Meet the Chairman: Al Dunning

Knowledgeable, honest and professional, the new AQHA judges committee chairman puts AQHA, its members and the horse in the forefront of his decision-making process.

Special to The American Quarter Horse Journal

Al Dunning has been an AQHA judge for 27 years, and in 1996, his peers voted him the AQHA Professional Horseman of the Year. (Credit: AQHA)

One of the changes to come out of this year’s AQHA convention was a change at the head of the AQHA judges committee. The 25-member group is charged with setting guidelines for judges and approving new judges. In March, Al Dunning was elected as chairman of the committee during the 2015 AQHA Convention in Fort Worth, Texas. 

AQHA is fortunate to have a judges committee made up of members who have made such positive contributions to the Quarter Horse industry during their lifetime,” says AQHA Senior Director of Judges and Stewards Alex Ross.

I caught up with Al during a recent event and talked about some of the opportunities he sees in AQHA’s future. For Al, his goals mirror those of the Alex: to make the AQHA judges the best judges they can possibly be and make AQHA leaders in the field of educating judges.

Al’s list of accolades is long and includes more than 45 world and reserve world championships earned between his clients and him. Al was named the AQHA Professional Horseman of the Year in 1996 and has been an AQHA judge for 27 years. His success in the show ring has made him popular among those hungry to learn and he is known for producing top educational material for riders covering horsemanship to cutting and reining. It is no surprise that he finds it important to continue to improve ongoing educational processes for all AQHA judges.

“The recent recertification for judges was a huge success,” Al says. “Testing makes people study hard. In school, I studied and learned, but when it came time to test, I really had to buckle down and I learned from the experience.” 

Al hopes that all judges appreciate the opportunity to learn and take advantage of the experience to improve their knowledge and methods.

AQHA is the only organization whose judges are required to be proficient in so many disciplines. It is very difficult, and Al is quick to acknowledge that AQHA has a “great group of judges. The goal is to have classes judged according to our rules and the standard that AQHA has set for the specific class. It is important that we (judges) keep the integrity of every class as they were intended.”

Al cites ranch riding and performance halter as classes that were developed to maintain the historic value of the American Quarter Horse. Progress and tradition blend in these new classes that have seen explosive growth in recent years.

The judges committee discusses and carefully considers all options and various methods to improve the current system. Alex works closely with the committee to look at ways to improve the system and increase the educational level of all AQHA judges. Al hopes that AQHA develops a mentoring system to assist judges at every level.

“Right now, the only system of mentoring is self-mentoring. If you want to improve your knowledge in a specific class, judges sit in the stands with a respected peer to study the class,” Al says.

Al would also like to see all judges be members of the AQHA Association of Professional Horsemen and develop a stronger mentoring program. He sees the code of ethics signed by all AQHA Professional Horsemen as an extension of the standard already in place for AQHA judges who are “held to a higher standard,” Al quotes from the AQHA rule book, “as a person, as a horseman, as a judge and as a representative of AQHA, those are the people we want.”

“We want people who are steeped in horsemanship, steeped in understanding and love for our Association, not those who disrespect our rules or the committee. I don’t want robots – I want our judges to be able to express their opinions, but I want everyone to understand the decisions we make are for the masses, they are for the Association and the benefit of the horse. Rules are not made for one or two people. We think hard about every decision we make,” Al says.

Al comes home from seminars, recertification seminars or judging major events “tuned up and excited. I even train my horses better when I return.  I hope others feel the same way.” His goal is for everyone to come home with the same zest to be a better trainer, to present their horses better in the show ring and with the desire to be the best judge they can be. For Al, “that is the whole gist of on-going training.”

Al Dunning has been at it a long time.

“He exemplifies the type of leader needed for this committee,” Alex says. “He is knowledgeable, honest, professional and puts AQHA, its members and the horse in the forefront of his decision-making process.”

As for Al, he hopes, “that others can benefit from my years of knowledge.” For those who have had the pleasure of working with Al, there is no doubt he will be a good leader.

Stephanie Lynn is a special contributor to The American Quarter Horse Journal. The AQHA Professional Horsewoman, judge and steward from Fall Creek, Wisconsin, serves on the AQHA Animal Welfare Commission, is the chairwoman of the AQHA Show Council and was named the 2014 Professional's Choice Professional Horsewoman of the Year. To learn more, visit or