It happened at the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Snaffle Bit Futurity and the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity. It happened at the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Convention. It happened at the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Convention last year, and again at the NCHA Futurity. In each case, the associations paid tribute to the inductees – human and horse – to their respective halls of fame.
I admit, seeing the videos honoring inductees, hearing their stories and reading about them can be awfully inspiring. More than once, I’ve found myself humbled by the lives represented through the stories and pictures.
It’s also made me wonder just how a person, or horse, makes it into a hall of fame. As it turns out, the answer isn’t as cut-and-dried as you might think. Some associations require nominations, others have committees that develop recommendations and some are strictly performance-based.
Members nominate people and horses for the AQHA and NRHA halls of fame. Forms must be submitted by set deadlines (Dec. 1 for the AQHA; July 31 for the NRHA), committees screen nominees and recommendations are presented to the boards of directors.
The AQHA criteria states a person, either living or deceased, must have been a member of the AQHA and, “must have been outstanding over a period of years either as a breeder, competitor or contributor to the American Quarter Horse.” Horses, either Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred, must be deceased and “must have been outstanding for a period of years as a sire, dam, competitor or must have brought exceptional visibility to the American Quarter Horse.”
The NRHA’s selection procedure states that people are considered “with emphasis placed on their unselfish contribution to the Association rather than on their personal accomplishments. The horse should be selected based on the enjoyment and excitement they have provided competitors and spectators alike either through their own accomplishments or those of their offspring. The Hall of Fame Committee should bear in mind that membership in the Hall of Fame is a means of honoring the members whose efforts NRHA could not exist without, and is not intended to merely congratulate people for being successful competitors, breeders, etc. or to promote or publicize a particular bloodline for commercial gain, but rather to honor the contribution to the enjoyment and improvement of reining by outstanding individuals.”
The NCHA Members Hall of Fame also accepts nominations (by March 1 each year) and is based on a person’s contribution to the industry. The NCHA considers it the highest recognition it can bestow on a person “who has exhibited a high moral character, good sportsmanship, fairness, and an exemplary contribution of time, effort and interest in NCHA and its basic endeavors.”
The NCHA has three other halls of fame that are more cut-and-dried. Inductees earn their way into the horse, rider and non-pro halls of fame based solely on their performance in the show pen. This can result in a glut of inductees at one time, which some say diminishes the prestige of the award. The NRHA, by comparison, strongly recommends only one person be inducted each year, to keep the honor a prestigious one.
The NRCHA uses a selection committee to determine nominees for its hall of fame and hall of merit. Trainers and horses are generally placed in the hall of fame, while owners and non-pros who have made a significant impact on the association and industry are generally inducted into the hall of merit. People must be 60 or older and horses must be deceased.
Now that you have a cursory understanding of how each association fills its hall of fame, let me ask a question – is there a person or horse you think should be in a hall of fame who isn’t? The first one that comes to my mind is High Brow Cat. Because the NCHA’s Horse Hall of Fame is performance-based, High Brow Cat is not in the Hall of Fame, and he never will be.
I’m sure there are others who don’t meet the current requirements in the NCHA rule book: “Horse—Same as Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum awards; earnings requirement is $150,000 or total lifetime earnings of at least $400,000 in all recorded earnings or have won at least two (any combination) of the following eight major NCHA events: Futurity, Super Stakes (4-year-old), Derby, Super Stakes Classic (5/6-year-old), Summer Classic/Challenge (5/6-year-old), Breeders Derby, Breeders Classic/Challenge, and/or NCHA Open World Champion.”
Now, High Brow Cat could get inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame, but not until after he dies. In fact, of the top 10 all-time cutting sires, five are deceased: Smart Little Lena, Freckles Playboy, Peppy San Badger, Doc’s Hickory and Doc O’Lena. Only one – Doc’s Hickory – is not in the AQHA Hall of Fame. The five who are living – High Brow Cat, Dual Pep, Dual Rey, Peptoboonsmal and CD Olena – will have their only chance at a hall of fame placement posthumously.
Of the top 10 all-time leading reining sires, three – Gallo Del Cielo (Rooster), Lil Ruf Peppy and Smart Like Juice – are not in the Hall of Fame. The NRHA’s stipulation not to induct stallions to promote or publicize a particular bloodline for commercial gain guarantees that nominations of stallions are carefully scrutinized for worthiness rather than breeding barn popularity.
Only one of the top 10 all-time leading reined cow horse sires is in the NRCHA Hall of Fame, and none of the top 10 all-time money-earning horses have been inducted. Many of the hall of fame cow horses, however, are horses that excelled in the early years of the sport, when money may not have been high but performance was valued and is remembered.
At the end of the day, there are probably horses and people that are deserving that may never meet the hall of fame criteria of any given association, which is, in many ways, a shame. Honoring those who have contributed to our industry is important so we can remember where we started, how far we’ve come and who helped us get here. On that sad day when High Brow Cat does die, I imagine his AQHA Hall of Fame nomination will be easily written and unanimously approved, and some day, I’ll get to watch another tribute video that humbles me and makes me grateful for the people and horses who have made the Western performance horse industry such a great place to be.