AQHA President Sandy Arledge's Convention Address

2016 AQHA President Sandy Arledge reviewed the Association's accomplishments during her tenure on the AQHA Executive Committee.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Sandy Arledge (Becky Newell Photo)

Just four short years ago, you elected me to sit on the executive committee of this great Association. That day was the culmination of a life lived for and with the American Quarter Horse.

Taking my place on the stage with the other members of the AQHA Executive Committee was surreal. Seated next to my friend, the late George Phillips, I pondered the journey that had led me to that point. A journey that began as a very small child in East Texas when my uncle, Lawson Horton, a horse trader in Mineola, threw me up on a horse. That was the beginning of a life that has never been without a horse in it.  

The four years of my term on the Executive Committee have flown by, no pun intended, as I have logged thousands of miles in the air and on the highways.

It was important to me that we didn’t lose the momentum we had gained during the four years of my Executive Committee tenure; that we continued to focus on what matters most to our members; and that we encourage and feed their passion. We have made a commitment to making AQHA a stronger service organization that is more sensitive to the needs and concerns of our members.

Our members are engaged and passionate about our horse, regardless of their discipline. Whether at shows, sales, awards banquets, meetings, trail rides or races, the message that can be taken away is the same everywhere: Our members love our American Quarter Horses and want only the best for them and for the Association that protects them.

The people around the world, regardless of their language or culture, made it clear they appreciated the effort to reach out to them on a personal level. On more than one occasion, the statement was made: “We didn’t think AQHA knew we existed.”

I’m here to remind you that we do know you exist, and you are the reason this Association exists.

When I was elected president, I mentioned a few objectives that were important to me to focus on.

The first: to continue the efforts made on behalf of animal welfare by AQHA Past President Dr. Glenn Blodgett. Under Dr. Blodgett’s guidance, the AQHA Animal Welfare Commission took an important role in defining AQHA’s position on the care, treatment, training and presentation of our horse.

To that end, the AQHA Animal Welfare Grievance Committee, made up of professional horsemen, veterinarians and other industry professionals, was established in 2013 to assist in reviewing cases of animal mistreatment and/or rule violations that come before the committee.

The Executive Committee has taken a firm position regarding the sensitive and thoughtful treatment of our animals and the appropriate respect shown by our professionals, competitors and other participants.

By working with the World Conformation Horse Association, we improved the treatment of our halter horse by replacing lip chains with a lip cord.

We implemented biosecurity guidelines; instituted a stewards training program and increased the number of shows our stewards oversee. We levied fines, probations and suspensions that were felt to be appropriate with regards to the seriousness of each issue.

The Animal Welfare Commission has recommended and the Executive Committee approved moving the rule against alteration of tail function from a rule violation to the inhumane treatment section and will be considered an animal abuse issue going forward.

The use of Lasix in show horses will also be forbidden, as it has no therapeutic value for non-race horses.

In addition, we have approved the use of hair testing to further our efforts in eliminating the use of performance-enhancing drugs and are investigating the use of microchips to protect our horse.

While we still have work to do, the Executive Committee is dedicated to furthering the cause of animal welfare and the respectful and dignified use of those animals entrusted to us.

In addition to animal welfare, there were three inter-related areas – communication, education and refining perception that were of vital importance to us.

By focusing on these areas, we can continue to build a positive future for our horse and our Association.

In the past four years, we have taken steps to improve our Association by making significant hires to improve communication and member services.

For example, the introduction of the president’s and executive vice president’s blogs, an increased social media presence and the introduction of new Journal publications that focus on specific areas of interest.

AQHA Chief Publications Officer Carl Mullins, who began his role with AQHA in November 2015, and his team play a huge role in helping members stay up to date with the industry’s most-trusted association publications.

If you haven’t met Carl, please introduce yourself to him. He is energetic, bright and passionate about his vocation.

An in-house promotion that has increased the intensity of the marketing department was the naming of Lauren Walsh as chief marketing officer in October 2015. Lauren and her team have implemented a number of new promotions and marketing campaigns.

As I stated before, our members are passionate about their horses and their Association, and often have great ideas, but don’t know how to be heard.

We urge you to take advantage of the pipelines available for your great ideas because well-thought-out ideas have resulted in positive changes for our Association. The “My AQHA Idea” portal on our website, your state/provincial/international directors and your state affiliate offer great ways to reach us.

You can also check the staff directory on the website for a list of the right staff member to help you with your ideas or issues.

