Silver Dollar Circuit: March 18

AQHA leveling is credited for the increase in entries at the 2015 Silver Dollar Circuit.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

AQHA's leveling program is being credited for increased entries at the 2015 Silver Dollar Circuit. Journal photo

AQHA leveling is alive and well, and you can’t see it in action better than at the 2015 Silver Dollar Circuit in Las Vegas this week.

The Silver Dollar Circuit is up 30 percent in entries and they’ve seen an increase in the number of stalls from 441 last year to more than 600 this year.

“We are seeing more Level 2 entries this year than last year,” says show secretary Heidi Lane. “People are understanding leveling better and what it does to make competition more even for horses and exhibitors.”

Heidi brags that of all of the shows that her crew works, the Silver Dollar has done the best job of offering the most leveling choices.

The aim of AQHA leveling is to level the playing field, with the overall goal being to get more new people involved in showing their American Quarter Horses and drive the showing market in a strong direction. Levels are formulated from an objective handicapping system that assigns exhibitors and horses to competition levels. That handicapping system is based on real data from AQHA shows. Level eligibility is based on both points and awards earned. Level point ranges are designed to group horses and riders with their peers of similar experience and points earned.

Classes are leveled based on exhibitor or horse records. Level eligibility is based on both points and awards earned. Classes that are leveled based on exhibitor record are youth, amateur, Select amateur, halter and cattle classes. Open classes (excluding halter and cattle classes) are leveled based on the horse's record.

“At the Silver Dollar, we split the Level 1’s into junior and senior (in the open) and amateur and Select Amateur, and everyone gets the chance to be in the level they want against the competitors they want,” Heidi explains. “Jan (Bruner, the show's manager) is the pioneer of making sure everyone knows how leveling works. This particular show is one that the Level 2’s really respond to.”

On Day 1 of the Silver Dollar Circuit, more than three-fourths of the junior trail entries were Level 2 and more than half of the senior trail entries were Level 2.

“In senior western riding, for example, there were 36 Level 2 horses and 25 Level 3 horses for a total of 61 in the class,” Heidi adds. “Even in the hunter under saddle classes, we had a bigger population of Level 2 horses than Level 3 horses. It seems like the trend is going to remain the same for the whole show to include the youth and amateur classes, too. For example, in youth western pleasure, we have six Level 2 youth and one Level 3 youth for a total of seven youth in the class.”

AQHA Professional Horseman Kevin Dukes of Weatherford, Texas, entered The Grateful Red, a 2010 sorrel gelding, in the Level 2 junior hunter under saddle.

“He’s been shown very little and has less than the number of points required to make him a Level 3 horse,” Kevin explains. “So we went Level 2 in the combined Level 2/3 junior hunter under saddle. And in that particular class, it was split about half and half between Level 2 and Level 3 horses. And he won.”

For his efforts, The Grateful Red (Repeated In Red-Beccatha by Digging For Gold; owned by Linda Lindsey of Nacogdoches, Texas) got half a point.

“It’s a numbers game,” Heidi says. “You just have to figure out how many are in each class. Levels 2 and 3 run as a class within a class. In a Level 3 class, the Level 3 horses or exhibitors have to earn their spot because they’re competing against the entire class. Level 2 horses get points based on the number of Level 2 horses in that class.”

For example, in the junior hunter under saddle – the class The Grateful Red won – there were four horses in Level 2 and three Level 3 horses, making a total of seven horses in the class. So the first-place Level 3 horse, who was actually second in the class, got 1 point, while the Level 2 horse that won the class got half a point.”

Could The Grateful Red have “leveled-up”? Certainly. But considering the horse hasn’t been shown much, leveling up was a bigger risk at not getting any points if they horse didn't do well in the class.

AQHA Professional Horseman Gil Galyean of Purcell, Oklahoma, also had a positive experience with one of his Level 2 horses on Day 1 of the Silver Dollar Circuit.

“I think we had 20 in Level 3 junior western pleasure and 11 or 12 of those were Level 2 horses,” Gil says. “The horse I showed as a Level 2 won the Level 2, so he got six points at the triple-judged show. If we’d just shown that horse in junior western pleasure without leveling, there are a couple of horses I’m not sure he could have beat and we wouldn’t have gotten that many points.”

Gil adds that he’s seen leveling at work elsewhere, too.

“I’m finding that the junior classes – the junior western pleasure here and at the Sun Circuit – have been bigger because more people are going in the junior as Level 2's where before, they were doing the Green,” he says. “The benefit is the points, which count toward qualifying for the world shows. I’m liking it. It’s sure creating bigger point classes in the open classes.”

Heidi points out that the Silver Dollar Circuit has also added some really cool prizes for Level 2: the high-point Level 2 junior horse will get a $750 gift certificate and the high-point Level 2 Select amateur gets an electric scooter.

“They’ll be really well rewarded for their participation and everyone seems to be responding positively,” Heidi says.

She adds that the best way to think of the levels is like an elevator: Level 1 is the bottom, Level 2 is the second level and Level 3 is the best. So horses that have been competing against the Level 3 horses – the horses that are usually always winning – it gives those other horses a chance to compete, to show against horses of their level.

“The thing we ask exhibitors is this: How good is your horse? Can he stick with the top two or three horses in the class every time? If so, then you need to enter Level 3 because you get points based on the entire class. If your horse is usually somewhere in the placings, but toward the lower end, those are the people or horses who should enter Level 2 if they’re eligible because they’ll get the best chance of earning the most points because they’ll end up further down in the placings against the Level 3 horses or people, but will probably be higher in the Level 2 placings.”

Go to for more details on AQHA leveling. You can also find your level online at

Journal Coverage of the 2015 Silver Dollar Circuit

  • High-Points – Look through high-point champions and reserves, plus more candid photos from the Silver Dollar Circuit.
  • March 20 – Multiple AQHA Select showmanship world champion Anne Wilson is still using her lucky charms.
  • March 19 – A pasture potato prognosis didn’t stop this gelding from heading back to the show pen.
  • March 18 – AQHA leveling is credited for increase in entries at the 2015 Silver Dollar Circuit.
  • March 17 – There was plenty of green to be worn and won on the first day of the 2015 Silver Dollar Circuit in Las Vegas.