Voting opened today for the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) vice president, and Quarter Horse News asked the candidates about the biggest issues in cutting.
The NCHA announced in February it selected Skip Jones of Amarillo, Texas, and Ted Sokol of Seville, Florida, as its two vice-presidential nominees for the upcoming 2020-2021 term. The victor in this race will serve as president for the 2022-2023 term.
Voting closes May 10 at 11:59 p.m. and paper ballots must be received by that day. Ballots, which will be returned to and tallied by an outside firm, were distributed to both the mailing addresses and email addresses on file for all active NCHA members, the association said.
Quarter Horse News (QHN): How did you first become involved with cutting horses, and why do you choose to stay involved in the sport?
Skip Jones: In 1995, I was roping a little and my kids were showing halter horses and competing in 4-H and AQHA shows. We purchased some property with an indoor arena. The idea was to be able to keep our show horses fit and rope a little in the winter.
Right after we closed on the property, I got a call from a friend of mine telling me that they had a cutting scheduled at my arena and wanted to know if they could still have it. After being informed that they paid rent, I agreed. That one show hooked me for life.
While not actively showing, I still choose to stay involved because this sport has both the greatest people in the world and the most talented, amazing horses God ever made. I care what happens to the NCHA.
Ted Sokol: My first real introduction was while attending Tarleton State College, where I was able to ride my first cutting horse. Before giving my full attention to cutting, I showed in both the American Quarter Horse Association and National Reining Horse Association events.
I began to focus more on the cutting horse because I found it to be the most intellectual and exciting equine event. After years of being in the sport of cutting, my social circle has turned into lifelong friendships and a successful business.
QHN: How has your professional/business background prepared you to perform the duties of the NCHA vice president and, eventually, president?
Jones: For more than 35 years, I have operated a small business with up to 30 employees. I have seen the ups and downs of the economy and have been able to survive those changes.
I have experienced major changes within my industry that affect the very way we do business. I have learned to adjust as needed and to work with whoever is available to ensure the best outcome possible.
Couple this with my years serving the NCHA, and I feel that I have the background and experience to lead this association.
Sokol: In 1970-1972, I attended Tarleton State College for their two-year program in ranch management and agricultural business. I also attended the University of Connecticut, receiving a certificate in agriculture and natural resources equine reproduction and artificial insemination.
I have served as an NCHA director for 20 years and have also sat on the Trainers and Open Show committees for multiple years. I have been a member of the Florida Cutting Horse Association since 1986. During that time, I served as an officer for over 30 years and president for 12 of those years, in which, FCHA won the Affiliate of the Year during two of my terms as president.
I have served as an AQHA and NRHA judge, as well as NRHA national director. I believe the last 40 years of my experience of running a successful business and being involved in the equine industry on many different levels has prepared me for the job ahead.
QHN: Why are you running for vice president and why should NCHA members elect you?
Jones: I am running for the V.P. position because I care deeply about the NCHA. The association has helped me make friends from across the country and from all walks of life. It allows me to be involved with the most amazing equine athletes imaginable.
By serving the association, I am hopefully giving back for all the NCHA has given me. I should be considered for the position because I have the experience to provide effective leadership and am willing to devote the time necessary to perform the job. I currently work with the NCHA and will continue to work with our staff to help us grow and prosper.
Sokol: I wish to give back to the NCHA for the life it has given to me and my family. I believe that my background of running a business, helping affiliates achieve financial success, developing sponsors and dealing with special interest groups will help the NCHA grow stronger and help new generations to become involved, while never forgetting our cutting horse history and ranching heritage.
QHN: How would you like to see the NCHA’s newly hired executive director work with the Executive Committee to improve the association?
Jones: This should say, “How would you like to see the Executive Committee work with the executive director?” I would like for the Executive Committee to provide guidance in the overall vision and direction of the NCHA, tasking the executive director and staff with carrying out that vision.
The Executive Committee does not need to be involved in day-to-day operational decisions and needs to allow the executive director to run the office and direct the staff. The Executive Committee should give advice, when asked, and support our executive director in every way and whenever we are called on.
Sokol: From the time I was able to spend with the newly hired executive director, I feel he and the Executive Committee are working together diligently. However, I feel it is very important for our executive director to be involved and work closely with the Executive Committee when decisions are being made to ensure our governance is being enforced.
QHN: The NCHA’s governance has drawn criticism from some members in recent years. What is your stance on the governance structure currently in place and what changes, if any, do you believe are needed?
Jones: While I understand the criticism, I am not in favor of scrapping everything and starting over. Our current structure has worked in the past. I do think there are portions of the recently presented proposal that have merit.
We need to be clear that there is a difference between governance and governing. At different times and for different reasons, the NCHA officers and Executive Committee have been forced to take more action than their office called for in order to keep things afloat. Sometimes these actions turn into the norm rather than the exception.
Our current executive director is very capable of running the day-to-day operation. We need to give him some time before we make drastic changes. Here are some things that I feel will enhance our governance:
We need to explore the enhanced use of electronic voting. This is good for our membership.
