From the Office of Craig Huffhines

Commitment Brings Quality of Life

AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines shares how commitment benefits the future of the industry.

American Quarter Horse Association

Huffhines shares how commitment benefits the future of the industry.

The great football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”

Last week in Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia, marked a moment in time where young horsemen from 13 countries, their parents, their team leaders and their coaches committed to excellence. After years of training, months of qualifying and years of organizing, 110 riders from around the world gathered to compete and celebrate their passion for the American Quarter Horse at the American Quarter Horse Youth World Cup.

You want to talk about blessed quality of life, in a world where quality of life has come with deep sacrifice and, in many cases, eludes families who are merely seeking a safe haven for their children, AQHA parents from around the world provided an opportunity for their young people to travel thousands of miles to fulfill a dream. How fortunate they all were to have this opportunity and how fortunate AQHA is to have coaches, leaders and parents to organize such an opportunity. This type of commitment is unusual and highlights a struggle that parents are dealing with in trying to provide the best personal growth opportunities they can afford for their children.

Last year, Sport Illustrated reported findings from a study done by the Sport and Fitness Industry Association that amid concerns of an emphasis on sport specialization, more kids than ever in the United States are not playing sports at all. It was reported that inactivity among children approached 20 percent in 2014, continuing a six-year decline. The study cites the pressure on parents to place their kids on competitive teams, invest in expert coaching and skill development, as well as the cost required for serious programs to compete against one another, which has made youth sports a lucrative industry. Costs for travel, practice time and other needs often increase the financial contributions needed from players’ families. That culture lends itself to an emphasis on specializing and picking one sport early. That culture has also diluted participation in less-competitive recreational leagues.

That narrative sounds very familiar to what we are witnessing in equine youth involvement. Since 2010, AQHA youth memberships have declined by 18.5 percent, and the very same specialization sited in the sports study is impacting youth involvement across the equine industry. It goes without saying that owning, caring for and competing on a horse is a major investment. Furthermore, equine activities are also competing with team sports for time and money.

Specialization across the American Quarter Horse industry is vast and, yet, in certain disciplines including rodeo speed events, hundreds if not thousands of young people do not even require an affiliation with AQHA to compete on the back of an American Quarter Horse.

This trend has certainly opened the eyes of AQHA leadership and staff to engage in a strategy that will create value for more youth involvement in AQHA-sanctioned activities. A renewed focus may involve supporting those activities where there is high demand and perhaps even expose many other youth who may never have a chance to own a horse but have an interest in an equine career path.

Last month, we announced two new staff hires, Katie Reynolds and Jacy Bradford, who will be heading up AQHA’s youth initiative. The mission of the youth initiative is to analyze those programs that create value and entice families to invest their time and treasure in AQHA activity.

In her previous role, Katie, our new director of youth activity, was charged with redesigning the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo youth equine program. Participation numbers had dropped dramatically at the San Antonio show to the point where several shows were actually cancelled. Under Katie’s leadership and with support of volunteers and donors, the stock show reinvented the equestrian program by delivering what the population of equestrian families wanted in the region. The emphasis was placed on a combination of education and a demand for speed and rodeo events. The end result was a nearly threefold increase in youth participation. What’s more important than the formula the show’s staff used is the process they committed to in delivering youth participation.

Jacy Bradford has been named manager of youth development and will assist Katie in the quest for increased youth involvement. Jacy’s background is impressive in her own right, growing up the daughter of a Texas county extension agent, becoming a state 4-H officer and working as a student adviser and recruiter for two major land-grant universities.

These two ladies, along with a wealth of equine educators, donors, corporate partners and youth enthusiasts, will be working together to road map the future of AQHA’s youth programs.

A commitment to excellence is a life-long choice. It’s a quality-of-life choice. Our hope is with these two new additions to AQHA’s staff, along with the focused commitment of an army of enthusiastic and well-resourced AQHA membership, AQHA will enhance its presence in the field of youth development.

This will require an “all in” commitment, which will benefit the future sustainability of the organization.

Thank you all for following along and offering your support in this important journey to strengthen our youth initiatives.