Don Treadway Jr.'s Convention Speech

Here is the AQHA Executive Vice President's speech from the 2014 AQHA Convention in New Orleans.

By AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway Jr.
The American Quarter Horse Journal
March 13, 2014

AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway Jr.

AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway Jr. addresses the AQHA membershiop at the Association's 2014 convention. (Credit: Journal)

I’m pleased to have the opportunity to give you my fifth report as AQHA’s executive vice president. It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since I had the privilege of taking over this post.

It is certainly true that time does fly and it’s been an interesting ride to say the least.

This past year … a very special thanks to Johne Dobbs, Johnny Trotter, George, Glenn and Sandy. AQHA is a huge family that extends to everyone in this room and those beyond. From the Johne Huber Dobbs clan – and what a great clan – to Johnny Trotter’s extended family associated with his businesses, to George and his immediate family, to his widespread extended family wishing him the best with his health issues.

To Dr. Blodgett, who I’ve now learned has consulted with AQHA members to improve their horses literally all over the world, and to our newest member Sandy – who may be a family of one – but the members she knows are her family, all with a passion of making AQHA a better Association.

And of course my family – who like your family – means the world to me; they are part of the AQHA family – not necessarily by choice, but like your families, are influential to keep me on track. I particularly want to thank Robbyn for everything she does.

Likewise, she and I thank you for having allowed me to work at AQHA. It’s been a great 39 years, and I’m looking forward to a couple more.

I want to take just a moment to reflect on some of the programs added to AQHA’s lineup these past five years. These include,

  • The Ranching Heritage Breeders program and the subsequent Ranching Heritage Challenge competitions for horses bred by our Ranching Heritage Breeders.,
  • The development of our in-house trophy, awards, printing and event service division of AQHA, Awards Recognition Concepts, or “ARC,” as we call it,
  • Two entirely new levels of competition within our three showing divisions: Rookie and Level 2 competition,
  • Trail Challenges have been added, 
  • There are soon to be new youth initiatives for our current youth members and a program to cultivate interest in the youth of today – so we have a future tomorrow,
  • Two new Novice Championships that have been enthusiastically supported – and a third Cattle Novice championship next month that we hope will be equally as successful,
  • A Latin American Championship,
  • Greatly enhanced social media platforms that help us deliver our messages to you,
  • A racing streaming product that is an industry leader,
  • The AQHA Animal Welfare Commission that is starting to make a real impact on how our horses are trained and exhibited,
  • And an entirely new class of competition, ranch horse pleasure, that in less than three years is a leading class at weekend shows and certainly at our world shows.

And the list continues.

While the years since 2009 have certainly been a financial challenge, due to declining core numbers, we have continued to bring innovative programs to the marketplace so members and owners have more opportunities to enjoy American Quarter Horses. 

In this same time, we have seen the way you and I do business change dramatically.

  • We’ve seen the near elimination of the FAX machine and home phone line – does anyone write checks anymore to pay monthly bills?
  • We’ve also seen an explosion in the various ways that news is shared with the world through Facebook, blogging, tweeting and Instagram.
  • And then, there’s use of smartphones as hand-held computers.

In these same five years, we have seen once thriving businesses shut their doors or merge with others and therefore go away.

  • Blockbuster retail stores have been replaced by video-on-demand services that are accessible through your TV – you don’t even have to leave your recliner to rent or buy a movie anymore!
  • Northwest, Continental and, soon, US Airways will have all merged with other airlines – and by the way – isn’t flying fun these days? I don’t remember the last time I had an empty seat beside me on an airplane.
  • You can refill a prescription, order a pizza, pay a bill, deposit a check to your online bank and make an appointment with your doctor all through “apps” on your smart device.

While these apps are somewhat anti-social, they are evidence of the instant-gratification society we now live in.

We are living in a world where technology – and people’s needs to keep up with that technology – have greatly changed the way in which we all live, work and relax. My hope is that you will work with your Association as we all look for ways to embrace the technology that’s available to us today.

When I accepted this position in 2009, the Executive Committee and I, identified six areas as the primary focus for AQHA for the upcoming months. It was and still is our association road map, if you will.

