Janet VanBebber Blog

Celebrating a year's accomplishments.

Celebrating a year's accomplishments.

This week, I am celebrating my first anniversary as your chief racing officer at the American Quarter Horse Association. What a journey it has been! 

Frankly, I came on board having no idea what to expect. When I interviewed, I had seen no job description. However, when I entered the President’s Room at AQHA Headquarters to discuss the position, I did not hold back. I shared with them my sole motivation in pursuing the job: my life has been dedicated to racehorses. The horsemen who make this industry work are my tribe. It’s no secret that our industry is facing challenges, and if I can help my people, then I can help Quarter Horse racing. After the interview, I was offered the job, and I set forth to change the world … or, at least, give 110 percent in trying.

My idealism was soon stifled by the reality that I had a lot to learn. I immediately received a calendar that required my attention to an alphabet soup of projects – ARCI, RMTC, NUMP, HSUS, MMVS … Lord help me! How will I ever get up to speed? How can I make an impact, when I'm bogged down in learning what all these acronyms mean to AQHA (the one acronym I had a handle on!).

My main goal, both set forth by AQHA leadership, and expressed by my fellow horsemen, was to focus on medication reform: Uniformity. Breed-specific rules. Jurisdiction reciprocity. Penalty Reform. Even playing field.

I rolled up my sleeves.

I acquainted myself with commissioners and their executive directors, letting them know that AQHA was moving forward with a new frame of mind. We are not trying to micromanage their job, but instead to partner with them to affect positive change. After several meetings, many of our objectives were met at the Association of Racing Commissioners International’s Safety and Welfare Conference in April in South Carolina. Getting this accomplished is probably my most gratifying moment since coming to AQHA a year ago. It was a “high-five” moment.

The next step is to monitor implementation at each jurisdiction, and reach out to encourage adaptation where necessary.

Other accomplishments include the first Bank of America Challenge Championships, held at Los Alamitos, that required hair testing as a condition of entry. A big thanks to all of you for your support in this endeavor.

As I type, I'm on an airplane returning yet again from California, where I attended an eight-day racing official accreditation course. What a fantastic opportunity this was. Most of my career has been in the capacity of a trainer, and being able to learn more about the official’s job was very enlightening. Having gained a more in-depth understanding of the legal, medical and officiating realms will enhance my role not only at AQHA, but also when serving the other associations where I represent our Association.

With each passing week, I continue to accumulate frequent flyer miles from coast to coast and even to Mexico. Next month, I join a group from AQHA and travel to Brazil to strengthen our relationships there. We are hoping to work with our Brazilian affiliate to improve registration and data-sharing capabilities, so that our race records are more complete, and pedigrees can accurately portray comprehensive produce records. This is an important quest that can lead to a positive impact for our industry.
While I’m traveling, I never lose sight of other important issues we are addressing in the AQHA Racing Department. For instance, we have conducted one Hispanic forum and have another planned for July 29 at Retama Park. The Hispanic community is really involved in racing, and I want to see how we can better serve their needs.

During the racing conference held this past fall during the Challenge Championships at Los Alamitos, we created the Next Generation Subcommittee to take a closer look at encouraging involvement of younger people in racing.

We also are aware that both the Challenge and the current system for graded stakes are in need of reform, and have formed committees to address those issues as well.

All this while, AQHA is in the midst of upgrading both its data system and website. Look for great things in these areas in the coming year!

None of this could be possible without the fantastic team at AQHA dedicated to racing. These employees handle a tremendous amount of responsibilities, and my travel itinerary does not afford me the opportunity to help them as much as I would like.
Jessica Hanke, Malynda Reed and Laura Srithavoravong (who will be moving on to help AQHA in another capacity, but has been a tremendous asset to our department), as well as Deanna Smith in the competition department, and Andrea Caudill, editor of the Quarter Racing Journal, all make the daily racing work at AQHA move. Next time you call the office, remember that these ladies work very diligently to keep the ball rolling, and tell them how much you appreciate them. I know I do.

Having said all of this, what do I see as my biggest obstacle? Within the organization, it is membership incentive. Unlike the performance-horse industry, where participants have to be AQHA members to accumulate points, our racing horsemen do not have to be a member of the organization to run their horses. Consequently, our membership numbers do not adequately reflect the participants in racing. We are a membership-driven association, and without the membership, racing’s budget is limited.

AQHA provides a lot of services: uphold the standards of racing at all recognized tracks, protect the integrity of racing and the welfare of the horses, legislative support to affiliates, sending Wrangler Racing Aces to tracks to promote handle, educational resources to the affiliates and to the tracks, awards and recognition, and many more services. We need your support through membership to be effective in these areas.

As I close, I'm contemplating what this next year will bring. We have a lot going on, and I'm looking forward to using my year’s worth of experience to improving my reach. I'm looking forward to seeing you all when traveling to your jurisdiction. I hope to see you there!

AQHA News and information is a service of the American Quarter Horse Association. For more news and information, follow @AQHARacing on Twitter, “like” Q-Racing on Facebook and visit www.aqharacing.com.