mare and foal standing in field
• Photo by Molly Montag

Appropriate or Over the Line: Online Debate Highlights Challenge of the Foal Name Game

When it comes to naming horses, there’s a fine line between a clever name that’s a humorous play on words and one that crosses the boundaries of good taste. Owners want something that’s unique, but they also need to get it approved by the appropriate breed registry.

Recently, a Minnesota breeder took to Facebook to express her frustration when a name she paid to reserve for a Western performance-bred American Quarter Horse foal — an offspring of $173,000-earning reined cow horse stallion Call Me Mitch — was denied by the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA).

Many asked why the proposed name — which the breeder said was Good Sum Mitch — didn’t pass muster when seemingly similar names had been allowed. The incident also sparked vigorous debate about what was appropriate and what was too politically correct.

The issue spawned hundreds of Facebook comments when the breeder said she was told by the AQHA registration staff that the association was going to revoke previously approved registrations for names that, in hindsight, were considered inappropriate. The AQHA told Quarter Horse News (QHN) that is not going to happen.

AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines said the organization has no plans to go back and revoke any horse registrations due to names. Additionally, he said the Amarillo, Texas-based registry’s rules for naming horses have not changed.

QHN recently spoke with Huffhines about some of the particulars of naming horses, including the process submissions go through and what AQHA employees are looking for as they evaluate proposed foal names. Here are a few takeaways from that conversation that may help breeders when it comes time to pick a name for that special new foal.

Why Names Are Reviewed

Employees at the AQHA review all name submissions with the goal of protecting the image and integrity of the breed, and to make sure a name does not inappropriately affect the value of the horse, Huffhines said.

Who Reviews Submissions

All name submissions are reviewed by members of the AQHA who work with the association’s registrations. Huffhines said any name that appears to be questionable is forwarded to the association’s head of registration, who then determines whether the name is appropriate.

Criteria Used For Reviewing Names

AQHA rule REG. 103 states very simply, “Each horse for which registration is applied must be given a name acceptable to AQHA.” Huffhines said there are other specific guidelines used regarding the number of characters, punctuation use and reuse of names.

  • Names of famous people or groups are not allowed without written consent. They can be used if they are spelled differently. (For example, “Paris Hillton” and “Stevie Rey Von” are acceptable. “Paris Hilton” and “Stevie Ray Vaughan” are NOT acceptable without written permission.)
  • The AQHA reserves the right to deny or ask for amendment of any name use, even after an electronic reservation has occurred.
  • Names should not include profanity or lewd connotations. This includes sound-alikes.
  • Questionable or close determinations are reviewed by an internal committee and sent to management for final approval.
  • Breeders can appeal name rejections by sending a letter to Huffhines.

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* This story was updated with additional information on May 22, 2019.