You may recall those six that I shared with you back at the 2010 convention, but here they are to refresh your memory and I think they are still quite relevant today:

  1. Ensure AQHA operations are profitable.
  2. Expand our marketing and membership service efforts if and when economically feasible.
  3. Increase opportunities for all horse owners.
  4. Lead the industry with humility and integrity.
  5. And – pay close attention in particular for our members and owners to AQHA’s infrastructure and governance.
  6. And, for our horses, focus on breed integrity and animal welfare.

To have gone the past five years without our road map, we might have lost our way.

Along our journey, we knew the economy likely would dip even further, but who would have thought the Great Recession would affect AQHA’s number of registrations, transfers and membership in such a drastic way.

Using registrations as an example, who would have projected back in 2009, that registrations would decline from a high of almost 161,000 in 2003, to 112,000 in 2009, to just over 74,000 registrations last year.

But, ladies and gentlemen we are not alone in this shift in core numbers. In 2003, the major breed registries – AQHA, Thoroughbred, Paints, Appaloosas, Arabians, Standardbreds and six others – as a group completed 323,000 new horse registrations.

Ten years later – all combined – the registrations for this same group totaled 144,000, a decrease of 56 percent, well over half.
The same holds true with transfers of ownership. Ten years ago, of all breeds that record transfers, the total was 308,000, and in 2013, it was less than 192,000.

There has been some encouraging news early this year, with the averages for the two major sales already conducted, such as Heritage Place’s Winter Sale and the Black Hills Stock Show sale, having been very strong, with mares leading the way as high sellers at both of these sales.

The people responsible for some of the largest breeding operations are also telling me they are on course for a record year of breeding outside mares.

To support this, we’ve had several last-minute cancellations to attend this convention from AQHA directors, who simply can’t get away from their breeding operations.

With these changing and uncertain economic times, AQHA has by far maintained a stronger foothold than most of the other major breeds. That’s not bragging – it’s the true mark of a management team – made up of owners, breeders, trainers and businessmen and -women – that works well together.

In fact, we have actually seen our market share of membership increase.

In 2003, equine breed association memberships totaled 610,000, while AQHA memberships totaled 347,911, which was a 57 percent market share.

In 2013, breed association memberships totaled 372,891, while AQHA memberships totaled 270,700, giving AQHA a 65 percent market share.

The good news is, we are getting a bigger piece of the pie.

The more challenging fact is that the pie has definitely become smaller.

Change is all around us.

Even television has changed. At home, I can get nearly 1,000 channels through Dish network – channels dedicated to food, sports, news, cartoons, history, soap operas, news, news and more news.

Unfortunately, most of what the media choose to report is only the bad news.

Kids cartoons are all animated. When we kid-sat our two grandkids – Avery, 20 months, and Connor, 4 1/2 – last month, all we saw were animated cartoons. It was nothing like when I was growing up.

And, if you really want to go back in time, remember when a lot of us baby boomers were preteens and teens, we couldn’t get away from the positive reinforcement of horses and cowboys and the American west.

I’ll bet you remember some of the great movies and TV shows like “The Lone Ranger,” “Bonanza,” “The Rifleman” and all the John Wayne Westerns. Those were fun times and I remember them well.

I know many of us played cowboy day in and day out. I certainly did, and gladly followed my dad to rodeos and race meets all over Kansas and Oklahoma.

So where is that reinforcement now?

Well, I don’t think Disney helped us any last year with “The Lone Ranger.” Did anybody enjoy seeing two hours of Johnny Depp with a dead bird on his head? We didn’t even see his horse until the very end of the movie!

So enough about what’s been happening and where we are today.

I think most of you in this room want to know where in the heck are we going?

As everyone says, the future of this great horse and this great Association rests with our youth.

As President Dobbs mentioned in her remarks, several board members repeatedly challenged the Executive Committee and staff to do something to attract youth to horses!

We listened.

Two of our initiatives targeted directly at youth are well on their way to reality. Take Me Riding, to get the young ones interested, and our new Online Stable to keep them involved.

