What Is A Non-Pro?

For years, it’s been one of the hardest definitions for equine associations to answer: What is a non-pro? For some associations, a second question makes the answers doubly tough: What is an amateur? Definitions have been defined and redefined based on money earnings, points and career status.

If you show in American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA)-approved shows, you can obtain amateur status if you meet the following requirements, as stated on the AQHA’s website. “You may obtain an amateur membership if you have not shown, judged, trained or assisted in training a horse (whether or not a registered American Quarter Horse) for remuneration, monetary or otherwise, either directly or indirectly, nor received remuneration for instructing another person in riding, driving, training or showing a horse for five calendar years previous to application for amateur membership.” The AQHA calls this their “non-pro” showing division.

The water gets murkier if you want to show at a National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA)-sanctioned show. The NCHA recognizes both non-pros and amateurs, with specific and detailed monetary guidelines for each. Last year, they created the Unlimited Amateur class, to accommodate those folks who prefer to remain in the Amateur ranks and not advance to the Non-Pro, regardless of money earnings.

One of the NCHA’s biggest controversies regarding their non-pro rules has been the ability of a trainer’s spouse and children to show in the Non-Pro. Some believe trainers’ spouses and children have an unfair advantage when it comes to horseflesh, coaching, training and talent. It is an argument that crosses disciplines, as well.

But, for the reining industry, the biggest controversy this year has revolved around the National Reining Horse Association’s (NRHA) proposal to allow English trainers to show in NRHA non-pro classes. Currently, the NRHA’s definition of a non-pro states the applicant “has not received direct (money) or indirect (goods or services) remuneration for: (1) Training astride or showing astride in any equine discipline.” The proposed rule amendment will change that definition to read: “(1) Training astride or showing astride in any Western equine discipline.”

The rule change would allow professional horse trainers in any English discipline – dressage, hunters, jumpers, eventing, hunter under saddle, etc. – to qualify for non-pro status with the NRHA. I am sure there is a logical reason behind the proposed rule change. Maybe if trainers in other disciplines get involved in reining, they will bring their clientele with them. But as a non-pro/amateur myself, I’m not sure I agree with the proposal.

If I went out and bought a reiner today, I would qualify for the Non-Pro division. Actually, I’d be showing in the Green As Grass class, which is fine with me, that’s where I belong. I’ve ridden horses my whole life. I’ve shown, off and on, in AQHA, open shows and even a hunter show, once. But I’ve never shown a reiner. In many ways, I would be your typical beginning non-pro.

My best friend trains hunter/jumpers. She trains horses and coaches riders every day of her life. She shows competitively on the English circuit in California. There is no question, she is a much better rider than I could ever hope to be. Yet were the NRHA’s proposed rule change to pass, I would have to show against her in the Non-Pro division.

Out of curiosity, I asked her what she thought of that. Her first response was one of shock. “Don’t they already have a Rookie Professional class?” she asked. Yes, I said, they do. We talked about it some more, but in the end, her reaction was exactly as I had thought it would be. A professional trainer, she said, should never, ever be competing against a non-pro, no matter what the discipline.

And I have to admit, I tend to agree with her. If she and I were to both go out and buy reiners today, even if they were comparable horses, I have no doubt she would beat me in every class we entered, every single time. Why? Because she rides horses for a living, seven days a week. I would be lucky to take a lesson with a trainer once a week, and ride maybe once more as my work schedule allows. Her feel, timing, reactions and instincts are all better than mine, because riding horses is how she puts food on the table.

My friend related a story that put everything in even more perspective. A colleague of hers trains reined cow horses on the West Coast. During one visit, she put him in a dressage saddle on a high-powered Fresian. He was, she admitted, out of his element. But even then, she knew he could handle the situation. She knew he would be able to figure things out because of his expertise as a trainer. Tell him the right buttons to push and he would be performing dressage moves in no time. 

If I were to start showing horses again, I would choose a discipline where I could have fun and stand a decent chance of winning. After all, that’s why we show horses in the first place – to have fun and, hopefully, win.

The NRHA has done a fabulous job of bringing new people on board with the Green As Grass program and the Rookie Professional class. Let’s not blur the lines by expecting non-pros to compete against professional trainers of any discipline.