We continue to provide important information to our members to enhance your knowledge regarding genetic abnormalities and breeding practices in your herd.

We are including biosecurity protocols in our show management seminars.

We have also focused on increasing transparency in the organization as a whole, with the goal of restoring trust and confidence in the governance of AQHA.

Another important goal of mine was to reinvigorate the state, provincial and international affiliate programs.

Strong affiliates are the source for new leaders of this Association, and without strong affiliates, we lose the opportunity to mine interested and passionate people from around the nation and the world.

The state and provincial affiliate program began in 1995. The program was developed to give states and provinces more opportunities to be a part of the governance of the Association. However, in recent years, the once vigorous program has languished.

Each person who seeks an AQHA leadership role should be prepared to become familiar with every facet of this huge organization and look toward being involved in the governance at this level.

I encourage each of you to look beyond your comfort zones and learn about each committee and what they do. If you aspire to move up in the organization, you must know what we do. And it’s a lot!

The AQHA Affiliate Workshop has been refreshed and will be held once again in May in Amarillo. The return of the workshop has been met with excitement and is under the guidance of Shelly Spears, who has put together a vigorous program to engage state and provincial leaders. Hopefully, you are planning to attend this important workshop. If you don’t know Shelly, please introduce yourself to her.

The AQHA Affiliate Council ensures that members have a representative from each region they can contact directly concerning their local affiliate. At this time, let’s meet your Affiliate council members:

Region 1 – Heather Mauck of Eagle Point, Oregon

Region 2 – Lori Bucholz of Waterloo, Nebraska

Region 3 – Mike Murphy of Jackson, Missouri

Region 4 – Mary Hannagan of Penfield, Illinois

Region 5 – Larry Jaynes of Burdett, New York

[Region 6 – position opened]

Region 7 – Doug Brown of Paso Robles, California

Region 8 – Jackie Krshka of Yukon, Oklahoma

Region 9 – Dr. Steve Osborne of Decatur, Alabama

Region 10 – Chairman Randy Ratliff of Greensboro, North Carolina

Be sure to introduce yourself to your regional representative, exchange contact information and help them help you. These are engaged, intelligent and dedicated individuals. If you aren’t a member of your state/provincial or international affiliate, consider getting involved. Together, we make our organization stronger!

Our international membership makes up almost 20 percent of the total membership, with members in 85 countries around the world. In the past, we have not provided the best information highway for our international members in their language. However, the international program has taken a giant leap forward with the hiring of Anna Morrison as chief international officer.

We have recently returned from conferences in Costa Rica and Mexico with exciting and enthusiastic responses from those attending. We can rest assured that Anna will take the international program to the next level!

The racing world has also taken a quantum leap with the hiring of Janet VanBebber as the chief racing officer. Janet’s resume boasts a long and successful career training racing American Quarter Horses. In 2011, she became the first female trainer to eclipse the 1,000 career wins, and she is the leading female trainer by money earned. Her energetic, intelligent and progressive thinking is a welcome addition to the staff.

Two very talented and enthusiastic women were hired last year to lead the American Quarter Horse Youth Association. Katie Reynolds, director of youth activities, and Jacy Hammer, assistant director of youth activities, each bring very unique skill sets that are ideal for AQHA’s youth department and fit perfectly with what AQHYA was searching for in these leadership positions.  

With their help, the youth programs are being strengthened and the path forward is positive.

It may be an overused phrase, but the future is in the youth, and we look forward to the coming years and the good work that Katie and Jacy will be doing.

One of the biggest successes to come along in the past four years has been the establishment of the AQHA Ranching Committee and the creation of the AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders program. Our 347 Ranching Heritage Breeder members accounted for 3,631 foals registered in 2016, and hold their big production sales in the fall.

The ranches hold the history of the American Quarter Horse Association within their fences, and we are very proud to have past AQHA world champion and educator Kim Lindsey in charge of the program.

Another big change this year was the retirement of Alex Ross as director of judges. Alex faithfully served AQHA for 13 years and brought the judges program to a new level of excellence. The implementation of the judges recertification testing program assures our exhibitors that our judges will continue to be the best trained and best prepared in the equine industry.

Having personally attended the two recertification tests that have been held to date, I have been tremendously impressed at the dedication of our judges and the intensity with which they approach their jobs.  

The new director of judges is our own Patti Carter, who brings more than 30 years of experience as an AQHA judge, and has served as the AQHA director of shows and professional horsemen. Patti will continue the judging programs that have been established and will further the education of our judges.

