated on the speech and judging teams during the Youth World four or five years ago. This was her way to be close to the horse. You see, she had a very challenging childhood but was determined to go to college. Lauren attended Black Hawk Junior College in Illinois, then won a sizable scholarship through the American Quarter Horse Foundation, which enabled her to attend Oklahoma State University. I was delighted to hear she interned at the Four Sixes Ranch last summer and has helped the ranch at Heritage Place sales.

Her life is forever changed by being involved with a facet of our youth program. She is an incredible young woman, whom we are very fortunate to have in AQHA and I feel sure will contribute to the industry in the future.

My continued travels in September included two ranch horse sales in South Dakota. Starting in Rapid City, I met up with Leman Wall and acting as his tour guide, I suggested we go see Mt. Rushmore and then Crazy Horse Monument. We were really glad we got to see those amazing American landmarks.

AQHA Director Jim Hunt’s family and friends sale was on Saturday at the fairgrounds, where we joined Jim, his wife, Joni, and their seven children. One highlight was being surprised at the beginning of the sale with a beautiful quilt made by Joni’s aunt, which is a Lakota tradition. I was very honored.

We also met four of the six teenagers who were awarded weanlings by the Hunts through their participation in the AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program. These kids were from Oklahoma, Illinois and Colorado.

They were so excited. They had driven all night with their parents to arrive with trailers by sale time on Saturday.

The Hunts put on a great sale, and as an auctioneer’s daughter, I can appreciate that. Then we headed to Gettysburg, South Dakota, for the Raymond Sutton Ranch Sale.

AQHA Honorary Vice President Georga Sutton and her daughter, Heather, sold around 55 weanlings in what is the longest-running family Quarter Horse production sale in the world – 62 years!

Georga is a hero of mine. She takes care of all those horses with the help of one woman and a part-time man for the heavy lifting! And Dr. Heather Sutton helps her mother with vet work on the weekends.

The Suttons also participate in the Young Horse Development Program.

It was an honor to attend these sales and see how the ranchers market their foal crops.

In April, I had a few days in Texas between meetings to drive up to Springer, New Mexico, to see my aunt and uncle, Babs and Dusty Davis. He’s a retired Air Force Brigadier General who flew more than 200 missions during Vietnam. They have lived all over the world. Both grew up with horses and had them on every Air Force base where they could manage it.

They retired and have been at this little ranch in Springer for 20 years. At ages 79 and 83, they take care of two stallions and a small band of mares. My uncle has studied bloodlines since college and his diligent breeding program has produced foals that all have pretty heads and necks, are deep in the heart, short-backed with nice hips and hocks.

I got to ride along the river with my uncle and all of sudden I realized – they are the epitomy of our AQHA member, they are breeding sensibly, registering their foals every spring  before selling them for ranch and roping horses, and keeping up on the news of AQHA.

They proudly display a banner at their ranch entrance that says … AQHA BUCKSKINS. They are AQHA PROUD!

When I was in New Mexico, it really hit home – the idea that AQHA is an Association of people from all walks of life … from little kids to grandparents and maybe even great-grandparents. My family has four generations here today. It is how we are all connected.

I have friends in this room I have known since our teenage years. We are deeply connected to each other and to our horse, but also connected by our horse.

Last year, in my acceptance speech to the board, I urged them to think of themselves not just as AQHA members or members of the AQHA Board of Directors. I asked them to be AQHA ambassadors – the largest public relations team in the world, really – for the American Quarter Horse.

Build up AQHA, keep your eyes on the big picture, not personal agendas but what is good for our horse.

We all love our horses and what they do for us, but also how they make us feel. We must work together to move this Association forward.

As J.K. Rowling wrote, “We are only as strong as we are united … As weak as we are divided.”

Please join me in being AQHA Strong and AQHA Proud!

Find more 2014 AQHA Convention news at www.aqha.com/convention.