The Arizona Quarter Horse Association (AZQHA) has taken a bold step to keep it positioned as an influential and innovative organization in the American Quarter Horse industry and created a CEO position, naming Doug Huls to take the reins.
The AZQHA has been run by a board of directors and numerous committees for decades. These hard-working volunteers put in countless hours, usually on top of their already busy schedules as successful business people and accomplished horsemen. The fact that the organization maintains an active schedule of events throughout the year and produces two world-class horse shows is a testament of their dedication and passion to this industry. The board acknowledged, however, that there is room to do more. A full time CEO can integrate the knowledge base of the committees, as well as administrate, coordinate and maximize their efforts. Huls believes his perspective brings a lot to the position.
“I think the judging, training, and involvement with horses I’ve had over the years brings a wealth of knowledge,” Huls said. “It allows me to understand what needs to be addressed to keep AZQHA a leading organization in the nation.”
Arizona is fortunate to have a rich history and tradition linked to horses. It is also the home base for many top training barns.
“The strength of the Quarter Horse industry in Arizona is huge,” Huls said. “We have some fantastic trainers in this state in the all-around field, rail and pattern events, trail, and, of course, cow horse, cutting, and reining. There are tremendous numbers of horses and quality individuals here – some of the best people you’ll ever meet.”
Though that ensures a solid membership of individuals involved in showing, Huls sees even greater potential to expand the AZQHA’s presence, citing the popularity of winter ropings, barrel racing and rodeos and the number of backyard horsemen in the state. He fully embraces the organization’s goal of supporting all horse-related events in the state as a way to encourage greater American Quarter Horse ownership and participation. Another important focus will be to expand non-competitive and recreational activities as a way to include more horse owners.
Huls grew up in Iowa as a kid with a passion for horses. His family didn’t own horses, but any time there was event anywhere around that had horses, he begged a ride from someone just so he could have some small involvement. That’s all it took. He was hooked. Huls saved $375 from shoveling driveways and raking leaves and barrowed another $375 from his mom – with interest – and bought his first horse when he was 12. His brother had a place with acreage where he kept it, and Huls rode his bike a few miles down a gravel road every day to take care of it. From those early days, he built one experience on top of another to forge a career centered around his passion.
After attending Iowa State for two years, Huls moved to Texas in 1985 and landed at El Centro ranch. He apprenticed with trainers there, and worked with greats such as Steve Heckaman and Tom Chown, building a solid reputation for hard work. After several years he moved on to Colorado, and eventually to Arizona in 1990. Huls built a busy and successful training operation, and became an American Quarter Horse Association judge in 1996.
In 2011, Huls took over producing the Arizona Sun Circuit, where his experience as an exhibitor, trainer and judge continue to influence every decision he makes. He views his transition from being inside the rings to behind the scenes as one that progressed naturally.
“I think having lived it – having hauled a full barn of amateurs, having shown in a wide range of events – helps me immensely to understand what the exhibitor is looking for,” Huls said.
He detailed that those expectations reach far beyond facilities and classes to include the scheduling, professional show staff, special events, parties, entertainment and the overall enjoyment of the entire show experience.
“I can’t tell you how many times something comes up and I look at it from the perspective of the exhibitor. I’ll think, ‘Well, I wouldn’t like it if the horse show was run like that!’ Or, ‘I wouldn’t like that schedule if I were showing there.’”
Huls’ guiding principal is to treat exhibitors the way that he wanted to be treated when he was showing.
“I want to make their show experience as smooth as possible,” he said.
He also is determined to make it fun. The abundance of things exhibitors can win is mind boggling – and one doesn’t always have to win the class to get a phenomenal prize. The Sun Circuit has a plethora of innovative giveaways that engage and entertain. Flat-screen televisions, electronics, embroidered jackets, custom hats, exquisite boots and gift certificates from the many vendors join the prize line of saddles, trophies and cash.
In 2013, the AZQHA took over the show dates of the Scottsdale Classic and, with Huls in charge, built a new show that targeted more novice and intermediate exhibitors. It inherited many traits of the Sun Circuit while not becoming intimidating. The Arizona Fall Championship quickly took its place as favored destination on show schedules. It is well known for its expansive line of tremendous awards for all levels, creative giveaways, and overall fun and welcoming atmosphere. The show has also fulfilled its mission of brining more Arizona exhibitors to a world-class show. Huls predicts a good future for the big shows with strong continued involvement.
“I think it’s equally important that we also have a number of introductory-level shows. We need places to bring the novices and Level 2 people along,” he added.
To that end, the AZQHA is working with the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Association to produce the EMO Western States Championship, to be held at the South Point Resort in Las Vegas from July 5 to July 10. This unique alliance was formed to promote the intermediate level exhibitor. As the event planner, Huls will oversee many of the logistical aspects of the show.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for the two state organizations to come together and promote Quarter Horses in the Western region,” he said.
The show offers competitors from states west of the Mississippi a stepping stone between the AQHA Level 1 Championship Shows and the AQHA Open, Amateur, Select and Youth World shows. A regular AQHA show will run over the same time, while Championship classes are by invitation after qualification in 2015.
The AZQHA’s mission extends beyond horse shows to promoting the interests of breeders and ranchers, honoring the past and supporting the future, as well as growing a range of activities. Huls will be working on expanding those goals and providing opportunities for clinics, education and special events. He also envisions developing greater relationships with other equestrian programs, such as Horses Help, high school Interscholastic Equestrian Association teams and collegiate teams. While the focus will remain on American Quarter Horses, Huls understands the benefits to increasing participation across all aspects of the equine industry. That mission has been a part of the Sun Circuit and Arizona Fall Championship shows already, where free clinics at both shows reach out to the horse community at large. Collegiate teams have descended on Scottsdale for competitions, and the Sun Circuit has hosted both Cowboy Mounted Shooting and Open Barrel Racing events, drawing many enthusiastic fans.
“So many people currently in the horse industry had it in their family, they were raised with horses,” Huls said. “We need more people who came into it like I did – going to those county fairs, horse shows and auctions as a kid.”
One way Huls encourages people to become involved is to volunteer at shows and events. “You never know what opportunity may come your way because of that involvement,” he said.
The AZQHA is moving forward as a team and an integral part of that team is Connie Hay. She has been the association’s secretary for 17 years, administering the daily needs of the members, promoting the youth association, maintaining show records and working behind the scenes to handle many aspects of the shows. She is well-known as the person who picks up the phone and solves a member’s problem. Hay will continue in those roles and assist Huls in fulfilling the AZQHA’s mission.
“Connie has been a tremendous asset to the team. Between the two of us, we can pool what we have learned over the years and capitalize on that knowledge to take AZQHA further,” Huls concluded.