AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway Jr.

AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway Jr.’s speech to the AQHA membership highlights the Association’s 75-year history.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway Jr. Journal photo

It’s been quite a ride for this Association. Thanks to leaders like Johnny Trotter and the 64 presidents before him, AQHA has been on the front end of making a lot of positive things happen during its 75 years.

And I agree very much with what Johnny said in his remarks earlier this morning, I too hope everyone in this room, as well as everyone in this Association, feels blessed to have been associated with this great horse.

While our leaders were riding those good horses, AQHA has experienced plenty of growing pains, with our members having many, many a spirited discussion, and even a few lawsuits along the way.

But as we celebrate our 75th anniversary, let’s take a moment, to be respectful of all those who went before us, and celebrate some of those milestones that led to our greatness today.

So let's head back 75 years ago, to 1940, for a quick recap of where this association has been.

This is one of my favorite quotes. It’s from one of the founders of AQHA. Bob Denhardt, the person given credit for generating the interest in forming AQHA back in the late 1930's, then getting enough breeders together here in Fort Worth 75 years and eight days ago to put up $8,000 for the initial funding of the organization.

"We did not think we would ever be anything but a modest registry. We doubted if there were over 300 horses of the type we wanted to be registered in Texas, and probably less than a thousand in the country."

We were right in many ways, but we misjudged what the future would hold for the Quarter Horse.

Soon after the March 15 meeting, Denhardt and the Association inspector, Jim Minnick, went about searching for those 1,000 horses, with stops first in Texas at the King Ranch, the Shanghai Pierce estate, R.L. Underwood’s place at Wichita Falls, and the Four Sixes being among the ranches they visited.

The first show was held a bit later at Stamford, Texas, on July 4, and Denhardt’s horse, Del Rio Joe, was named grand champion.

I am sure Denhardt was very proud.

The inspection of Wimpy, from the King Ranch, occurred on that first tour of Minnick’s to South Texas. Obviously, Wimpy passed and was given No. 213, but that was not for long.

The founding group had decided that at the 1941 Fort Worth Stock Show, the grand champion stallion would get No. 1 in the registry. The King Ranch sent Wimpy and he was selected by Jim Minnick as the winner.

So the 213-numbered papers were exchanged for Certificate No. 1. Lady Hancock from the Burnett Ranches was chosen grand champion mare.

It didn't take long for there to be disagreements.

Before there was an AQHA, Quarter racing was established at places like Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Tucson and places in between.

The American Quarter Racing Association was formed in 1945 to look after this fast-growing, but regional sport, and they didn’t see any need for AQHA.

And in 1942, an issue of white markings on a particular horse of Joe Moore-breeding led several members to split off to the formation of the National Quarter Horse Breeders Association.

So right off the bat, there was disagreement among our breeders on what was and what was not eligible to be an American Quarter Horse. Sound familiar?

Showing this newly established breed became popular, with halter being the original class, as type was still being established and no one breeder, sire or characteristic was prominent.

AQHA encouraged that performance be a part of the mix, by first presenting a saddle in the mid-1940s to J. Frank Daugherty for the accomplishments of his mare, Patsy Daugherty.But all was not good, three associations and more or less volunteer management for AQHA was not working.

One horse could, theoretically, be registered in all three Associations with three different names.

Enter Albert Mitchell from New Mexico, one of the great leaders in the livestock industry and the only person to be president of the American Hereford, American Cattlemen's and the American Quarter Horse associations.

He had the foresight to hire a full time executive secretary, Raymond Hollingsworth, and the vision to get the three weak organizations to merge into one strong Association.

Serving three terms – 1947, ’48 and ’49 – most consider Mr. Mitchell to be the person who saved AQHA, then set the framework for AQHA to grow into the world's largest equine breed association.

During his term, other exciting things were happening. World War II was over, people were working, the economy was growing and horses were in fashion.

But something happened far from Texas, in California at Hollywood Park to be exact, that did more to give credibility to Quarter Horses than perhaps anything up to that time.

The Gill Brothers from Arizona challenged Charles Howard, the guy who owned Seabiscuit, to a match race, a $50,000 winner-take-all quarter-of-a-mile race, between their Quarter Horse mare Barbara B and Howard's Thoroughbred Fair Truckle.

Accounts of the race indicate thousands attended, and Barbara B, the Gills’ Quarter Horse, prevailed. The victory ensured that Quarter Horses were recognized as more than just Texas cow ponies.

