American Horse Council Honors Four Champions of the Industry

The American Horse Council (AHC) will honor the equine industry’s brightest leaders at its annual meeting and national issues forum on June 5, 2023. The conference will be held in Denver, Colorado. Four champions of the industry will be awarded with the presentations of the Van Ness Award, the Hickey Award, the Rolapp Award, the AHC Champion Award and United Horse Coalition’s Unity Award.

The Van Ness Award is named in honor of the late Marjorie Van Ness of New Jersey, a long-time leader and friend to the horse industry. The award is presented to an individual that best emulates the dedication and commitment of Van Ness to the improvement of the horse industry at the state level.

The 2023 Van Ness Award winner is Chelsie Huseman, Ph.D., assistant professor and extension horse specialist in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University. Dr. Huseman has served the school and equine industry in many capacities, and her talents have been utilized on the state, national and international level on all fronts, including academia and industry.

The Hickey Award is named in honor of past AHC President James J. Hickey Jr., who served AHC from 1993 to 2016. This award is presented to an individual who has been a great supporter of the horse industry and the AHC.

The 2023 Hickey Award winner is Jerry Black, DVM, whose contributions cover a host of organizations, including the Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, National Cutting Horse Association, and California Veterinary Medical Association. He served as president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) in 2021 and was AHC Board Chairman from 2016 – 2019.

The Rolapp Award is presented in honor of the late Rich Rolapp, who was President of the AHC from 1974 to 1993. This award is presented to a member of Congress who has been a great supporter of the horse industry.

The 2023 Rolapp Award winner is bittersweet because we are presenting the award posthumously to Representative Jackie Walorski, who died last year as the result of a traffic accident on August 3. As a member of Congress, Walorski was the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support. It was from that position, Representative Walorski threw lifelines from Congress to families, farms and small businesses. She promoted legislation to extend the Paycheck Protection Program safety net, advocated for tax relief and promoted improvements to quality of life in rural communities through better access for health care, broadband and education.

The AHC Champion Award is presented to the AHC member (individual or group/association) that has demonstrated extensive and exemplary advocacy for the industry and the AHC.

The 2023 AHC Champion Award winner is Gary Carpenter. Throughout his career, Carpenter served within multiple aspects of the equine industry, including 10 years as executive director of the AAEP, as well as executive positions with The Jockey Club, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and the Arabian Horse Trust. Carpenter is past chair of the Horse Show Committee for the AHC and has previously served as a member of the council’s Government Affairs Advisory Committee and Animal Welfare Committee. It was recently announced that at the end of this year, Carpenter will be retiring from his tenure as Commissioner of the National Reining Horse Association.

New to the award lineup this year is the UHC Unity Award, which recognizes an individual (or organization) that has taken initiative to be involved in, and work towards, programs that promote responsible ownership and breeding, and/or programs that support horses at-risk or in transition and their owners.

The inaugural UHC Unity Award winner is Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Woodbine, Maryland. Days End Farm embodies the spirit of the unity that UHC seeks within the equine industry towards helping at-risk horses and their owners. Through their Maryland Equine Transition Service (METS), Days End Farm provides a perfect example of an owner assistance program that utilizes an all-hands approach within the industry to ensure that owners can find responsible options and assistance programs when in need.

The National Reining Horse Association is not responsible for the information contained in this press release. Please contact the author or submitting organization for further information, requests, or questions.

NRHA Hires Billy Smith as Next Commissioner

Following the announcement of current NRHA Commissioner Gary Carpenter’s retirement at the end of the year, NRHA has hired Billy Smith as his replacement to lead the association.

“We are thrilled to bring Billy on to take over the reins in the wake of Gary’s retirement”, said NRHA President Mark Blake. “I want to thank Jim Harlan and his team at MJM Global Search, Inc. as well as the official search committee, for all their hard work. I believe we have found the best possible individual to take over and help continue to move the association forward.”

Smith, who is stepping down as the Executive Director of the American Paint Horse Association (APHA), boasts a well-rounded resume of education and decades-long industry experience, including tenured positions at the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA).

During his time at APHA, the world’s second-largest breed association, Smith spearheaded several key initiatives, including the creation of the award-winning CHROME publication and overseeing a successful relocation of the headquarters to the Fort Worth Stockyards.

His extensive information and technology experience proved essential in the creation of the first-ever equine show judge, exhibitor, and trainer educational platform, HorseIQ.

Additionally, under his leadership, the American Paint Horse Association Junior Paint Horse Association World Championship Show was founded as an all-scholarship youth breed equine championship, achieving $1.5 million in funding.

The Chrome Cash Incentive, a program designed to directly impact Paint horses in western performance horse events, has garnished massive appeal under Smith’s direction. It was recently expanded to include even more traditional all-around events.

“NRHA is fortunate to have attracted a leader of the caliber of Billy Smith. I have known Billy for years, and he has always been an innovator, and I know he will bring that creativity, passion, and strategic thinking to NRHA. We have so many great opportunities at hand, and he is absolutely the right person to capitalize on them. I know I am leaving NRHA in capable hands. I look forward to seeing what he does for the association and industry,” said current Commissioner Carpenter.

Smith will begin work alongside Carpenter next month to ensure a smooth transition of power.

“Nothing is harder than leaving an organization you love unless it’s going to an organization you know you’ll grow to love. APHA has emerged as a leader in innovation, and I hope to carry that spirit to NRHA and honor the great work launched by Gary Carpenter,” said Billy Smith.

Taylor Sheridan Named NCEA 2023 Ring of Honor Recipient

Taylor Sheridan, writer and producer, of the Paramount Network’s hit series “Yellowstone,” “1883,” and many other movies and series, has been named the 2023 recipient of the National Collegiate Equestrian Association’s (NCEA) Ring of Honor.

Annually selected by the National Advisory Board for the NCEA, this award recognizes those individuals who have a major impact in sports or business, with a legacy of service, leadership and achievement.

Sheridan’s ability to mainstream equestrian sport into homes around the world has raised awareness and interest, to a new level, for the western sport and lifestyle.

The Ring of Honor event will be held May 18, 2023 at the River Ranch Stockyards in Fort Worth. For event information, tickets, and sponsorship opportunities visit here.

The NCEA is committed to expanding opportunities for young women to compete as student athletes in NCAA competition.

The National Reining Horse Association is not responsible for the information contained in this press release. Please contact the author or submitting organization for further information, requests, or questions.

University of Findlay, Midway University and Black Hawk College Teams Top the IHSA Western Semi-Finals, Sponsored by NRHA

Teams and individuals qualify for the IHSA National Championship Horse Show in Lexington.

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Gladys, Va.– March 22, 2023 – The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) held its Western Semi-Finals, sponsored by the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), March 18-19. Hosting the events were the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio, hosted by Western Area 61, Mississippi State University, hosted by Western Area 52, and at Grand Oaks, Florida, hosted by Western Area 50. Western Semi-Finals is the qualifying event to determine which Western teams and individuals will compete at the IHSA National Championship Horse Show in the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, May 4-7.

From each Semi-Finals, the top-four individuals per division and the top-four teams advance to Nationals. In previous years, the top-three teams qualified, but new this year, the top-four teams from each will comprise the top-12. Alumni Athletes placing first through fourth qualify for the Alumni Tournament of Champions to be held at the USET Foundation headquarters at Gladstone, New Jersey, May 21.

Semi-Finals Hosted by the University of Findlay
At Semi-Finals hosted by the University of Findlay, the host team, coached by Spencer Zimmerman, clinched the overall team win with 40 points. Ohio State University (Columbus), coached by Abbie Noble, took the second spot with 32 points. The Lori Jaixen-led University of Nebraska-Lincoln squad was third with 22 points and SUNY Morrisville was fourth with 18 points. All top-four teams are National Championship-bound. Gretchen Mathes and Charlene Carter officiated the Ohio Semi-Finals.

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The University of Findlay team won their hosted Western Semi-Finals. Photo courtesy of the University of Findlay team.

The University of Findlay won the trophy and Western team honors in 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2018 and 2019. In 2022, individuals qualified but the Findlay team did not qualify to contest their 2019 championship at Nationals (the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancelation of the 2020 and 2021 Nationals). This Semi-Finals win shows that they are back in a big way.  

“Our riders were prepared,” Zimmerman said. “They’ve been working hard. They always work hard. Unfortunate things happened that kept us back last year. But this year we put all the pieces together at the right time and it worked out for us.”

Zimmerman said that his students put in so much time to host the show, getting the facility and the horses ready. They were pleased with the response from the visiting schools.

“Our home program, all of our team of coaches and support system, the students that aren’t on the team, parents ¬– everybody plays an important role,” Zimmerman said. “We couldn’t do all of it without their support. It’s a team effort.”

In NRHA Individual Reining, the judges’ top pick was Sarah Eberspacher, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The second-place prize went to 2022 IHSA Western High-Point Champion Nigel Lancaster from Ohio State University, who contributed to the Ohio State team’s second position by winning the Team Open Horsemanship. Maggie Herbert from SUNY Morrisville was third and Ashton Knerr of the University of Findlay team was fourth.

In Individual Open Horsemanship, the University of Findlay’s Knerr earned the top podium finish. Lancaster was the second-place finisher for Ohio State University, Hannah Belich from Lake Erie College was third and Eberspacher took fourth. All punched their tickets to Lexington.

Semi-Finals Hosted by Mississippi State University
Mississippi State University hosted its first IHSA Western Semi-Finals competition. Judges Kendra Weis and Tom McBeath presided over the event.

The overall Team championship went to the Conner Smith-led Midway University. The reserve honors went to West Texas A&M University, coached by Amanda Ellis. The Middle Tennessee State University team, coached by Ariel Higgins, finished third and Berry College, led by Head Coach Margaret Knight Ellington, was fourth. These four teams are all IHSA Nationals-bound.

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The Midway University team won their Semi-Finals hosted by Mississippi State University. Photo courtesy of Midway University
“First and foremost, I have to thank my team,” Smith said. “You know, this is because of them. It’s not because of me. I also credit their teamwork, their energy, togetherness, work ethic and everything behind it!”

Smith says that he is fairly confident that this is Midway University’s first-ever IHSA Semi-Finals championship.

“I want to thank Midway University, the support from our administration and so many different departments at the university,” he added. “They’re an integral part of the success.” Smith also noted that he uses mentors and guests lecturers and tries to raise their standards by networking with the industry to strive to be the best they can be.

“Mississippi State did an exceptional job,” Smith said. “I was very proud to be there to see a new host take this on and to see their commitment to the IHSA and the dedication it takes to make a good horse show. We saw it from the moment we got through the gates, with them helping us unload, to the late nights, staying with horse selection through the stewards’ meetings. They were very hospitable and a great host all the way around.”

Middle Tennessee State University’s Jordan Martin won the first-place slot in the Individual Open Horsemanship at Mississippi State University Semi-Finals. She will be joined by second-place finisher Kaitlyn Praisler from Morehead State University at Nationals. Third-place finisher Olivia Williams from Purdue University, and fourth, Rette Solomon, from Berry College, will also make the trip to Lexington.

Athletes from three Kentucky universities rocked the NRHA Individual Open Reining, with Midway’s Kaylee Tingle nabbing the win and Brook Sullivan from Western Kentucky University in second. Madison Gales, from Texas Tech University, repeated her third-place finish from 2022 and Shelby Carrico from Morehead State University, also a Kentucky school, was fourth.

Semi-Finals at Grand Oaks, Florida
The IHSA 2022 Western Champion Team, Black Hawk College, coached by Rebekah Irish, won their second consecutive Semi-Finals in a third event held at Grand Oaks, Florida. St. Andrews University, coached by the venerable Carla Wennberg, was second. Adrian College, in their first-ever team representation at Semi-Finals, according to Coach Jody Prime, reached another milestone by qualifying their team for IHSA Nationals. Oregon State University competition, led by Coach Dawn Ross, will progress to the IHSA National Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park. Allen Mitchels and Bonnie Miller judged the event.


The 2022 IHSA National Champion Western Team won their Semi-Finals held at Grand Oaks, Florida. Photo by Caitlynn Marit

“I credit the success of this team to each member’s dedication and hard work, their continued belief in themselves and their team, and their ability to hold each other to the highest standards in and out of the arena,” Irish said. “This is a team sport. The horse and rider team, the team of riders from each institution, and the team of coaching colleagues that continue to drive the mission of the IHSA and collectively work to grow this amazing association.”

Irish commented on her experience in Florida. “The Black Hawk College Equestrian Team is incredibly grateful to all of the horses and the providers who worked tirelessly to prepare them,” she said. “This sport would not be possible without the horses who allow us to compete on them.

“It was wonderful to see IHSA founder Bob Cacchione (who attended the Florida Semi-Finals),” she continued. “His vision so many years ago created a place for all of us to compete, no matter our level of experience or our socioeconomic background. We are grateful for the opportunities that are made available through the IHSA.”  

She expressed thanks to Black Hawk College graduate Caitlynn Marit for making the trip to Florida and their support network at the college.

Belle Sand from the University of Minnesota, Crookston brought her game to the hotly-contested NRHA Individual Open Reining division, finishing in front. Second place went to Hannah Wright-Riley from Delaware Valley University. Both Lauren Johnson from Missouri State University and Black Hawk College’s Autumn Carey, finishing third and fourth, will also compete in NRHA Individual Open Reining at IHSA Nationals.

In Individual Open Horsemanship, Lori Girrbach from Adrian College took the blue ribbon. Michaela Long from North Dakota State University earned red ribbon honors. St. Andrews University’s Sarah Beth Felker was third and Jessica Theobald from Iowa State University was fourth.

“This year’s Semi-Finals included exciting results from all across the country,” said IHSA Executive Director Peter Cashman. “It’s great to see schools like Adrian College take their teams to Nationals for the first time. Strong programs, great coaching, hard work and a little luck of the draw all play a part. Many thanks to our title sponsor, NRHA. A special shout-out to SmartPak and Back on Track and all our sponsors. Thank you to all the host schools, judges, riders and coaches. We look forward to Zones for our hunter seat riders and our National Championship Horse Show in Kentucky the first weekend in May.”


The National Reining Horse Association is not responsible for the information contained in this press release. Please contact the author or submitting organization for further information, requests, or questions.

NRHA Begins Search for New Commissioner

Following the announcement of NRHA Commissioner Gary Carpenter’s impending retirement at the end of the year, the search for his replacement is officially underway. 

A subcommittee tasked with interviewing different executive search firms recently hired Jim Harlan, President & CEO of MJM Global Search, Inc.

“We wanted to ensure we did our due diligence since this will be one of the hardest positions NRHA has ever had to fill, and we are confident in Jim’s ability to find the best candidate for the association,” said NRHA President Mark Blake, who led the subcommittee.

“Jim was who we utilized when we hired Gary, and his expertise and experience within the equine industry is unparalleled. We also used his services last year to fill two positions, and they have been outstanding hires,” Blake added.

Harlan, an avid horseman in his own right, is responsible for the strategic leadership necessary to ensure the achievement of MJM Global Search’s performance goals and preservation of the core values established more than 25 years ago.

MJM Global Search, Inc. and its executive search specialists have decades of hands-on experience as senior managers, ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to small, fast-growing start-up companies. The firm has completed placements with more than 12 equine industry associations.

“Our goal is to have a hire made by this Summer to allow for the new individual to begin working alongside Gary for the remainder of the year,” Blake continued. “This will allow for a smooth transition of power and to allow them to hit the ground running in 2024”

The NRHA Commissioner’s primary role is to serve as the Chief Executive Officer responsible for leading the NRHA Office while reporting to and working with the NRHA Executive Committee and Board of Directors to ensure the association’s needs, goals, and objectives are met.

A detailed position description can be found here.

Qualified candidates who are interested in the position will need to contact Jim Harlan directly at:

MJM Global Search, Inc.
P.O. Box 883
Franktown, CO 80116
(303) 660-0766