AQHA: Thoughts From the AQHA Executive Vice President on the Level 1 Championships
By AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines
Have you ever wondered, "Who makes AQHA's rules?" The answer is not anyone who works at AQHA Headquarters in Amarillo. Rules are proposed, discussed and passed by AQHA members. And any member can potentially change our Association.
We are proud to be governed by our members, and we are proud to affect changes that bring more value to AQHA membership and more involvement in our great industry.
Watch this video from the 2017 AQHA Convention for a great explanation of how AQHA governance works. The final step for most rule changes includes a review by the AQHA Executive Committee, which is made up of five member-elected, volunteer AQHA members.
There are several opinions regarding the Executive Committee’s most recent decision to eliminate qualifying point requirements for participating in the AQHA Level 1 Championships. Some have argued that it will reduce the prestige of the Level 1 Championships and others have stated that it will reduce the numbers of entries at regional and area qualifying events, both of which may be valid points.
However, long term, the ultimate goal of our entire industry is to invite new people into our equestrian world, which is a major overriding goal that went into the most recent Executive Committee decision. Quite frankly, a higher level of participation at the Level 1 Championships may drive up the prestige of the event. It’s hard to imagine that Level 1 exhibitors will not attend regional events in an effort to grow and get better in their discipline. Ultimately, the Executive Committee’s decision in this particular case was based on data and matching that data with the overall purpose of the Level 1 Championships.
Attracting new exhibitors into our AQHA competition family is a major goal of the organization. In the past decade, the entire equine industry has contracted by 40 percent and has only just recently started leveling out since the 2008 economic crash. Survey data among AQHA members clearly indicates that the cost of exhibiting is a major factor in the level of participation at shows. That cost forces exhibitors to make decisions on where and how often they compete. At the same time, the standards and expectations regarding the quality of show facilities have escalated dramatically over the past 10 years, driving up additional costs. This escalating cost to participate is grinding away at the entry opportunities for many Level 1 and Rookie exhibitors to participate. Declining numbers at an event, for whatever reason, simply exacerbate the cost challenge.
Again, I think it’s important to go back and think about why the Level 1 Championships were developed in the first place. The Level 1 Championships were designed to provide as comfortable of an environment as possible for entry-level competitors to compete, learn and grow within their discipline. It’s an invitation to participate at their level and have an enjoyable experience while doing so. Yes, getting your horse in front of 20 judges drives the quality of the Level 1 Championships up, and yes, it might make it more prestigious in the minds of some, but that has not been the ultimate goal of the Level 1 Championships. The goal has been to drive participation and attract new people in hopes of someday moving these exhibitors into the Level 2 and Level 3 realms.
The recent entry data for this spring’s Level 1 Championships clearly indicates that going back to the original qualifying requirement had a negative impact on Level 1 Championships entries. When the shows were moved from the fall of 2015 to the spring of 2016, the qualifying requirements were waived to accommodate that transition. Subsequently, entries went up significantly. This year, the Level 1 Championships went back to the 20-judge or top-10 placing at a regional championship as a requirement to qualify, and the entries declined by 167 (10.8 percent decline) at the West in Las Vegas, 204 (13 percent decline) at the Central in Oklahoma City and 1,136 (45.9 percent decline) at the East in Raleigh, North Carolina, from the previous year.
In the view of the Executive Committee, the qualifying system created a system contrary to the goal and intent of the Level 1 Championships, which is to be inclusive and inviting for our entry-level exhibitors and provide an exceptionally enjoyable learning experience that will lead them and their horse toward performing at their personal best.
With the move toward a more open format to attract more people, we also realize that the Level 1 Championships should be a place where exhibitors can be educated and realize value over and above the competition. Therefore, free clinics and educational opportunities have been and will continue to be a major part of these shows.
Your AQHA Executive Committee is hopeful that these decisions will add value to the Level 1 Championships and grow the numbers, both of which will attribute to a prestigious experience.
Again, these decisions are part of a bigger picture of an Association that is governed by and listening to our members. We are working hard each day to improve our programs and give members more value than ever before. We appreciate you joining us along this journey toward a better, stronger Association.