They were the fastest equine on earth at a quarter of a mile, a trait we have proudly carried forward ever since.

The Quarter Horse Journal debuted in September 1948 to chronicle the growth of the Association, and through the years, has been the leader in association breed publications.

But the landscape has changed.

My friend Butch Wise tells the story of how before the Internet, the Journal was how you received news about the Quarter Horse business.

I remember my first Journal. It arrived in August 1960, and it still resides in a box of early Journals at my Mom's home back in Kaw City, Oklahoma. As a 9-year-old, I couldn't wait each month ’til it arrived. I’ll bet many of you have similar memories.

I still find it amazing that in December of 1981, the stallion issue was a record 1,100 pages, about the same size as that year’s Sears Catalog.

Following Barbra B's victory, Los Alamitos Race Course was built in 1951 by Frank Vessels Sr. It still operates on the same property, but in a much different setting,. It is now owned by Dr.  Ed Allred, who without a doubt is the most dedicated person for the care and welfare of the racing American Quarter Horse. Nearly 30 percent of all American Quarter Horse racing is under his watch at Los Al.

In 1950, AQHA had registered approximately 15,000 horses with the merger of the three associations.

The mother ship, AQHA, changed from a stockholders organization to a membership association, with 1,300 members after the initial conversion.

Shows were becoming more and more popular, and to honor the versatility of the American Quarter Horse, the AQHA Champion award was established in 1952.

Eight horses were immediately eligible under the established criteria, which included earning points in halter, plus points in one performance class. The eight included:

  • Babe Mac C
  • JB King
  • Little Egypt
  • Paul A
  • Poco Tivio
  • Pondora
  • Snipper W
  • Star Jack Jr

And we were becoming quite clever with our efforts at promoting this very popular breed. In the early ’50s, AQHA President Lester Goodson arranged to present two American Quarter Horses to President Ike Eisenhower and his grandson David.

Future Hall of Famer Bubba Cascio was working for Goodson at the time, and accompanied the horses, along with Mr. Goodson, to Ike’s farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Later that decade, something major happened in the Sierra Blanca Mountains in New Mexico, when Galobar won the very first All American futurity, on Labor Day in 1959.

Establishment of this race meant Quarter Horse racing would never look back, with larger purses coming in rapid order via futurities and derbies, not only in pari-mutuel states like New Mexico, California and Colorado, but in non-pari-mutuel venues as well, like tracks in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

International activity was ready to pop when the King Ranch went global, taking American Quarter Horses to work their newly established international ranches in far-off places like Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Cuba.

I think most will agree Bob Kleberg, who is in our Hall of Fame, along with numerous King Ranch horses and fellow family members, laid the groundwork for what now are nearly 40 recognized and approved international affiliates.

We closed the decade of the ’50s with 17,600 members and nearly 200,000 horses in the stud book.

AQHA shows were growing, with classes expanding from the original core of halter and cow horse in the ’40s to roping, reining, barrel racing and western pleasure rounding out the slate. Imagine only five performance classes and halter comprising an AQHA show.

The newly founded National Finals Rodeo was gaining in popularity and American Quarter Horses were proving themselves in that arena, with steer wrestling horses like Baby Doll Combs receiving national recognition in major general-interest publications outside the western community. We continue that recognition today with the AQHA/PRCA horses of the year,

Quarter Horses were becoming popular everywhere, but nothing helped grow them east of the Mississippi more than a three-day Congress, modeled after a cattle show, held in October of 1967 in Columbus Ohio. Today, the All American Quarter Horse Congress is the largest single-breed horse show in the world. We owe a huge thank you to those men and women from the Ohio Quarter Horse Association who made the event a reality. And a continuous thanks to OQHA for producing this monumental event year after year.

Orren Mixer came through for AQHA in 1968 with the painting that we all now call the Mixer Horse. It still serves as the breed ideal and the type of horse – conformation- and balance-wise – most breeders hope to produce.

We closed the decade of the ’60s with 52,000 members and 619,000 horses registered.

The ’70s saw expansion with the formation of the American Junior Quarter Horse Association, followed by the first youth national championship in Amarillo in 1972. What a brilliant move for AQHA to provide an Association, as well as separate classes and major recognition for its youth.

