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Dedicated to Preserving the Versatile "Supreme Champion" Quarter Horse

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The Rise and Fall of the AQHA's 
Supreme Champion Award Program


Reprinted with permission from "The Supreme Report" ~ September 2003

We’ve all heard the expression “numbers don’t lie.” If that is true, then two numbers clearly speak a “world” of worrisome truth about the current state of the Quarter Horse industry and the threat it poses to the long-term welfare of the breed. 

In the 29-year history of the AQHA’s World Championship Show (1974 - 2002), that Association has crowned somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000World Champions” (86 of them at their 2002 World Show alone). When recently asked for the exact number of World Champions during that span, one AQHA official responded that “there were so many it would take quite a lot of time and research work to count them up.” However, it only took a moment for the same official to verify that since the AQHA initiated its Supreme Champion Award Program back in 1966, only 46 horses have proven themselves worthy of the highest honor that Association can bestow, the title of “Open Supreme Champion.”

Click to ciew his Supreme Champion story.

In August 1967 Kid Meyers (by Three Bars) became 
AQHA’s first Open Supreme Champion.

At first glance, the fact that there have been 46 Open Supremes in a 36 year span would seem to support the notion that the Award Program is alive and well. After all, the extraordinary criteria for earning an Open Supreme Championship make it arguably the most difficult achievement in all of sports. However, another pair of “numbers that don’t lie” tell a dramatically different story. They reveal that during the twelve years from 1967 to 1979, 44 horses earned their Supreme Championships. Since then only 2 have accomplished the feat.

Of course numbers alone, even painfully “honest” numbers, don’t tell the whole story behind the rise and fall of an Award Program intended to honor those outstanding horses, who above all others, best represent the ideal standard of the Quarter Horse breed as envisioned by the AQHA’s original founders. What they do tell us is that the classic “All-Around” Quarter Horse once so renowned for its combination of superior conformation, speed and unmatched versatility … that “one horse who could do it all” … that legendary horse whose well-deserved reputation set the Quarter Horse apart from every other breed … that horse is quietly going the way of the dinosaur.

Three Bars (TB) remains the All-Time leading Sire (4), Grandsire (12) 
and Great Grandsire (10) of AQHA Open Supreme Champions.

The Rise…

1966 proved to be an important year in AQHA history. Under the leadership of its newly elected President, J.L. Rhoades, and a team of forward-thinking Executive Officers comprised of Tom Finley, E.H. Honnen, Lee Berwick, L.M. Pearce, Bud Warren and Howard Linger, the Association set about addressing several issues of vital importance, not only to the Quarter Horse breeding industry, but to the long-term welfare and prosperity of the breed itself. However, it was their collective foresight and decisive action on two particular issues that would define their legacy.

The first issue for which the 1966 leadership should be remembered involved the long-simmering and highly controversial question of whether or not to allow the use of artificial insemination. Their formulation and passage of a compromise “on-site” A.I. rule broke new ground and laid the foundation for a subsequent A.I. rule that in 1997 would revolutionize the Quarter Horse breeding industry by allowing the use of shipped semen. 

That new A.I. rule gave stallion owners a much needed financial boost by providing them a practical way to market their stallions’ services nationally. It also proved a blessing to mare owners who, for the first time, could breed to just about any stallion they wanted without the considerable hazards and expense of shipping or hauling their mares all over the country. But more importantly, the new rule made it easier and less costly to selectively cross the right mares on the right studs to the improvement of the breed as a whole. 

The second part of their legacy stemmed from their creation of the Supreme Champion Award Program. To their lasting credit, the men of AQHA’s 1966 leadership team displayed the wisdom and foresight to look 20-30 years down the road and they correctly envisioned much of what has happened in our breeding industry today. They feared then what we should fear now … the progressive weakening of the breed certain to result from the proliferation of one-dimensional (event-specific) horses being selectively bred (and too often inbred) for the physical traits needed to dominate a single event. Their creation of the Supreme Champion Award Program clearly demonstrated their concern for the future health and welfare of the breed and their commitment to preserving the Quarter Horse’s well-deserved reputation as being the most versatile and useful horse of any breed. You don’t have to look any further than the history of the Supreme Champion Award Program itself to appreciate how justified their concerns were. 

