From the Office of Craig Huffhines

Celebrating Increased Participation in AQHA Level 1 Championships

AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines celebrates exhibitor victories and a record-breaking year for the Level 1 Championships.

We are proud to be able to provide championship events that showcase our walk-trot, Rookie and Level 1 exhibitors! (Journal photo)

What a year it has been for the AQHA Level 1 Championships! At this point, three of the shows experienced increases in exhibitor numbers – a whopping 114 percent at the East Level 1, alone. And as entries are being tabulated for the Level 1 Cattle, it also appears we have doubled our exhibitor numbers at that event.

We made a couple of significant alterations to the shows this year: We moved the cattle events out of the Central Level 1 and combined them with the 2018 Zoetis AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships in June in Guthrie, Oklahoma; and the Nutrena East AQHA Level 1 Championships moved to the beautiful World Equestrian Center in Wilmington, Ohio, where it was the largest equine event the facility has ever hosted. You would think that moving the cattle classes out of the Central Level 1 would impact the exhibitor numbers, but that show’s numbers were still up. Increased exhibitor numbers can also be attributed to the AQHA Executive Committee’s decision to lift qualifying requirements for these shows.

Based on exhibitor request, the Central, West and East shows added walk-trot classes. AQHA began offering walk-trot classes in 2016 to give exhibitors – or their horses – yet another way to begin showing with AQHA. Kimbra Asqueta of Nampa, Idaho, is one of several exhibitors who entered walk-trot classes at the West Level 1. While Kimbra isn’t a newbie to showing, she had lost her confidence with a previous horse and finally found a new horse – A Certain Rockstar – whom she felt comfortable on.

“I have only had ‘Gibs’ a year,” Kimbra told the Journal. “I had come uncorked with my other horse, and I went and found something that’s quiet, and we’re back.”

AQHA Chief Show Officer Pete Kyle and his team report that they met a lot of first-timers at all three shows, which means that these shows are doing exactly what we set out to do with them: Bringing entry-level exhibitors into the AQHA family by providing a place for them to comfortably learn and show.

We saw the Jolstads – Jake and his mom, Julie – share a horse named Betta Believe It and sweep the youth and amateur Champion of Champion halter classes at the Central Level 1 in Oklahoma City.

Also at the Central Level 1, we met do-it-yourselfer Teresa Benes of Valparaiso, Nebraska, and her mare, Touch Of Little Lena, who have worked hard for some time and walked away with the wins in Level 1 amateur ranch riding and B&W Rookie amateur reining. They were also the reserve champions in Level 1 amateur reining.

“I’ve known her since she was a baby,” Teresa said of the mare. “Her mom was my 4-H horse, and I started her as a project horse for Nebraska 4-H. She’s quirky, but I like that about her.”

Teresa, 20, is already qualified for the 2018 Lucas Oil AQHA World Championship Show, which is another step we really like seeing our Level 1 competitors take.

Ocean Ballard is a DIY’er we met at the Nutrena East. Ocean and Designer Hank were the bronze champions in the Level 1 youth barrel racing. “Hank” was supposed to be Ocean’s dad’s horse, but he was so quiet that Craig Ballard decided the 2014 palomino gelding would be perfect as Ocean’s first colt-breaking project.

“I actually broke him from the ground up, so I’m happy he has done so good,” Ocean told the Journal. “He was really easy to break. He just picked up on everything I wanted him to do. He’s been really good for me. He just went in there and did it.”

Another success story is the $3,600 raised for the AQHA Professional Horsemen’s Crisis Fund during the Ride the Pattern clinics at all three shows. Many show attendees heard personal stories at the clinics from the AQHA Professional Horsemen who have been assisted by the crisis fund when they encountered a hardship.

We also paid out nearly $65,000 in jackpot money at all three shows combined, which made for some very happy exhibitors.

With record sales at the Nutrena East, there’s a lot of new AQHA-logoed merchandise hanging in closets, as at all three events our American Quarter Horse Store sold event jackets, T-shirts, hoodies and other logoed items.

As I mentioned earlier, we have merged the Level 1 cattle classes with the 2018 Zoetis VRH World in June, and we are excited to announce that we have more than 300 entries in youth and amateur Level 1 boxing, working cow horse, cutting, heading, heeling, breakaway roping, tie-down roping, and Rookie and Level 1 ranch riding. That’s double the entries we had for these classes at the 2017 Central Level 1.

But Level 1 competition doesn’t stop there. We’ve added three more open Level 1 (horse) stakes classes, also with added money, at the 2018 Lucas Oil AQHA World Championship Show. In addition to the open Level 1 western pleasure and hunter under saddle, exhibitors can now show eligible Level 1 horses in Level 1 ranch riding, trail and western riding stakes classes. Check out the tentative schedule at and verify your horse’s eligibility at

Thank you to our corporate and event sponsors, as well as our affiliates, because without their physical and financial help, we wouldn’t be able to put on these incredible events.

And a big thank you goes out to all of our members and spectators who attended the AQHA Level 1 Championships. We are proud to be able to provide championship events that showcase our walk-trot, Rookie and Level 1 exhibitors!