Earlier, I pointed out the current lack of positive reinforcement with horses on movie screens and TV networks. That is what Take Me Riding is all about and that is why we are investing in technology to introduce our young children to the world of horses.

It is up to us to take the lead, as we can’t wait on television or movies to do it for us, like they did 45 years ago.

We are on track to have the initial phase of Take Me Riding fully functional by June of this year.

I know many of you have told me you wish we had some way to get our youngsters off of iPads. I think the better alternative is to get horses in front of them – on their level – utilizing the tools and gadgets that they are using. Take Me Riding will do this while encouraging them at every possible opportunity to get on the back of a horse.

And again, a huge thank you to Art and Catherine Nicholas for generously funding the start-up costs for this initiative.

We just received word yesterday that AQHA member Alice Walton will also be supporting our youth initiatives.

We hope many of you will join Art and Catherine and Alice in helping keep horses in front of our children.

I’m very pleased that in 2005, AQHA established the AQHA Recreational Activities Committee. Recreational riding has always been the primary reason people own and enjoy an American Quarter Horse and with the Recreational Activities Committee, we are now paying proper attention and are listening to this important, growing segment.

Thanks to the foresight of people like Bill Crouch, Bill Cassidy, Willard Nordick, Dave Nelson, Bill Horton, Cathette Plummer and Homer Stude – just to name a few – we have seen new programs offered such as AQHA Trail Challenges. The committee also monitors the horseback riding program to accommodate this growing number of enthusiasts.

Just recently, for the 20-year-old Horseback Riding Program, we’ve added new sponsors and new prizes. Nearly 300 HBR members have reached the 5,000-hour milestone since the program started in the early 1990s.

In 2013, we had 19,000 people enrolled in the Quarter Horse and all-breeds divisions. That is an all time record! Those 19,000 horse lovers rode a total of 492,425 hours in 2013, with 27 people reaching the 5,000-hour milestone.

A special “thank you” to the Recreational Activities Committee for ensuring this group has a voice at AQHA.

On the competitive front, AQHA continues to refine events and activities in the show arena.

The idea for leveling began three years ago, but was built on the 3.0 platform and when 3.0 didn’t work, we had to withdraw its full-scale launch. In the long run, I think most of the AQHA Blue-Ribbon Task Force, which developed leveling believes the delay ended up being a good thing.

There certainly were some unintended and unexpected consequences that needed attention and the Blue-Ribbon Task Force spent the better half of 2013 getting exhibitor feedback, rolling up their sleeves and correcting some of the things you told us you didn’t like, and that included some parts of the Novice rollback.

Again, we listened to our members.

Now, leveling is currently receiving excellent feedback from the increasing number of shows and the growing list of exhibitors who have experienced it – bug free. As we get more comfortable with those results and subsequent leaders lists, we expect to offer Level 2 industry wide sometime in the second quarter of 2014.

And, if everything goes smoothly, we will continue on a course to recognize Level 2 participation at all the world shows in 2015.

At the 2014 Novice Championships, there will be Rookie classes offered for AQHA’s core classes, and we expect that to bring in more entry-level riders to our shows.

And as I mentioned earlier, we added the 2014 Zoetis AQHA Cattle Novice Championship Show in April in Oklahoma City for all of our Level 1 cattle event exhibitors.

In late January, a strategic planning session for shows was held and during its meeting here, the AQHA Show and Professional Horsemen’s Committee will take a look at the initial recommendations. Specifics and more detail will be forthcoming on how we achieve those recommendations.

This will include a myriad of things: revitalizing the world shows, overhauling the Incentive Fund, communicating rule stability and working more closely with show managers, just to name a few areas identified in the first session.

While on the topic of show managers, these entities are entrusted with a great franchise when they are awarded AQHA shows. They are given a huge part of the brand that is the American Quarter Horse. Working more closely with them, and, candidly, holding them accountable for that franchise will be a high priority in the show strategic plan.

Clearly we must earn their trust, but they must earn ours as well.

