From the Office of Craig Huffhines

Reflecting on My First Year

AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines shares some of the highlights of his first year as AQHA’s executive vice president.

The American Quarter Horse Association

AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines reflects on his first year at AQHA and the keystone issues he will be focusing on in the future.

April 1 marked my one-year anniversary in the saddle as your executive vice president. When I reflect back on the year we’ve had, it has been an incredibly humbling experience. It has also been the fastest-paced year I have ever experienced. With that said, I am a very competitive person, like many of you, and it makes me proud that we are assembling a high-level management team here at AQHA that is committed to continuous improvement. Yes, we have made a few mistakes along the way this year, but I’m proud that our crew is willing to learn from them. Our staff is also learning to think ahead, to work as a team and be proactive instead of reactive to industry challenges. Here are a few things I have learned about AQHA and our wonderful horse over the course of this year.

Industry Diversity: The diversity of our membership and the specialization of disciplines across the American Quarter Horse industry create resource challenges but also amazing opportunities. As a staff, we are continuing to evaluate how to deliver quality and value to each of these interests. Our horse’s diversity is a blessing that supports our economy in a way no other breed can claim.

Customer Service is King: Customer service is the key to good member relations. As I mentioned at the 2016 AQHA Convention, one of the most important focuses at AQHA is the development of a state-of-the-art computer system that accommodates our vast records, membership services, rules and awards programs. This project is the single-biggest and most important project AQHA is embarking on. It will determine the level of customer service we provide in the future. We must get this right. I want to personally thank all of you for your patience in this endeavor.

Training and Exhibiting to a Humane Standard: Your executive committee and staff have worked very hard in evaluating and training judges to send the right message in their placings. We have created extensive training programs for both judges and stewards. As it relates to AQHA shows, the animal welfare commission and judges committee agree that we are making excellent strides in addressing these issues. There has been some concern about training practices and how some of our disciplines present their horses in competition, but we're working together toward a positive solution.

Equine Youth Initiatives: Finally, I want to address an area that needs a great deal of attention in our coming year: the development of an equine youth initiative. Like all organized sports in America, our industry is experiencing a decline in youth involvement. Since 2006, AQHA has experienced a 26 percent decline in youth membership. We are also seeing a decline in youth competition. We, as an industry, should consider how to stimulate youth’s interest in riding for recreation or in competition, as well as educational opportunities that might expose them to the multitude of career paths this great industry affords. Professional growth should be our goal, and there are partners out there that we should identify to help us build on this mission. I want to challenge our organization this year to take a look at strategies other industries are engaging to attract and excite young people.

At the close of our 75th anniversary, I want to thank all AQHA members and fans of our industry for their support and encouragement of me and the AQHA team. This year, it has been a pleasure to learn from AQHA members of all walks of life and to experience their passion for this industry and this great horse. I look forward to working together to continue making this great American Quarter Horse industry the best it can be.

A few highlights from the past year:

  • Snap Krackle Pop – This incredible gray mare won the Farnam Superhorse Award at the 2015 Lucas Oil AQHA World Championship Show then went on to become the all-around junior high-point horse. She is a true breed ambassador!
  • Jess Good Candy – This massive sorrel stallion measuring 17 hands is a champion 2-year-old, a champion colt and an All American Futurity winner.
  • Sweet As Time – This sorrel mare is not just the AQHA-PRCA tie-down roping horse of the year, but also the 2015 AQHA senior tie-down roping world champion.
  • Heza Dasha Fire – The racing world champion Heza Dasha Fire and his relatives had a stellar past year. His half brother Ima Fearless Hero was the champion 2-year-old gelding. Both are out of Dasha Freda, who was named an AQHA Dam of Distinction. Heza Dasha Fire and Ima Fearless Hero won the Champion of Champions and the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity on the same weekend in December.
  • Mavericks concert at the World Show – We cut a rug for a good cause during the Lucas Oil World when the Mavericks played a live concert to benefit the American Quarter Horse Foundation.
  • Formation of the AQHA Ranching Committee – This committee debuted during the AQHA convention, satisfying a growing segment of our industry. Ranch riding was popular at the AQHA world shows, with senior ranch riding being the No. 1 class (120 entries) at the 2015 Lucas Oil World.
  • Two new AQHA magazines – We’ve laid exciting plans for our AQHA Media team, including new publications and a revamp of our flagship publication, The American Quarter Horse Journal.
  • Addition of the Farnam Central Level 1 Championships – I’m excited to be in Oklahoma City April 13-17 to take part in this fun and rewarding event for our Level 1 exhibitors.
  • 75th anniversary celebration – We met up with hundreds of wonderful horse people in Eminence, Missouri, for a celebration trail ride, complete with educational opportunities from our friends at the Certified Horsemanship Association, as well as an AQHA Trail Challenge.
  • AQHA Convention – AQHA staff successfully hosted an outstanding and educational AQHA convention in Las Vegas, with more than 1,100 in attendance. It was my honor to address the membership and discuss our bright future. Check out the complete convention coverage.
  • A Leveling in Memberships – AQHA Treasurer and Chief Operating Officer Trent Taylor reported at convention the great news that we are seeing a leveling of numbers for memberships, registrations and transfers, an indication that the industry is coming out of a 12-year recession.

My thanks again to everyone who supports AQHA’s efforts to make our industry the best it can be. If you have any suggestions or comments for AQHA or me, please visit My AQHA Idea or contact us online.