Janet VanBebber Blog

Looking back at the AQHA convention.

Looking back at the AQHA convention.

Recently we completed a great AQHA convention in Jacksonville, Florida.

The Hyatt Regency provided a lovely venue with views overlooking the St. John River. There was lots of discussion on issues that are important to us. If you were among those in attendance, thank you for coming. If you weren’t, I wish you had been there. Know that everyone’s voice is important, and the best way to have an impact on our industry is to participate in these meetings.

Being in Jacksonville prompted me to remember my first convention in 1988 in San Diego. I was a guest of the connections of that year’s champion aged stallion, New Years Special. Despite being 30 years ago, I remember it well. I enjoyed sitting at the same table of J.E. Jumonville Jr. and his lovely wife, Bunny. Dripping in southern charm, Ms. Bunny bragged on her senator husband for the lovely gift he bestowed on her for her birthday. That gift, to my delight, was that he planted her a garden. Or, as she put it, a “gawden”… rolling off her tongue, each drawn out syllable seemed to drip in honey. 

This was an era when a walk down the backside at Los Alamitos would find tarps hung sporting the initials of Blane Schvaneveldt, Charley Bloomquist, Russell Harris, Denny Ekins, Dan Francisco, and so many more. I was in love with the racehorse business, and sitting at that San Diego gathering with the Quarter Horse elite, I was in my element.

Fast forward three decades. When I started this blog, I was sitting in an airport waiting to be joined by AQHA Past President Dr. Glenn Blodgett. The two of us travelled to Gulfstream Park where we took our seats at the board of directors meeting for the Racetrack Medication and Testing Consortium. What an honor it is for me to serve with this distinguished man. Yes, all these years later, I’m still in love with Quarter Horse racing. It’s because of this love that I hope and pray that I serve the membership well in my capacity as AQHA chief racing officer.

So, armed with my love for the industry, I embarked on the 2018 AQHA Convention to participate in meetings, assert my opinion when appropriate, facilitate constructive dialogue between opposing points of view, and ultimately serve at the will of the leadership. While our agendas were more elaborate – official details will be forthcoming – there were two main items I’d like to address in this personal blog.

First: Challenge reform. Based on events that have happened this year, we know that the Bank of America Racing Challenge has overpaid purses in recent years, and reform is needed to maintain the viability of the program. We’ve done a survey to give the membership an opportunity to express its desire for the shape such reform might take. The survey revealed that the membership wants to maintain the same format that the program has had since its inception 25 years ago. The AQHA Racing Committee supported the members’ wishes, and voted to do so.

However, there will be some adjustments necessary in moving forward to create financial stability. Mostly, we are looking at changes in the division of total revenue to sustain the format. More information will follow, but the modeling we are doing now shows great promise.

Second: the AQHA Awards Policy. In 2016, AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines announced that AQHA was suspending the Multiple Medication Violation System. In doing so, all related policies were also dropped. This action was taken because AQHA is not a regulatory body over racing – racing commissions are! However, as a breed registry, our Association does have the responsibility to uphold standards that protect the welfare of our horses, and the integrity of the racing industry.

After our champions announcements in January, the AQHA booth at Heritage Place was flooded with activity. There were members who stopped by to complain that we, as an Association, dropped the ball in protecting the integrity of the sport. There were also those who asserted that the year-end awards are about the horse, not the connections, and that the champions selection committee did well in abiding by the policy in place.

I encouraged each person who expressed either of the two opposing points of view to make sure their voice was heard. I told them it was imperative that they come to convention or, at the very least, send me an email articulating their opinion so I could share their perspective during the Race Committee meeting in Florida. I received no emails on this topic. Not one.

In short, changes regarding our criteria for awards were recommended by the racing committee and approved by the AQHA Board of Directors at convention. Now those changes are in the hands of the five-member AQHA Executive Committee, which will review those changes at its meeting in April. Full details will be released soon.

I can tell you this, the change implemented is a result of the people who showed up. There was a rule change proposal created by the AQHA Animal Welfare Commission, and brought before our racing committee meeting for review. The racing committee worked hard on modifications that weren’t quite as stringent as the initial draft. While the Animal Welfare Commission supersedes any standing committee’s authority, the commission was open to our modifications. The people there worked diligently to make changes that they believed will better our industry.

If you don’t agree, my advice to you: Show up.

In closing, I think we had a good convention. It was a lot of work, but it was also fun. Having the Bellamy Brothers as entertainment during the Foundation in Paradise Party brought a great vibe to the festivities. I appreciate the support my staff and I receive from many of you. We are looking forward to moving forward in the implementation of progress as directed by our members and our leadership.

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.