Overall, combined show and special event entries dropped 1.2 percent from 942,643 to 930,498. And you may recall, 2012 was a record year for show entries. In 2013, there were 180 fewer shows held and 49 fewer special events. Overall for 2013, individual exhibitors were down 1,594 and individual horses shown were down 2,082.

We must reverse this decline.

Leveling, and direction for a “way forward” from the strategic planning of shows, hopefully, will put us on track to reverse these declines.

I will tell you, the Incentive Fund, a program that was once the shining star of the horse showing community, either needs significant overhauling in how it is structured or it needs to be replaced by a new program that is viable in today’s highly specialized market.

As a reminder, the Incentive Fund, which is going on its 30th year, has paid back a remarkable $73.2 million since its inception to breeders, owners and exhibitors of American Quarter Horses and is based on a financial model that is built on the health of the breeding industry.

In 2001, our top year for participation there were 3,436 stallions and 15,895 foals nominated. That number has continually decreased to the 2011 figures of 1,665 stallions and 6,137 foals. So, you can see our once “cash-cow for shows” is slowly going dry. But, again, we have made it a very high priority for 2014.

Now let’s move to racing.

Overall purses were down slightly more than 4 percent, even though the number of racetracks hosting Quarter Horse racing was relatively unchanged. Those tracks had nearly 4 percent fewer races for our breed. Handle on American Quarter Horse racing reached nearly $290 million, a 2 percent dip from 2012. This is in line with statistics our Thoroughbred friends have announced, while harness racing showed a slight increase with its core numbers in 2013.

But there were some encouraging, bright spots for our breed.

The major tracks in New Mexico, a hot-bed of American Quarter Horse racing and at Lone Star Park in the Dallas Metroplex, which is under new ownership and management, all showed increases in handle on their races last year.

In the Bank of America Racing Challenge, there were 3,201 enrollments last year, adding nearly $1.2 million dollars more to that program in foal nomination fees.

Our championship night at Los Alamitos Race Course – thanks to AQHA Honorary Vice President and track owner Dr. Ed Allred and his staff – was a great success, with more than $1.8 million wagered on the 11 Challenge races from all sources.

A major topic for not only AQHA, but for the entire horse industry, that is with us for now and most likely evermore, is animal welfare, which you will recall was an area we identified five years ago.

AQHA’s animal welfare initiatives are directly from you and for you – our judges, trainers, owners, breeders and exhibitors!

Our members have told us to pay more attention to this area, and we have listened.

I want to thank AQHA Animal Welfare Commission Chairman Jim Heird and all of the members of the Animal Welfare Commission for helping us be advocates for our horses and renewing the Association’s commitment to the welfare of these great athletes.

Taking proper care of our horses is something we should do because we want and choose to, not because we have to.

I will tell you we heard that in some instances, the Animal Welfare Commission moved “too quickly” and we did not properly communicate with exhibitors, which in some cases caused them to be confused or simply not understanding. We appreciate that feedback. We listened and we have visited with the Animal Welfare Commission about that, and we are taking steps to make sure when rules are changed that affect what you do at a show, we will take more time to properly convey those. Most importantly, we will make sure we are getting feedback from a wide cross section of trainers and exhibitors who are impacted by these changes.

I will also tell you I have heard we are moving too slowly, and I should act more like a dictator than an association executive. I prefer the approach that AQHA lead and have followers.

We cannot achieve anything unless we are united in our purpose.

It is no secret the process from reporting abuse at a show to the actual levying of fines, penalties or even suspension is a lengthy and somewhat frustrating process.

But you have my word, just as you have had it the past five years, when we hear the evidence and the evidence allows us, we will take action to punish those who abuse our horses.

In addressing animal welfare, I wanted to take just a minute to highlight AQHA’s drug testing program. Drug testing at AQHA shows is a nearly $1 million annual expense by the time you include testing that occurs at AQHA’s world shows, the cost to run the tests and pay for travel-related expenses of the technicians.

The system works because all exhibitors pay in to a random drug testing system that occurs across the country. As a result, last year, nearly 1,500 horses in 40 states were tested, which resulted in tests being made on 186 days.

