South Dakota Quarter Horse Association Riding with the Times |

South Dakota Quarter Horse Association Riding with the Times

by Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
for Tri-State Livestock News
Left to right: Roy Yates, Larry Nylander, Wally Theil, Francis Knippling, Al Bagneschi, Bob Mechaley. Back row: Ray Sutton, Larry Schelle, Art Haines, Elaine Bjerke, Boyd Holtey, Jim Sutton, Bud Bjerke, Lawrence DeHaan. Courtesy photo.
1973 SDQHA Board of Directors

The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) was born over dinner conversation on a big Texas ranch in 1940. It’s since evolved into the “world’s largest equine breed registry and membership organization,” sharing “a passion for the American Quarter Horse and the vast lifestyle created by the world’s most popular horse.”

The new association spread northward slowly, finding horsemen of Dakota’s Great Plains quick to catch the wave. They introduced an AQHA halter class at the 1946 South Dakota State Fair at Huron, halter and performance classes at Rapid City in 1947, and Quarter Horse races in 1948 at South Dakota State Fair, Rapid City, Faith and Fort Pierre. South Dakota’s ecosystem is compatible with the Quarter Horse, and their first home-bred-and-raised AQHA Champion was Hull Roan, owned by the Roth brothers. Cutting was avidly promoted in those early years, and South Dakota is represented in that discipline at the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame by the late Don Strain and Little Tom W.

AQHA Honorary Vice President Georgia Sutton of Gettysburg, South Dakota, says the affiliate South Dakota Quarter Horse Association (SDQHA), was formed in 1948. Roy Houck was the first president and an awards banquet was held in 1949. Since then it’s grown like the bands of Quarter Horses roving the state’s rich grasslands, today including a dozen state directors, four national directors, two national directors emeritus, three national directors at large, and an AQHA honorary vice president. SDQHA is “…a non-profit organization dedicated to developing and providing beneficial services and opportunities for all horse enthusiasts,” with a goal of developing membership through “educational programs, recognition programs, recreational opportunities, the monitoring of equine public policy, the fostering of industry relations, and the marketing, promotion, and publicity of the American Quarter Horse.” To that end, SDQHA has about a hundred members, sponsored eight shows in 2016 and boasts a recent Youth national champion.

Current officers include president Amanda Dikoff, vice president Jodie Svennes, secretary/treasurer Jan Colton, youth advisors Becky Johnson and Dean Townsend, and point secretary Rosemary McCoy. State directors are Meagan Hardee, Dean Townsend, Amanda Coulter, Kerry Papendick, Becky Johnson, Heather Sutton, Penny Petersen, Kristen Gonsoir, Sheila Prins, Jodie Svennes, Amanda Dikoff and Meghan Peterson. Debbi Holmes, Janet Hansen, Jim Hunt and Dean Johnson serve as national directors.

Longtime breeder, trainer, exhibitor, and past SDQHA board member Patty Brunner of Brunner & Beauvais, LLC in Rapid City says, “Any association has to be flexible and meet the changing needs of the industry, which you see come in waves with one discipline popular, then another. There’s a world of competitions and special events now, that’s the current movement. Today Ranch Riding is tremendously popular; with rumors it may soon include cattle. Of course, the mother association AQHA designates approved events for affiliates.”

Brunner, who’s shown Quarter Horses since 1970, moved home to South Dakota in 1977 and says, “One of the best parts of being associated with horses is the people, the camaraderie you share with them.” SDQHA annually holds two or three AQHA Region 2 point events, co-approved for SDQHA points. Ever a “worker,” Patty co-chaired the Black Hills Summer Circuit (co-approved with the Center of the Nation Quarter Horse Association) three years ago.

The “fragmentation” of Quarter Horse performance into specialized niches like cutting, ranch rodeo, team roping, reining or barrel racing, many sprouting their own organizations, concerns longtime members like Georgia Sutton, who recalls “a base membership of around 300” in SDQHA’s early years. However, that very diversity may help attract more members.

SDQHA secretary/treasurer Jan Colton says, “South Dakota has a large number of registered Quarter Horses and AQHA members, with possibly less than half of them belonging to SDQHA. One of the things we’ve started to hopefully attract their membership is a Ranch Horse Challenge. We’re also sponsoring a horse sale and various other things through Central States Fair and the Black Hills Stock Show® – actually BHSS will have about two weeks of equine events in 2017.”

“It’s good for the industry,” Sutton concedes, “because owner/riders now have a lot more options than going to one weekend Quarter Horse show. The many more activities now available help increase the demand for horses outside the show camp, so fragmentation, when it creates cross-interaction instead of alienation, is not a bad thing for horse owners. It’s just hard for organizations to keep a stable membership base and enough operating funds to endure.”

“AQHA has done a good thing going back to the roots of Quarter Horses in ranching,” Georgia continues, “with cattle classes bringing people back. Just look at the World Show, I think around 110 entries in Ranch Riding and 44 or so in Reined Cow Horse!”

Those ranch roots were honored through SDQHA’s Ranching Heritage Challenge in Rapid City last June, with $15,000 added money plus jackpotted events. Only six affiliate organizations nationwide were privileged to offer Heritage events this year. AQHA National director and twice past-president of SDQHA Debbi Holmes of Virgil says, “I raise a lot of horses and there’s a lot to love about the SDQHA.” She especially appreciates the opportunity such events afford to showcase her horses to the rodeo contestant market. Debbi bred and raised AQHA 2010 Select Reserve World Champion Heading Horse Twoees Totem.

Another opportunity SDQHA offered horsemen and women last summer was a Boxing and Ranch Riding clinic with multiple AQHA Open and Reserve World Champion Team Wrangler member C.R. Bradley of Collinsville, Texas. Partially sponsored by Raymond Sutton Quarter Horses, the event was held at Central States Fairground in June.

Possibly the most avid promoter of the rodeo crossover is National Director Dean Johnson, who’s been busy judging some of the Reined Cowhorse competition recently incorporated into National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) approved events, including the Montana State Finals. He says, “The amount of excitement that event is generating in high school rodeo is phenomenal.”

Johnson also conducted clinics to inform NHSRA riders of rules, techniques and safety concerns explicit to that event, and says, “There is a huge following of youth within that organization that we have never tapped into, and I want to educate them about SDQHA. It’s not just ‘a show horse association.’ We labor to protect our horses and our industry, lobbying for things like health concerns and brand inspections; taking those on to the national level…I serve on the AQHA Show Committee and strive to present the bigger broader picture of what Quarter Horses are capable of. Beyond that, our AQHA affiliation offers a ton of opportunities for youth through scholarships and continuing education within the equine industry, literally worldwide. My goal is to introduce high school rodeo participants to the many rich opportunities membership in SDQHA and AQHA could open up to them.”

Johnson coached five Reined Cowhorse contestants into and through the South Dakota State High School Rodeo Finals last summer and was tremendously encouraged by their understanding and performance improvement. One went on to compete in the NHSFR and finish 13th out of hundreds. “I’m just lovin’ the way that’s goin’,” Johnson says, stressing the importance of versatility in the equine field by recalling two years he spent in the English discipline, riding hunter-jumpers, as “the most valuable thing I did in my career.”

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