Christmas Thanks for Your Courage and Passion

Christmas Thanks for Your Courage and Passion

AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines shares how the western way of life shines through brightly with courage, passion and innovation during this unprecedented time.

generic wagonhound horses snow winter sunset (Credit: AQHA)

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By AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays AQHA family! 2020 marked the 80th anniversary of the American Quarter Horse Association. We were all looking forward to celebrating this landmark year in our traditional western heritage fashion. However, the worldwide pandemic upended the traditional routines and plans we all had hoped for. While it disrupted our daily lives, separated many of us from our loved ones and friends, and perhaps changed our habits entirely, it has never deterred us. In fact, when you peel back the veneer of fear, stress and despair that the pandemic caused in 2020, our western way of life shines through brightly with courage, passion and innovation. There have been countless acts of courage, stubborn dedication and willpower that have blessed our industry this year and kept our great Association thriving during a very difficult time. During the holidays, I would like to recognize and give thanks for the blessing of so many people who have influenced our industry. I also want to express that our thoughts are with those who are healing, currently ill and who have lost loved ones due to the coronavirus.

AQHA Staff and Executive Leadership

Back-to-back years of challenges have made AQHA stronger. In 2019, AQHA went through one of the most difficult business years in the Association’s history. New computer and phone systems were deployed that halted AQHA business in the first half of 2019. But through sheer grit and determination, our AQHA IT and Member Experience teams worked tirelessly to optimize the capabilities of those systems so we could turn around registration papers in and out of the office in three days or less. By the time the shelter-in-place order was announced in March of this year, AQHA had the capability of sending employees home with the necessary equipment to serve our global membership remotely. The busiest day of the year for AQHA is typically the Monday after Thanksgiving. On that day, our call center handled more than 2,850 phone calls by 5:30 p.m. Eighty percent of those calls were taken remotely.

Through the dedication of our IT Department, improvements are being made daily to our technology. As a collaborative effort between departments, we are making headway in creating efficiencies and more accurate records for our membership – a cornerstone of our role as a breed registry. We’ve introduced many new enhancements made possible by having the system in production. A few of the impactful improvements include:

  • Invoices are now emailed and can be paid online.

  • A copy of the certificate of registration is automatically emailed to the owner upon completion of a transfer, correction or registration application.

  • Introduced an electronic method for quality control of certificates and invoices, which saves significant time and expense.

  • Modified the software to support several new show classes.

  • Modified the software to support combining multiple championship events.

  • Owners can report online when their horses are microchipped.

  • Exhibitors can enter AQHA championship shows online.

Membership Growth and the New American Quarter Horse Journal

One of the most remarkable AQHA accomplishments of 2020 was the fact that we saw month-over-month and year-over-year membership growth for the first time in years. Over the past 18 months, AQHA has created new ways to communicate with expiring members and new prospective members through digital means. We’ve also made it easier and more attractive for people to join and start receiving the benefits of AQHA. One of those benefits is the new design of the incredibly beautiful American Quarter Horse Journal. We are so proud of the newly designed Journal, which celebrates everything that is good about AQHA, our horse, our heritage and our creativeness. Thank you to the entire Journal team including the writers, designers, photographers and sales staff for producing the greatest publication in the equine industry.

Grateful for Passionate AQHA Members

There are also so many individuals who have stepped up and served our industry with their time and treasure to keep our industry rolling this year. While local, state and federal mandates have crippled industries across the country, certain states have cautiously continued to conduct business. I am reminded of the racetracks that have remained open, despite the fact that spectators and fans could not support those tracks. I’m reminded of the owners of Ruidoso Downs who invested their own financial resources to keep our American Quarter Horse racing industry afloat. I cannot say thank you enough to the Trotters, Sigmans and Floreses, for investing their resources to keep American Quarter Horse racing alive for our AQHA triple-crown races. Thank you to Paul Blanchard and The Downs at Albuquerque for hosting a fully funded Bank of America Challenge Championships. After a trying year, we were still able to offer all of the Regional Challenge Stakes. The finalists then travelled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to compete in the AQHA premier event that offered 10 races, all boasting full fields and distributed $915,000 in purse money. The Downs at Albuquerque hosted the races without spectators due to coronavirus mandates, and as a result without financial support from on-track betting or the contribution to purses created through the casino’s revenue stream.

I’m also grateful to the Lazy E Ranch and the McKinney family for hosting events, including the All American Ruidoso Horse Sale, which turned out to be one of the top-five sales in history. In addition, the Lazy E opened its doors to western events throughout the summer months and into the fall. Barrel racing, roping and rodeo have never been stronger, and because of the Lazy E, several events had a home in 2020.

I’m grateful for our show managers across the country who navigated so many challenges to host events, maintaining social distancing and mask ordinances, and keeping our AQHA Professional Horsemen, trainers and passionate members on the road competing. With the cancellation of so many shows, 2020 has been a tough year for our trainers, and it has been fabulous to see our AQHA affiliates, along with alliance partners from the National Snaffle Bit, National Reined Cow Horse, National Reining Horse, National Cutting Horse associations and our stock horse organizations host their events, championships, futurities and derbies. Thank you to our AQHA affiliates, show managers and show secretaries who took the bull by the horns and hosted events safely for our members.

Last but not least, I want to recognize the AQHA Show Department and the additional AQHA support teams that worked in concert with the AQHA Executive Committee and AQHA Show Council in navigating the merger of six different AQHA championship shows into one “mega show.” This year, AQHA combined the Farnam AQHA World Championship Show; AQHA Select World Championship Show, presented by Adequan® (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan); Adequan® Level 2 Championships; Nutrena Level 1 Championships; and AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenge Finals to host the largest AQHA World Show in history. The event, which was held in accordance with local, state and federal mandates, hosted more than 2,700 horses, plus 471 performance ranch sale horses during the three-week period creating electric energy at the OKC Fairgrounds. I am grateful to all involved, including our judges, stewards, stock contractors, announcers, production team, ring crew, sales management team, vendors and the wonderful OKC Fairgrounds staff for working countless hours, well into the evening and many time early hours of the mornings to pull off an amazing event. 

All these acts of courage, determination, passion and western grit defines who we are as an industry. It illuminates our true selves as a collective group of American Quarter Horse enthusiast around the globe, and it gives me great confidence for the coming year. The new year is already ushering in a revival of energy, hope and goodwill. Just this past week, my oldest son working on the healthcare frontlines in the county hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, received his first round of the COVID-19 vaccination. Like our parents and grandparents before us who lived through polio, measles and other calamities, we are about to conquer the coronavirus and reunite safely. It is with determination and, above all, thankfulness for God’s grace, that I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a safe, healthy and prosperous 2021.

As a reminder, our offices will be closed beginning at 4 p.m. Central on December 23 through December 25, and January 1 to allow employees to spend time with their families during the holidays. Don’t forget to submit your rule-change proposal forms by December 31.

I look forward to what the new year will bring for our great Association and the equine industry!