For the first time last year, we conducted enhanced testing at several shows across the country where certain classes and more horses were tested. It was something the Executive Committee approved based on feedback we were receiving from some show managers about the program.

Out of all the horses tested, there were 35 positives, some were simply overages of permitted, therapeutic medications, and others were people using illegal drugs. I know the Animal Welfare Commission is committed to working with all of our alliance partners to help them bring a successful and sustainable drug testing program to their sport.

Our offer is humble and our hand is outstretched – we will help you in any way we can – it’s that important.

On the racing front, even though AQHA doesn’t control racing in states, we are making an impact with respect to individuals who, quite frankly, have tried to make a mockery of state racing commission testing programs. And, in doing so, are harming the integrity of a sport that already has a difficult enough time convincing people that it is fair and forthright.

Numerous meetings have been held between AQHA staff and leadership with track owners, racehorse owners, racing trainers, and even state governors, such as Gov. Martinez of New Mexico, to get everyone on the same page.

With collective input, that’s how we implemented the multiple medication violations system beginning January 1, 2014. The mission is to eradicate drugs from the racetrack by placing more responsibility on the owner – and we are well on our way – thanks to sub committees and task forces, like the racing Equine Health, Welfare, Integrity and Research Subcommittee, for leading the charge and for helping us with this initiative.

There are currently 30 trainers suspended by AQHA for drug violations. The list of trainers who have been sanctioned can be found on AQHA’s Racing Welfare and Medication page.

To use a quote our staff has been citing since last year – We are not, in the business, of defending bad behavior.

Let me repeat that!

We are not in the business of defending bad behavior.

We have much more work to do and we have to stay on top of this very important and very real animal welfare issue so no one else steps in to do it for us.

I believe we all agree we’d much rather see change come from within, rather than in the form of enforcement or even being dictated to us. And quite honestly, the rules are simple: don’t use illegal drugs.

Let’s talk about judges.

I’ve said this publicly many times during my five years in this position: AQHA has the best, most qualified judges anywhere. That much is abundantly clear. And from me, the staff and the Executive Committee, AQHA judges have our support when they judge ethically and by the rules.

But because we have the best, doesn’t mean we are perfect and can’t improve. That’s the goal of the recently approved recertification program.

Continuing education is a major part of almost every profession. And judging is no different.

The other program the judges committee is implementing is a feedback or monitoring system for our judges.

Under this system, the judges committee expects to learn a lot, and as with most AQHA programs, we are prepared to make enhancements based on what we learn and what our judges tell us.

If you have strong feelings about these two programs, and I know some of you do, make sure you attend the meetings of the judges committee.

Based on the assumption that we have a stronger possibility of thriving by uniting with fellow associations, we joined with the National Snaffle Bit and the American Paint Horse associations last December for a show summit.

During the Summit, there was consensus on several issues:

  • Being more proactive to improve animal welfare at our shows.
  • Addressing politics and perceptions in the show industry and demonstrating that the best exhibitor will win.
  • Getting the various association rules and scoring systems aligned to enhance consistency between specialized and all-around judges.

This is the first of what we hope will be many more collaborative efforts with other like associations. I hope you all agree, now more than ever, we must work together.

And, I take great pride that many of the leaders of our industry partners previously worked at AQHA:

  • National Reining Horse Association – Gary Carpenter, commissioner
  • National Cutting Horse Association – Jim Bret Campbell, executive director
  • American Paint Horse Association – Billy Smith, executive director
  • Western Horseman – Christine Hamilton, editor
  • Horse & Rider – Jennifer Barron-Paulson, editor

We have a great working relationship with these folks, as well as the leaders at other alliance partners, such as,