I am all for the training of our officers and committee chairs. This doesn’t require a rule change, we just need to put it in action.
I think the number of directors we have is OK. I am afraid that if we cut our directors, it will lead to a radical reduction in attendance at our Convention and annual meeting. The most valuable part of the Convention is the exchange of thoughts and ideas from across the country. We need to enhance this, not limit it.
We need to establish the guidelines for a quorum at special meetings. Our members need a voice, but a small number of members should not be able to hijack the association.
These and other items need to come before our members as individual amendments, not as a package that is take it or leave it. Let’s let the NCHA membership decide if the at-large Executive Committee positions are needed, among other things.
Sokol: At this time, the committee is working hard to fine tune our governance. The consensus is to bring governance topics to the Convention, in hopes to simplify the accuracy of NCHA’s rules. I believe any changes to be made should be changes that streamline and update our bylaws.
QHN: The NCHA’s new leveling system is a hot-button issue in the industry. What is your opinion of the system and how would you like to see the NCHA proceed with it? Do you have other ideas for class structure within the association?
Jones: The leveling system, as approved by the NCHA, is the most heavily vetted program that has ever come out of our committee structure. I fully support this concept.
I think NCHA needs to embrace the concept and encourage our independent producers to use the system as designed. This will provide consistency throughout the industry. I do think time will tell us we need to tweak it in places. We need to be open-minded and let the events tell us what needs to happen.
I think there are additional things that can be introduced to enhance both the LAE [limited-age event] and weekend competitors’ experience. The proposed Regional Championship format is just one example.
Sokol: I feel as though there has always been leveling within the weekend shows through the current class structure, which has been a success. We need to maintain our three divisions of Open, Non-Pro and Amateur. I feel that NCHA needs to continue working on limited-age class structure, and allow show producers and affiliates to choose a leveling system that works best within their own region.
QHN: Building membership and increasing participation within the NCHA are important topics on the association’s agenda. What ideas do you have to address this issue?
Jones: We need to build membership from the affiliate level up.
I would like to see the judging/trainer clinics NCHA sponsored reinstated. I would like to use our staff, if possible, to help affiliates with sponsorship and member retention issues. Offer workshops at the Convention to share ideas for the promotion of the sport. Institute true entry-level classes at the weekend level for beginners. Look at the possibility of a horse lease program for the beginning cutter.
The biggest goal is to make it fun for the casual competitor.
Sokol: I would like to help the current leadership aid each region, area, affiliate and show producer to help with their individual and specific needs. I feel NCHA can work with these groups to provide ideas and information on how to produce events that will stimulate membership growth.
QHN: What is one innovative idea you would bring to the NCHA if elected?
Jones: I don’t know if it’s innovative or not, but I would like to push part of the 8% fee that NCHA collects from the weekend purse structure back to the affiliates that produce it to use for some of the programs I talked about above.
Sokol: I would like to work on increasing national sponsorships and corporate partners. With increased sponsorships, we can help affiliates produce more successful shows, help increase membership and showcase NCHA as a premier equine industry.
QHN: Do you believe the NCHA does an adequate job of addressing the needs of its membership overall, or do you feel the organization makes decisions that favor special interest groups (ex. aged event competitors, weekend-level participants, professionals, non-pros, amateurs, etc.)? If you feel a problem exists, how would you address it?
Jones: This is a hot topic across the country. Areas that are not “Texas” feel that they are not given the same consideration that “Texas” gets. While no organization is perfect, I have found from being on the Executive Committee that the association tries hard to be fair in its treatment of our members.
There is not an institutional bias toward any one group. I know that the Fort Worth events get the most press. While the NCHA is heavily dependent on these events for viability, we work hard to not lose sight of the weekend competitor and our members from the outlying regions and areas. While I don’t think there is a huge problem, I would still encourage our staff to interact with and help our affiliates and our members from across the country.
Sokol: I feel that with the new executive director and office staff currently in place, NCHA is headed in the right direction addressing its members’ needs overall and being more visible to its members than it has in the past.
Decisions being made in the past were not in favor of specific groups but rather hastily made, which would lead people to believe so. If we are able to simplify and solidify new governance, this would help eliminate this issue.
QHN: The NCHA continues to struggle with members’ perceptions. What ideas do you have to give the association’s members more peace of mind?
Jones: The only way to change perception is with facts. It is imperative that our organization use every means possible to convey correct information promptly on all subjects that concern our membership.
Sokol: I feel that regional directors need to stay in close contact with their area directors and affiliate members, thus allowing regional directors to bring issues directly to the EC [Executive Committee] so that NCHA will be able to help specific needs.
QHN: Do you feel the NCHA does an adequate job of disseminating information to its members and media outlets in a professional and timely manner? If you feel a problem exists, how would you address it?
Jones: The two questions above are heavily linked. Currently, we use the website, the Chatter and Facebook to try to communicate with the members. This still does not seem to be enough. We need to explore the use of ALL avenues of communication, such as texting and Twitter, to disseminate the correct information on any and all subjects. We need to be open to innovative ideas to communicate with our membership.
