Animal Welfare

Learn more about AQHA's efforts to promote animal welfare.

Per AQHA's mission statement, every American Quarter Horse shall, at all times, be treated humanely and with dignity, respect and compassion.

AQHA's prohibition against inhumane treatment applies to AQHA members and non-members.

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Latest Animal Welfare News

It's imperative to AQHA that our members are informed quickly and accurately about the latest animal welfare issues. Visit regularly for news and updates, including animal welfare rule violators and the fines and penalties assessed to each violator.

How the Fines and Penalties Process Works

In accordance with the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules & Regulations, here are the actions taken when an individual violates the animal welfare or unsportsmanlike conduct rules at an AQHA event:

AQHA show fines and penalties

Should an exhibitor receive a warning card, learn the process to determine a final ruling for an inhumane treatment or unsportsmanlike conduct violation.

Animal Welfare Commission

Recognizing that animal welfare is the single most important issue facing the equine industry today, the AQHA Executive Committee created the Animal Welfare Commission in 2012. The Animal Welfare Commission serves as AQHA’s primary body for rules, policies and procedures related to all areas of animal welfare. In addition, the commission oversees the educational processes associated with AQHA officials responsible for animal welfare. The Animal Welfare Commission’s mission is to provide a framework for its members to 1.) identify issues negatively affecting the welfare of the American Quarter Horse, 2.) stay current on all animal welfare issues and 3.) recommend actions that will help to protect the American Quarter Horse from inhumane practices and AQHA and its members from the negative impacts associated with those practices. The AQHA Animal Welfare Commission, in an effort to do right by the horse, will share discussion, action items and recommendations with alliance partners. The commission reports directly to the Executive Committee, which evaluates all proposals in relation to the current state of the industry.

Additional Animal Welfare Initiatives:


AQHA may accept (1) an individual’s conviction, no contest plea, or deferred adjudication or (2) judicial confiscation of a horse under state, federal, provincial or international law, for an offense of cruelty to or inhumane treatment of a horse, whether or not an American Quarter Horse is involved, as a presumptive violation of this rule, the effect of which is to automatically suspend the individual from AQHA membership privileges, or deny such privileges, for a period of no less than two (2) years after AQHA receives notice of the conviction, no contest plea, deferred adjudication or judicial confiscation. After the expiration of the two-year suspension, the individual may apply for reinstatement. AQHA may also temporarily suspend an individual charged or indicted pursuant to state, federal, provincial or international law for an offense of cruelty or inhumane treatment of a horse, whether or not an American Quarter Horse. Such temporary suspension may remain in place pending the outcome of the legal proceedings made basis of the charge or indictment. (Rule VIO205)

Additionally, AQHA may accept suspension rulings pertaining to cruel or inhumane treatment of horses from other recognized equine related associations and state racing commissions and suspend the individual from AQHA membership privileges. (Rule VIO206)

AQHA Stewards

The stewards program was started by AQHA to develop a network of individuals to be advocates for the horse and help ensure fair competition. Stewards also help prevent inhumane practices and unsportsmanlike conduct at AQHA shows and events. The health and well being of the American Quarter Horse is our utmost concern and stewards help to ensure that. Stewards answer exhibitor questions about rules, identify and document inhumane treatment, evaluate any unsafe conditions regarding the show grounds, and guide others on acceptable training practices and equipment. AQHA stewards are trained and tested on AQHA’s rulebook, the stewards training manual, and their ability to handle difficult situations professionally. Most importantly, stewards help protect the breed, advance animal welfare and help ensure the integrity of the competition. The AQHA Animal Welfare Commission helps protect the horse by defining inhumane practices, outlining acceptable training equipment at any AQHA show and outlining a penalty system (Page 15-16 of the Showing section of the AQHA Rulebook) for individuals who violate the rules designed to protect the horse. 

Owner Responsibility

AQHA believes it’s the owner’s responsibility and, ultimately, their choice regarding decisions concerning the welfare of their horse(s). The Association encourages responsible ownership practices and management that will reduce the number of unwanted horses. Read the Unwanted Horse Coalition's booklet on responsible horse ownership. AQHA, along with the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association, recognizes that the processing of unwanted horses provides a humane euthanasia alternative for horses that might otherwise continue a life of discomfort and pain, or inadequate care or abandonment. AQHA has actively supported legislation to ensure the safe and humane transportation of horses that are bound for processing facilities and backed guidelines for how horses must be treated at the facilities. AQHA supports other choices for unwanted horses, including euthanasia by injection, life in an equine retirement facility, donation to a college or university, or other options.

Full Circle

AQHA is proud to provide a service to members that allows them to make decisions regarding horses they’ve owned, cared for or simply enjoyed watching in the past. AQHA members have the option to be notified should a horse they enroll in the Full Circle program ever become unwanted and need assistance. From there, the person who enrolled the horse can help make important decisions for the horse's future, whether it’s a retirement home or providing funds to help care for that horse

The theory behind Full Circle is to provide caring owners with the option to provide long-term care to horses they’ve bred or previously owned. There is no financial obligation. The options are numerous and it’s encouraged that the person who enrolled the horse work with the current owner to come up with the best plan for that horse’s future. 

Full circle is free to AQHA members.