  • Dianne Eppers at the National Snaffle Bit Association,
  • AQHA Director and National Reining Cow Horse Association First Vice President Paul Bailey, who was quick to bring NRCHA’s new Executive Director Jay Winborn to Amarillo to start the conversations on how we can work together,
  • We have had meetings with Tim Finkenbinder and AQHA Director Luke Castle with the World Conformation Horse Association, exploring programs to help both our organizations. From one meeting came the idea for participation invitations for halter exhibitors at the world shows,
  • Dan Plaster and the other board members at the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association come to our world shows, getting their members to be members of AQHA, helping us in any way possible, like providing entertaining demonstrations of their events at our events.
  • Dave Wolfe at the Ranch Sorting National Championships supports and attends every world show, and his sons are regulars at AQHA’s world shows.
  • Kim Lindsey, Baru Spiller and Laurie Shelton are all stars with their American Quarter Horses at AQHA world shows and within Stock Horse of Texas organization. We are working closer than ever with SHOT to provide more ranch-based classes for our exhibitors and establish rules that are consistent.
  • And the partnership we have with David Foley and his team at the American Association of Equine Practitioners is invaluable when it comes to assisting us with medication, health and welfare issues.

My point is, going it alone is not an option. It gives me great pride in knowing that we can and will work together for all of our members … and for our horses!

A great example of like groups working together happened earlier this year. I thank Glenn Petty at the Arabian Horse Association and Jim Gagliano with the Jockey Club for leading the charge to get like groups to support AQHA with an amici brief to reverse the Federal district court’s judgment regarding cloning.

These are the other groups that joined them and paid for the amici brief out of their own coffers. The amici brief filed with the 5th circuit court of appeals here in New Orleans.

  • American Kennel Club
  • American Morgan Horse Association
  • American Paint Horse Association
  • Appaloosa Horse Club
  • Arabian Horse Association
  • The Cat Fanciers’ Association Inc.
  • The Jockey Club
  • Pinto Horse Association
  • U.S. Trotting Association

AQHA appreciates the support of these organizations and believes that the issues presented in the case are important to us all, especially when it comes to the right of our members, committees and boards to determine rules that govern our associations.

Not to dwell on the cloning appeal, but the plaintiffs filed their response to the appellate brief on February 27. Subsequently, AQHA has until March 20 to file our final rebuttal.

Typically, it will be approximately four months before oral arguments will be heard, following which it will be another two to three months before a final decision is rendered.

In the meantime, AQHA is not registering clones, as a result of the stay granted by Judge Mary Lou Robinson in Amarillo, until a decision is reached on the appeal.

We continue to listen to our members.

An example is the first-ever breed forum scheduled for Sunday afternoon being hosted by the AQHA Stud Book and Registration Committee. I know you will find it interesting and I hope you will participate. The time and location is on your Convention program.

Although we are in good financial shape, we must continue to reduce expenses while looking for ways to increase revenue. One way you can help is by ordering your trophies, awards, banners, printing, mailings and other like services through AQHA’s Awards Recognition Concepts. Our prices are very competitive, and by supporting ARC, you are supporting yourselves, as all profits stay with the Association and are reinvested in AQHA programs.

We are vigilantly looking at other resources that we hope to develop later this year.

As I wind down my fifth report to you, I want to remind you this job is all about teamwork. I am not a one-man show by any means, and in many cases, I am merely the messenger for a great team you have at AQHA. And there is nothing more satisfying than when we, as a team hit the mark, as we did according to AQHA Director Emeritus Don Clark, who submitted the original idea for ranch horse pleasure. Don was able to present awards for the open class at the 2014 AQHA World Show. He ended by saying that the class happened because of good work from the AQHA staff. I agree, Mr. Clark; AQHA has very dedicated and loyal staff. To each of you here and the 200 back in Amarillo: thank you.

To quote my friend Allyn Mann: “At this stage in our careers, what better place to be than one where we work hard every day, at something we enjoy doing, for people we really like to be around?”

We look forward to a great convention. We appreciate you having an interest in implementing effective change that will keep AQHA the leader and the American Quarter Horse as the world’s most popular horse.

Yes, it’s time to ride forward … with our friends representing the many breeds and associations and disciplines, with our family of corporate partners and with the entire extended equestrian family!

Let me close with this quote from Winston Churchill: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Ladies and gentlemen … let’s ride forward with optimism!

Find more 2014 AQHA Convention news at www.aqha.com/convention.