Sokol: I feel that NCHA needs to use the social media platform as often as possible to keep our members informed of NCHA agendas and news. Also, using this platform is a crucial marketing strategy to reach potential new members or sponsors. Technology should be at the forefront of the new vision for NCHA.
QHN: What have been the most positive changes you feel the association has made in the past few years, and why?
Jones: One big positive was when we changed the designation of our executive director to the CEO of the organization and the association president to the chairman of the board. This changes the duties of each office and gives the executive director the actual authority to run the association on a day-to-day basis.
On the competitive side, the biggest positive is the adoption of the leveling system. We will see a positive impact from this for years to come.
Sokol: Steps made to reorganize the office staff and the focus on hiring an executive director that will work diligently to grow NCHA.
Bronc Willoughby has upgraded our cattle selection, and we have seen an increase in entries at our Eastern and Western Nationals.
The Judges Forum hosted by Pete Fanning at the Eastern Nationals has been accepted well and gave membership answers to their questions, including the reorganization of the rulebook, such as the judges’ rules to be combined to one general section.
QHN: Are there any rules or policies you would like to see addressed in the future?
Jones: While not in favor of a wholesale change in our governance structure, I am in favor of an in-depth look at our rulebook. It can be confusing and hard to navigate.
The perfect time to do this is as we adopt some of the amendments that are coming. This doesn’t require rule changes, more in the line of clarification and order.
Sokol: I feel it is important to enforce the current rules and policies. However, I feel staying ahead of current affairs are imperative to allow leadership to make necessary decisions to protect NCHA and its future.
Candidates for Vice President: Background Info
Jones, 64, has spent a quarter of a century raising, training and showing cutting horses for the sport. Over the years, he’s compiled an Equi-Stat record of more than $206,000, stood a stallion to the public, employed full-time resident trainers and sent other horses out for training. Today, he breeds six to eight mares each year and rides most of his own horses himself.
Outside the arena, Jones has served the industry in many capacities. He is currently the NCHA’s Region 7 Executive Committee representative. He is also the show manager and producer of the West Texas Futurity, holding the office of president with the West Texas Cutting Horse Association since 2001.
Jones’ experience with the NCHA includes more than a decade as the Panhandle Cutting Horse Association president and work as a director from Area 11 for 20 years. He’s served on the Approved LAE/Show Producers, Non-Professional, Competition and Open Show committees, including three years as chairman of the Open Show Committee.
Jones owns and operates Firehawk Safety Systems Inc., a family-owned company that focuses on commercial fire alarm and fire suppression installation and service. The business started 52 years ago and has been under Jones’ownership for more than 30 of those years.
Jones and his wife, Elaine, have three children. Their oldest son is the operations manager for Firehawk Safety Systems. The family is also involved with bucking bulls and horses, traveling together to bull ridings around the country.
Sokol, 69, got his start in cutting 40 years ago and has worked as the owner, trainer and manager of Ted Sokol Cutting Horses for 34 years. His Equi-Stat record totals nearly $480,000.
Along with his work in the NCHA, Sokol has competed in the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) and American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), in which he has also judged professionally. He rides in the Open, but also trains an array of clients for Non-Pro, Amateur and Youth competition at every level.
Sokol was honored in 2019 as the recipient of the Zane Shulte Award, which recognizes those who exemplify integrity, service, values, respect of their peers, contribution to the industry and excellence in the arena. In addition to hauling non-pro, amateur and youth World champions, he has worked with several special needs groups, including the Wounded Warrior Project.
Sokol has held positions within the NCHA as a director and as a member of the Open Show, Professional Trainers and Youth committees. He has served as president, vice president and director for the Florida Cutting Horse Association (FCHA), and was once a director for the Georgia and South East cutting horse associations.
Sokol takes pride in having introduced several people to the sport of cutting, and then going on to haul them all the way to the NCHA World Finals. In 1999, he finished in the top 15 of the NCHA Open World standings with Playboys Dude. He has also trained horses that have advanced in all divisions of the finals at the NCHA Futurity.
Cutting runs deep in the Sokol family. Sokol’s wife, Kathy, served as an NCHA affiliate officer, secretary and videographer. His daughter Nikki was president of the National Youth Cutting Horse Association (NYCHA), is in the NYCHA Hall of Fame and is now a member of the NCHA Youth Committee. His daughter Jamie joined her sister in the NYCHA Hall of Fame, served as NYCHA secretary and is currently the president of the FCHA. Sokol also has three grandchildren.
When not cutting, the Sokol family enjoys professional bull riding events and spending time together.
NCHA President-elect Steve Norris of Colorado Springs, Colorado, will assume the responsibility of his presidency during the NCHA Convention, scheduled for May 29-31 in Fort Worth. Vice President Ora Diehl of Ruskin, Florida, will then become president-elect, at which time the winner of this year’s vice-presidential election will take on his new role.