The Fall…

Over the past 30 years the Quarter Horse industry has become highly specialized and compartmentalized to the point where the majority of today’s breeders have totally abandoned the “All-Around” horse and are selectively committed to producing the ultimate Reiner, Roper, Cutter, Pleasure or Halter horse, etc., and they are doing a heck of a job of it. In fact, they’re doing too good a job and that has accelerated the problem. However, in all fairness, breeders who want to stay in business and prosper have been forced to modify their breeding programs in response to market-driven pressures. They are producing top quality event-specific horses because that’s what folks are buying. 

Like every other businessman and businesswoman, today’s breeders are only responding to customer demands. They understand that when a man wants a big tub of hot buttered popcorn with lots of salt, and that’s all he wants, you’re not going to make a living trying to sell him boiled peanuts or a granola bar. And he doesn’t want to hear about the bad things all that butter and salt are going to do to his blood pressure and cholesterol level. He came to you for popcorn, not a sermon, and if you can’t give him what he wants there are plenty of other folks who can. It’s a serious dilemma for breeders and one that won’t easily be resolved.

The good news in this scenario is that the market for top quality “specialty” horses is quite strong. Equine Associations (AQHA, NCHA, NRHA, NRCHA, etc.) are all experiencing tremendous growth in membership and in participation at their ever-increasing number of shows both at home and overseas. That growth has not only increased the demand for promising 2 and 3-year- old prospects, it has also greatly expanded the re-sale market for proven older horses and that clearly benefits  everyone … the Associations, professional trainers and their clients, novice and die-hard amateur enthusiasts, and especially those older horses themselves who will continue receiving top quality care and love for many more years past their “Open Division” prime.

The down side to all this growth and to the demand for so many “event-specific” horses is that over the long term, we are greatly weakening the breed. In fact, there is irrefutable proof they we’ve already done considerable damage. Industry trade publications are filled with articles about (and expensive Madison Avenue-style ads promoting) reining horses who can’t run barrels, barrel horses who can’t cut a cow, cutters who can’t pleasure, pleasure horses who can’t run, runners who can’t halter and halter horses who can’t do anything. Those ads clearly tell us that everybody who is anybody or who wants to be somebody is busy scrambling to make money in their own “specialized” corner of the industry. Some will succeed and some will fail. Sadly, whoever wins today’s event-specific breeding wars … it won’t be the classic “All-Around” Quarter Horse who could do all  of those things. The ads tell us that his days are numbered!

Goldseeker Bud - the first Supreme Champion to be sired by a Supreme Champion.

In Nov. 1979 Goldseeker Bud (by Goldseeker Bars) became the first Supreme to be sired by a Supreme. He would also be the last stallion to earn the honor for nearly 19 years. 

Despite the Supreme attempt by AQHA’s 1966 leadership team to protect and perpetuate that Association’s legendary trademark Quarter Horse, a subsequent AQHA “brainchild” born in 1974 heralded the “All-Around” horse’s inevitable demise. That brainchild was named The World Championship Show

Unlike other major Associations, namely the NCHA and NRHA who annually crowned a series of “World Champions,” the AQHA was still only naming year-end “High Point” class winners. To make matters worse, those other Associations were also handing out ever-increasing fistfuls of cash, not points, to their class winners at every show throughout the year. And while there is an awful lot to be said for steadfast loyalty to one’s Association, horsemen were discovering that they could buy a lot more feed and hay with cash than they could with points … even prestigious AQHA points. 

Lucks EasyFanta Boy - the world's only living Supreme Champion Stallion

Lucks Easyfanta Boy (by Lucks Gay Chick out of a daughter of Easy Jet) is the world’s only living Open Supreme Champion stallion.


AQHA’s new World Show format was implemented to slow the rate at which its members were defecting to other Associations (and to lure previous defectors back) by offering AQHA competitors the best of all “worlds” … prestigious AQHA points, a cash incentive, and the coveted title of “World Champion” which would translate into even more cash in the breeding shed. That trifecta proved to be a winning ticket with breeders, trainers and owners and in 1974 the AQHA held its inaugural World Championship Show. 