With those changes, two positions opened in the show department. I’m pleased to introduce you to our new manager of shows, Justin Billings, and the new manager of AQHA Professional Horsemen and Team Wrangler, Karen McCuistion, who were hired last week. Justin will start his new position on April 10, and Karen will start her new role on April 24.

There have been a lot of changes since I came on the Executive Committee, one was the retirement of Don Treadway Jr. and the subsequent hiring of Craig Huffhines as AQHA’s executive vice president.

Craig came on the job like a house afire, with enthusiasm, pragmatism and a terrific ability to manage. Coming from the American Hereford Association, Craig probably felt he had been thrown into a lake of quicksand, but has quickly mastered the complexities of the Association and is providing exceptional leadership.

His cheerful demeanor has encouraged a good work environment, and his no-nonsense approach to goal setting and accountability has the team on the right track. We are very proud of him and what he has accomplished to date.

Craig led the charge to define a strategic operating plan that will carry us forward for the next few years. Enough data was shared to boggle the imagination, but that data enabled us to determine the course we feel will take the Association in a very positive direction.

When Jackie Payne retired as administrative assistant, someone who has been a godsend to me filled her job. Without her keeping me on the right track, I may have wound up in Timbuktu on a water buffalo!

Robin Brooks came to a complicated and difficult position with enthusiasm and a positive, can-do attitude. Always pleasant and always willing to help, Robin has been a breath of fresh air! Robin, thank you for all you do!

It truly takes a village to run our great Association and none of the work we accomplished this year would have been possible without the help of our AQHA team. 

We are privileged to have a multi-talented, energetic, thoughtful and bright bunch of folks shouldering the load of this massive Association and the American Quarter Horse Foundation.

If you haven’t had the privilege of working with our staff on a day-in-day-out basis, you have no idea how hard they work and how dedicated they are. I wish I could recognize each one of them personally, but time doesn’t allow me to run through the names of the 200-plus employees who work for AQHA and the American Quarter Horse Foundation. Please, I would like to ask our staff, all of you, to stand and be recognized!

Four years ago, I was privileged to enter the President’s Room at AQHA Headquarters as a member of a very dedicated group of men and women. That group consisted of then-President Johne Dobbs, First Vice President Johnny Trotter, Second Vice President Dr. Glenn Blodgett and Executive Committee Member the late George Phillips.

Each person brought something different to the table, and those differences enabled us to make decisions, based on facts and experience.

Johne Dobbs, as a businesswoman, exhibitor and mother, could shed light on shows and youth; Johnny Trotter, a focused, insightful cattleman and racehorse man had strong business and financial input; Dr. Blodgett, a quiet and brilliant man, brought calmness and years of ranching, as well as veterinary science to help us understand performance-enhancing drug issues, while George brought a sense of humor coupled with a strong legal background and years of government service. I had 40 years of breeding, training, showing and operating a busy farm, in addition to my legal background.

Each year, leadership changes and as one individual leaves; he or she is replaced by another of equally diverse experience. Those various backgrounds make us strong.

Ralph Seekins, an Alaskan horse breeder, former state senator and current Ford Dealer from Fairbanks came on in 2014; Stan Weaver, horse and cattle rancher from a family of Montana ranchers dating back to the 1800s came on in 2015 along with Dr. Jim Heird, educator, judge and horseman who also came on that year due to the untimely death of George Phillips.

And in 2016, you elected Butch Wise of the Lazy E to fill the racing gap with a horseman who has immense racing, reproduction and marketing knowledge.

Those who serve on the Executive Committee do so as volunteers. Each person is expected to give her or his time to the Association, attend meetings in Amarillo at least quarterly, participate on conference calls at least monthly, preside over hearings and make decisions that can be very difficult. There are many hats to wear – ambassador, judge, jury, purveyor of the budget – and the list goes on and on.

There are a broad array of backgrounds and skills, all held together by one horse – the American Quarter Horse.

Before I conclude, I want to thank those who encouraged me in this journey. I had originally named those individuals in this speech; however the list became too long.

I am a lucky woman, with many wonderful friends and supporters, some of whom have traveled from far away just to be a part of this special weekend. Many have never attended an AQHA convention, but are here today! While I am not mentioning you individually, you know who you are!  

The glue of our lives, and that, which has brought us all together, is the American Quarter Horse. The positive energy and excitement I have felt in my travels around the globe this year is amazing; I cannot be more proud of my fellow AQHA members and our staff.

I am and will remain AQHA proud.

Onward and upward!