This excitement was followed by amateur classes being first offered in 1972, with just two – western pleasure and bridle-path hack hunt seat; the full division would come later in 1979.

Again, where would we be today without our amateur division? Another brilliant move by the membership of AQHA.

Back in ’72, AQHA President Bud Ferber showed how marketing works by presenting one of his Quarter Horses to Mickey Mantle on Mickey Mantle Day at Yankee Stadium. Sixty thousand people saw the presentation in person; with millions more watching on TV.

The establishment of our world show followed in Louisville in 1974, moving to Oklahoma City in 1976 and becoming the pre-eminent breed championship show for the next 40 years.

The American Quarter Horse Foundation was founded in 1975 to establish scholarships and to begin thinking about building the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.

Since its founding, we have awarded $6.3 million in scholarships and $10.5 million in equine research. The Foundation has built and continues to maintain, a multi-million-dollar facility for our Hall of Fame and has granted thousands of dollars to facilities for equine-assisted activities and therapies.

With your help we can do more!

Galobar made history with that first All American win, but in 1972, Possumjet made it again by winning the first million-dollar horse race anywhere for any breed, and no it wasn’t the Kentucky  Derby, it was the All American Futurity.

At the end of the ’70s, we stood at 1.5 million horses and 108,881 members. We were growing!

In 1982, Mr Master Bug became the first winner of a race that presented $1 million to the winner, and that really set the Quarter Horse racing world on fire.

AQHA was growing with an all-time high of 169,000 new registrations occurring in 1983, the same year that we moved into a new 84,000-square-foot office on Interstate 40, which by the way was paid for over the two fiscal years of construction, with cash generated from processing all those foal registrations and publishing a magazine averaging 700 pages a month. We started out in the new building debt-free.

The “America’s Horse” TV program got its start in 1983, with a 30-minute telecast of the youth national championship show. It certainly wasn’t an Emmy-winning production with its shoestring budget, but it did lay a path of continuous television programming for American Quarter Horses for the next 25 years, growing to a weekly 30-minute program on ESPN.

The AQHA Incentive Fund also came about in 1984, and for 25 years, was the pre-eminent cash-back program in the show-horse industry. To date, it has paid out more than $75 million.

But something happened in 1986 that quickly turned our growth into a spiraling downward trend. The ability to count passive losses was stricken from the tax code. The entire equine industry took a nose dive with so-called investors in horses bailing out of our industry and AQHA was no exception. The downturn came quickly, reaching a low of 101,000 registrations in 1991, from that high of 169,000 in 1983.

But the interest in horses really didn’t go away; we just lost the lucrative tax breaks associated with owning them.

Helping keep the interest going during the downturn were our friends Gus and Woodrow from “Lonesome Dove,” along with the “Hell Bitch,” who was actually the American Quarter Horse gelding registered as Docs Breeze Bar.

The horse industry began its recovery in 1992, 10 years after that peak in 1983, and we didn’t look back ’til 2005.

In 1991, the American Quarter Horse Heritage Center was built, with a complete remodel in 2007 to become the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum, a showcase for all of the men, women and horses, who helped make this breed the envy of the equine world.

Another AQHA marketing success story happened when the Select division debuted in 1997, with show management being able to offer a maximum of three Select performance classes. A full division, with separate awards, came a few years later, along with the first Select world championship show in 2003.

Tracks were expanding with pari-mutuel racing now being conducted in previous non-pari-mutuel states, like Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas.

We started acknowledging the contributions of the backbone of AQHA – our ranching members – with the annual awarding of the Best Remuda Award, the first going to the Haythorn Land & Cattle Co. from Nebraska.

With our racing members asking for an Association-owned racing program similar to the Breeder’s Cup, the AQHA Racing Challenge, now the Bank of America Racing Challenge was established in 1993. It now awards more that $5 million back to our racing members each year.

We rode to the end of the 1990's in good shape.

There was plenty of money in the bank, horses were selling and participation in our shows and races was growing, and nearly 100 trail rides were being held every year by our affiliates around the world.

Reining became the first internationally approved western discipline in 2000 by the FEI. Since then, reining has been showcased in four World Equestrian Games.

We even worked through 9/11 with good numbers through 2005.

Then it began to get interesting.

The horse industry peaked again in 2005, with 325,000 foals being registered by the 14 major United States equine breeds. AQHA contributed more than half, with 165,000 foals, more or less the same number that we registered 22 years previous in 1983.

