AQHA: State of the Association

Updates on the Association’s progress in 2023 from AQHA Chief Executive Officer, Karl Stressman.

As many of you know or have come to know, I am a horseman, and I take our business personally. This is an industry of passionate and dedicated people who take on these goals, objectives and duties as a way of life, not just a way to pass our time. We have another year under our belts and we are excited about the progress we made. Aside from the initiatives we shared for 2023, we made it a point to spend more time listening than talking. From working on improving the AQHA World Championship Show and focusing on our productivity while turning around your AQHA work, members spoke and we listened. Though we still have areas we are striving to improve, our staff, your Executive Committee, the AQHA Board of Directors, standing committees and council members are diligently working to improve our business every day.

We had some wins in 2023 and I would like to take a moment to share some highlights of the efforts made to improve AQHA. We are invested in this Association, and by working together for the good of all AQHA members and American Quarter Horse owners worldwide, we are on track to create a better future for members and our horse.

Our primary focus is to grow our plan of structuring the future of AQHA through the following initiatives:

  • Provide better tools for the staff to better support our members.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of our membership and increase participation in AQHA’s various programs – Horseback Riding Program, Professional Horsemen, Ranching Heritage programs and more.
  • Complete a comprehensive member survey to determine the demographics and desires of our membership.
  • Develop a multidiscipline educational series on animal welfare.

Here are some updates of how we progressed in 2023 and how we are set up for 2024.

Staff Tools

 Our first initiative was to improve tools for staff so they can better serve members and spend more time on the tasks that matter, your AQHA work. The goal was to create a positive environment that people wanted to work in, and to build on last year’s initiative of hiring top talent to fill positions within AQHA and be a choice employer in the Amarillo community and in the equine industry.

One key improvement on our tools is replacing the phone system. As we all know, answering your phone calls with a real person is one of if not the most important aspects of our business. Earlier this year we removed the automated component where a real person answers you and now, we are taking this one step further. The new phone system we are implementing will improve the overall functionality, reliability and user experience for both our staff and members while also saving on cost. This will allow you to reach a member of AQHA staff, whether they are working on-site at AQHA events or hard at it in the office.

We successfully implemented notable improvements such as upgrading the onsite break room to allow our staff to enjoy lunch without leaving the site, while fostering camaraderie among coworkers. Additionally, we have prioritized morale-boosting efforts, dedicating time to listen to longstanding staff members. Knowing why they stay helps us make decisions that encourages them to choose to remain part of our team serving our members.

Diverse Membership and AQHA Programs

 Our Association is as diverse as our beloved horse, with members and horses located around the world. With a variety of programs and disciplines to choose from, there is something for everyone at AQHA. A prime example of that diversity was our first-ever International AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenge. AQHA staff and leadership were onsite October 14-15 in Chihuahua, Mexico, to produce the inaugural International Ranching Heritage Challenge, as well as a variety of AQHA-approved classes, during the 2023 Expogan Chihuahua at Unión Ganadera Regional de Chihuahua.

There were nearly 80 entries representing 50 unique horses, seven of which were AQHA Ranching Heritage-bred. All classes were held during the slack of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit finals on October 14, with the top five finals in the heading, heeling and barrel racing being held during the rodeo performances on October 14 and 15. The well-attended event hosted more than 6,000 spectators over two-days. Miguel and Ana Laura Guerrero with Las Tunas Cattle Co. were our gracious hosts and facilitators for this event.

Working in conjunction with this, we also launched the inaugural Las Tunas International Ranching Scholarship, endowed by the Las Tunas Cattle Co. of Chihuahua, Mexico, at the American Quarter Horse Foundation. The goal of this scholarship is to secure the future of our industry by providing opportunities for students interested in ranching and the international community to pursue their education.

Member Survey

 Our goal for 2023 was to listen to our members, and one part of this is to conduct a comprehensive member survey. The survey will update our information on who our members are, where they are at in their journey with American Quarter Horses and what they want from their Association.

In the fall of 2023, the AQHA Marketing Team conducted a request for proposals looking for the right partner to complete the survey. After reviewing submissions, the team chose to partner with the Forward Group and are in the process of reviewing questions with plans to disseminate the survey in January 2024. The Forward Group was widely recommended by industry leaders, such as Zoetis, and the company has vast additional experience with surveys for other endemic companies and associations.

We are looking forward to sharing this survey with members in 2024 to see where we are and where we need to go next.

Animal Welfare Education

 Animal welfare is our top priority, pure and simple. Without the American Quarter Horse, we would not have an association, and we aim to preserve the welfare and integrity of the animal. Our focus this year was to build on animal welfare education and make it a point to drive home the importance of ensuring that the American Quarter Horse is treated humanely with dignity and respect, whether in our backyards or around the world.

To start the groundwork of education, we coordinated a segment to appear in each episode of “Let’s Talk AQHA,” the official podcast of the American Quarter Horse. This podcast segment gives industry professionals the opportunity to educate AQHA members and American Quarter Horse fans on the importance of the health and welfare of our horse. With guests such as AQHA Animal Welfare Commission Chairman Robin Frid; Past AQHA Animal Welfare Commission Chairwoman Lori Bucholz, who is now the newest member of the AQHA Executive Committee; and AQHA Director of Breed Integrity, Animal Welfare & Education Ward Stutz, listeners of “Let’s Talk AQHA” learn about best practices, rules and regulations, and how AQHA is laser-focused on preserving the wellbeing of the American Quarter Horse.

We intend to continue to build on animal welfare education and are working to publishing more of the work that the AQHA Animal Welfare Commission does year-round for the American Quarter Horse.

Final Thoughts on 2023

 Our initiatives are our primary focus, but we also had a few other wins that need highlighted:

  • Caught up the backlog of new registration applications so that they are processed within a few days of receiving them so long as they are received in good order. During the summer months, when a new application was received, it was processed within 24-48 hours.
  • Transfer backlog was also caught up and new transfers received were being processed within a few days in most cases so long as everything was received in order.
  • More than 10,000 aged transfers, which is work AQHA didn’t receive all requirements for initially and landed in a pending queue, were cleaned up.

As we approach the end of 2023, you still have the opportunity to make changes in your Association by submitting your rule-change proposal forms by December 31 and to also register for the 2024 AQHA Convention, which is March 15-18 at the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. That’s where members and the AQHA Board of Directors consider rule-change proposals.

Our offices will be closed December 25 and 26, as well as January 1, to allow employees to spend time with their families during the holidays.

We are excited for the new year and what it will bring for AQHA and the equine industry!

AQHA news and information is a service of the American Quarter Horse Association. For more information visit or tune into our Podcast, “Let’s Talk AQHA.”




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