The World Show concept was, at the time, a good idea and over the past 29 years has proven to be a great success. However, as is often the case, even the best-intentioned of ideas and programs sometime carry with them regrettable, even dire, unintended consequences. For all of its benefits to breeders, trainers and owners, the “World Show” also ushered in the era of the one-dimensional “specialty” horse whose arrival has since pushed that most “special” of horses onto the endangered species list. 

The Answer?

While the above referenced problem is indeed complex, the solution is not. For openers, keep the World Show. It’s extremely good for the Quarter Horse business and without a healthy Quarter Horse industry even those one-dimensional “specialty” horses would soon be out grazing with the “great ones.” Just tweak the format a little. Require Halter horses to perform under saddle in one of several selected events and require that they earn a predetermined minimum score in that performance event in order to qualify for the finals of their age and sex Halter division. The rationale behind this suggestion is quite simple. A horse who can’t “ride” up to that minimum level of performance expected of every other Quarter Horse doesn’t deserve to represent the breed as one of its “World Champions.” 

Another World Show “tweak” would be to require a separate Halter class for all “Superhorse” competitors. Also, given the initial success of its “Versatility Ranch Horse Class,” the AQHA should develop a similar “Versatility Show Horse Class” at their weekend grassroots shows. Think of it as the “Superhorse minor leagues.” Such a class would certainly be a win/win situation for local affiliates and competitors alike. It would also help to revive the breeding of “versatility” horses by opening up a new market to breeders who right now simply can’t afford to stop producing those “specialty” horses that are putting food on the table and paying their bills. In addition, the Association should work closely with its state affiliates to greatly extend the geographical locations where their Versatility Ranch Horse Class is offered. Case in point … for many years Florida has been among the top 3 or 4 beef cattle producing states in the nation and yet that state’s AQHA affiliate does not provide Florida ranchers a venue to exhibit and promote their quality working ranch stock. 

Finally, the AQHA needs to find a way to revive interest in, and to aggressively promote, their Supreme Champion Award Program. The title “Open Supreme Champion” is the highest honor the AQHA can bestow on any registered Quarter Horse and rightly so. The criteria established in 1966 for earning that title weren’t based on some “dime novelist’s” romantic notion about what the ideal Quarter Horse should be. They were based on what the real American Quarter Horse once was…“the one horse who could, and did, do it all.”

In 1966 the Quarter Horse Journal only cost 50 cents but the content between its covers was priceless. Ads and articles proudly extolled horses who were AAA on the track and Grand Champion at Halter. Back then “race horses” could also rope and roping horses cut cows. “All-Around Champion” cowboys were still riding “All-Around Champion” horses and the AQHA was proud to claim that versatile Quarter Horse as their Quarter Horse. But is he still their Quarter Horse? This time around it won’t be enough for them to just say so. Their legendary mascot is literally hanging on by his shoenails and it’s going to take bold and aggressive action on their part to save him. 

Does today’s AQHA leadership team possess the same degree of Supreme wisdom, foresight and commitment displayed by their 1966 counterparts? Time will surely tell. However, time is running out.

Addendum:

Since this article was written members of the AQHA’s Executive Board of Directors have taken two giant steps in the right direction. The first was their recent announcement to all judges of AQHA Western Pleasure classes of a new and highly significant “gait” rule designed to put forward motion back into the Western Pleasure Horse. They even went so far as to provide judges with a video tape which demonstrates the new gait and also explains how it should be scored. And to their credit, the Board has directed that the new gait rule is to be implemented immediately

Their second, and even more highly significant action, involves the formation of a special task force set up to study the need for a rule requiring Halter horses to (gasp, gulp, shudder) also perform under saddle.

These two bold initiatives rightly deserve the applause and support of Association members and non-members alike who share a deep and abiding love for the real American Quarter Horse. Hats off to AQHA’s 2003 leadership team for proving they, too, have the foresight, wisdom, and above all, the courage to act decisively when the welfare of the breed is at stake. 

Copyright (c) 2003. The Supreme Report. All Rights Reserved.


Related Reading:
Where Do Supreme Champions Come From?
Lucks EasyFanta Boy
... Supreme Effort,  Supreme Achievement  
Kid Meyers - the First Supreme Champion
What The Real American Quarter Horse Means To Me ~ P. Mattson 



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This page was last updated on Friday, March 08, 2013 at 12:11 AM