AQHA examines horse show strenghts, weaknesses
It should come as no surprise that horse show numbers are down. The question is: What can be done to increase participation and to accommodate all ability levels?
Earlier this year, the American Quarter Horse Association Executive Committee appointed a task force to review and address AQHA’s show initiatives, with an eye toward increasing participation in AQHA-approved events.
“Based on anticipated recommendations and subsequent approvals, most especially from the AQHA Show Council, we expect to begin managing more closely the number and types of approved shows in 2011, with an approved leveling program tested and retested throughout 2011, with implementation in 2012,” said Tom Persechino, AQHA executive director of competition and breed integrity.
“In 2007, several demographic research projects identified three types of show participants: entry-level, mid-level and top-level,” Persechino said. “The research proved that the mid-level show participant is the most vulnerable, as these show enthusiasts seldom win classes, earn points or receive other forms of recognition. These mid-level show participants often leave us after sampling our approved shows, and we want to change that.”
With that information in mind, the Blue-Ribbon Task Force, which met in early September, evaluated:
• The numbers and types of shows;
• The opportunities and fairness of competition to include levels classes based on abilities of the horse and/or rider; and
• The quality and integrity of AQHA points.
The members of the task force represent the show industry and are stakeholders who understand the current situation and see the need to increase participation.
Based on the 2007 research, a “five-point plan” was implemented to address the decline in participation:
1. Solidify the top-end (known as “Blue Exhibitors”);
2. Enhance the long-term value for mid-level exhibitors (known as “Yellow Exhibitors”);
3. Provide an entry-level AQHA show venue;
4. Reinvigorate the youth division; and
5. Understand/support the growth and vitality of the horse training profession.
However, a downturn in the economy has hampered the overall success of these initiatives. The downward trend continues, especially in AQHA’s youth division. As a result, several show task forces have been assembled in the past year to discuss the following topics:
• Versatility ranch horse
• Introductory shows
• AQHA champions/performance halter
• Triple-judged/quadruple-judged shows
• Classifying shows
• English/over fences
• Show managers
• Stock show managers
In early July, the AQHA Executive Committee and staff met with more than 20 ranching representatives in Oklahoma City. Their talks focused on enhancing AQHA’s registration process; continuing to work with the various ranch horse competition groups – Ranch Horse Association of America, Stock Horse of Texas, National Versatility Ranch Horse Association, American Stock Horse Association – by exploring consistency in rules and possibly co-sanctioned events; and investigating the concept of a Ranching Heritage Breeder Program, which likely could be an extension of the AQHA Breeder Referral Program.
Later that same month, several stock show managers met with the Executive Committee. Discussion focused on the changing demographics of the stock show/state fair audience, which is typical of the changing demographics of horse industry enthusiasts. In previous years, spectators at stock shows and rodeos were “in tune” with agriculture-related events and had a knowledge of livestock events. Today’s audience strictly wants entertainment.
“Our hope is that from all of these meetings will come recommendations designed to increase participation in a logical, methodical way with stakeholder buy-in,” Persechino said.
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