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Straight Talk

What’s the difference between Rookie classes and AQHA Justin Rookie of the Year?

By Patti Carter-Pratt
The American Quarter Horse Journal
August 2, 2012

Patti Carter-Pratt

Keep reading, and I’ll explain the difference between Rookie-level classes and the AQHA Justin Rookie of the Year award. (Journal photo)

 Editor's note: Effective April 3, 2013, the Intermediate and Progressive levels of the new leveling program will be temporarily postponed until the launch of AQHA's database upgrade. Learn more about the database upgrade.

Times are changing in the AQHA show industry, and there’s a lot of new terminology coming down the pike.

One topic that’s been getting a lot of attention is the difference between the Rookie-level classes and the AQHA Justin Rookie of the Year award.

Keep reading, and I’ll explain the difference between the two, but note that under Rule 505(m) in the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations, points earned in Rookie-level classes do not count toward the AQHA Justin Rookie of the Year award.

Justin Rookie of the Year Award

Rule 501 in the AQHA Handbook reads that in order to be eligible for the Justin Rookie of the Year award, an exhibitor cannot have won any AQHA points (in open, youth or amateur divisions) prior to the year of the award. This award is only available to amateur or youth competitors.

For amateur competitors, the horse’s ownership must meet the requirements of Rule 403 in the AQHA Handbook, and for youth, the horse’s ownership must meet youth ownership Rule 101, as well as Rule 404.

The Justin Rookie of the Year award is broken down into three age divisions for amateur competitors: 30-&-under, 31-49 and 50-&-over. The youth awards are also broken into three age divisions: 11-&- under, 12-14 and 15-18.

Competitors also have the chance to vie for Rookie of the Year awards broken down by their state or province. The Rookie of the Year-eligible amateur and youth competitor with the highest point totals will be recognized as respective Rookies of the Year for each state/province. The amateur winner and the youth winner will both receive a belt buckle and a certificate for a pair of Justin boots.

When it comes to crowning the Rookie of the Year, the horse-and-rider combination with the greatest number of points by December 15 of the year of the award rides off with the trophy.

Another thing to note with regards to the Justin Rookie of the Year award is that Novice points earned previously or during the year the exhibitor is competing for the award do not count against eligibility or toward tabulation for Rookie of the Year.

And that is where the difference lies: Competitors aiming for the Justin Rookie of the Year award must be competing in the Open level of their division – either amateur or youth. Novice- and Rookie-level do not count toward Justin Rookie of the Year award tabulation.

Rookie Classes


Rookie classes are the true introductory level of competition under the new AQHA leveling program, and the purpose of the Rookie-level classes is to reach AQHA members of all ages and riding levels.

Rookie-level classes are offered in all three divisions – open, youth and amateur. To be eligible to compete in a Rookie class, the horse and the rider must each have earned fewer than 10 points in that particular class in any division. And one of the neat things about the Rookie level is that horse ownership is not required.

Here’s an example from Rule 505(c)(1): A horse has 8 points in senior western pleasure, but has never been shown by an amateur or youth. A friend of the owner of the horse would like her child to show the horse in a Rookie youth western pleasure class. The youth exhibitor already has 6 points in youth western pleasure on other horses. The horse/exhibitor combination is eligible because neither has more than 10 western pleasure points.

Upon earning 10 points in a particular class in any division, the exhibitor will immediately become ineligible to compete in that particular class at the Rookie level in any division. At that point, both the exhibitor and the horse owner will receive a certificate of recognition and the accomplishment will be added to both the horse and exhibitor’s show records.

Keep in mind, however, that Rookie-level points do not count toward anything other than computing Rookie-level eligibility and the honor of receiving certificates of recognition.

The First Year

With the new AQHA leveling program going into effect January 1, 2013, we had to start somewhere with testing the newly leveled system. So, we started from the ground up with the Rookie level in 2011. Since January 1, 2012, the Rookie level has been in full swing and we’ve seen an amazing response.

I recently attended the AQHA Region Three Championship Show, which saw 311 Rookie entries. That’s quite impressive when you compare them to our healthy figures from January 1 to April 30, when we had 2,630 total Rookie-class entries.

To find shows hosting Rookie-level classes, be sure to check out the AQHA show schedule. And if you’re looking to learn more about the AQHA leveling program, visit www.aqha.com/leveling or attend the “Learning Leveling” seminar on Tuesday, August 7, at the 2012 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show in the Sales Pavilion at State Fair Park in Oklahoma City.

Straight Talk Archive

  • March 12, 2012 – Get the inside scoop on AQHA shows with Straight Talk, a new blog from AQHA Executive Director of Shows Patti Carter-Pratt.
  • March 23, 2012 – AQHA Executive Director of Shows Patti Carter-Pratt recaps the Silver Dollar Circuit in Las Vegas, the second AQHA leveling program test show.
  • April 4, 2012 – AQHA is improving its communication with show managers to create better show experiences for members.
  • May 8, 2012 – Times are busy as the AQHA Competition Department prepares for the inaugural AQHA Novice championship shows. 
  • June 19, 2012 – The first year of AQHA Rookie classes has been a hit.
  • July 26, 2012 – Now this is how you put on an AQHA Regional Championship!