Then in rapid order, we were challenged with issue after issue. And for some strange reason, all these challenges just happened to begin with the letter C.

First it was the crash of the economy, starting in 2008 and really hitting us hard in 2009. We are still seeing the effects of it.

The issue of cloning and the subsequent lawsuit was a tremendous drain on our human resources and our upper management.

The Rita Crundwell embezzlement case tested our ability to work through government seizure and credibility with our showing-focused members.

The Zetas drug cartel was another blow, this time to Quarter Horse racing.

And the unsuccessful launch of a new computer system was a reminder of how dependent our members are on AQHA 24/7.

But those incidents are behind us. We have survived them all and now we are ready for the next 75 years.

We have some wonderful new programs that will lead us forward:

Take Me Riding is recruiting and retaining those youngsters who have the horse gene and directing their parents to find places to take lessons and see horses perform.

Time to Ride, which is from the American Horse Council and supported by AQHA, will continue to get people in touch with horses. Last year, Time to Ride introduced 25,000 new people to horses. We will double that number this summer.

Leveling is revving up to offer more opportunities for those pointing out of what was formerly called Novice, but needing a place to feel comfortable before taking on the highly experienced riders. And our highly successful Level 1 Championships have established themselves as the places to be for our Level 1 competitors.

We have new emphasis on ranching members, with a competition designed for our Ranching Heritage Breeders.

Ranch riding is leading the way to showcase a more purposeful horse that is perhaps closer to what the founders of AQHA had in mind back in 1940.

We are truly blessed with a strong group of corporate partners. Some of those companies have been standing with AQHA and its membership since 1985. Their support of AQHA with cash and product contributions totals more than many associations’ annual budgets.

And as you heard from our treasurer, Trent Taylor, our financial situation is positive and back on track.

But there are still some challenges facing us.

Many members have issues with the way our horses look in some of our classes; the expense of showing at our shows is a challenge for many who want to participate in the AQHA arena, and trying to ensure a level playing field for our racehorses and their owners, are all on agendas at this convention.

And the economy is still a factor, as the cost of horse ownership and participation is a barrier to many.

Social media is a challenge, with the “send” button giving everyone an instant voice or an opinion.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the Association still has work to do.

As I retire from this position, I think back on Bob Denhardt’s comments about those 1,000 horses, which now number more than 6 million.

I marvel at those 75 people who put up $8,000 to start AQHA, who now number 263,000 members around the world and that $8,000 capitalizing budget is now nearly $50 million annually.

I reflect about Albert Mitchell and wonder what AQHA would be like if he hadn’t said “Yes” to being president in 1946.

I think about Roy, Dale, Gene, Ben, Little Joe and Hoss, and John Wayne, and all those westerns on TV and all those movies that kept us baby boomers playing cowboys and Indians and dreaming about getting those bad guys who always wore those black hats.

No doubt about it, we have a great Association, and Craig is ready to take the reins, with a freshly updated strategic plan to get us to 2020.

I firmly believe there are good times ahead.

Thanks to my wife, Robbyn, for letting me be an AQHA guy for 40 and a half years when during more than half that time she raised our wonderful children, Jeff and Stacey.

And thanks Ronnie Blackwell and Bill Brewer, to Jim Helzer, Johannes Orgeldinger, Dick Monahan, Peter Cofrancesco, Gene Graves, Johne Dobbs, Ralph, Sandy, Glenn and George and, of course, to Johnny Trotter.

You folks were and are my mentors.

You stood behind me through a lot of thick and a lot of thin these past six years.

As Johnny said, he and I have worked very hard with this Executive Committee, getting AQHA in a better position for those who come after us. I think we accomplished that, and with your help, and by working together and not against each other, by calling and talking, rather than firing off a nasty email or posting a Facebook rumor, AQHA will have a brighter future ahead.

I leave you with this set of facts and note my emphasis on fact, not my opinion.

Today, there are more quality American Quarter Horses, pleasing more people, in more disciplines, earning more money at more venues than ever before in this Association’s history. I am proud to have been part of a team that for more than 40 years made so many milestones happen.

I am proud to have worked with many great leaders whose only agenda was what was good for our horse and good for AQHA, not for their egos or personal gain.

And I am proud that for these past six years, I have had my name placed on the registration papers on some of the greatest horses to ever set foot on this planet.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity.