Texas A&M equine expert elected president of American Quarter Horse Association
Posted March 06, 2018
Texas A&M University professor Dr. Jim Heird, an
internationally-renowned equine expert, is the new president of the
American Quarter Horse Association after five decades of dedication
to the organization.
The announcement Monday (March 5) came at the end of the AQHA’s
four-day annual convention in Jacksonville, Florida where many of
its more than 250,000 members from 50 countries gathered to learn
from and celebrate the largest equine breed registry in the
The 2018-19 AQHA Executive Committee as elected
at the AQHA convention. From left: Second Vice President
Norman Luba, First Vice President Stan Weaver, President
Dr. Jim Heird, Executive Committee Member Butch Wise
and Executive Committee Member Dr. Scott Myers
Photo credit: Doug McElreath/AQHA
The scholar’s presidency marks a first for the Texas-based
organization: Never before has the American Quarter Horse
Association elected an academic as its leader. Though Heird’s
career includes 42 years of teaching, researching and mentoring at
four universities, his command over the areas of equine
conformation and behavior is recognized well beyond classrooms and
Heird, who has coordinated the Equine Initiative at Texas
A&M for nine years, said he’s eager to build on the AQHA’s goal
to transform and grow the association.
“We’re an organization that’s 78 years old and there are many
things being done that remain great. But we need to look at all
aspects and make sure we’re meeting the demands of today’s youth,
today’s amateur, and certainly the owner who is a professional
outside the horse industry. We need to make sure we’re giving them
value for their membership.”
AQHA is an international group dedicated to the preservation,
improvement, promotion and record-keeping of the American Quarter
Horse. It sanctions competitive events, maintains the official
registry of all quarter horses and houses a museum in Amarillo.
While protecting the association’s finances while growing
reserves is a priority, Heird listed other keys to success
- Providing more value to the members.
- Communicating with youth on their own digital information
- Making educational resources more available through
“We need to make sure our breeders are served; that our judges
and stewards are the best trained and capable in the world; that
our races and shows are fair, drug-free and honest; that ranch
producers are appreciated and understood; and that we provide a
show environment where our horses can excel with riders ranging
from professionals to youth,” Heird said in his acceptance speech.
“And we need to do all of this while making sure that our horses
are treated safely and humanely every day.”
There is tremendous potential for expanding AQHA membership is
outside the United States, Heird said, adding that the organization
will strive to be more inclusive.
His latest achievement follows a far-reaching list of honors
that include an Award for Excellence from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, dozens of national leadership accolades, being named
Horseman of the Year by the Colorado Horse Council, an appointment
as director of the Texas Racing Hall of Fame and being inducted
into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Dr. Eleanor Green, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine,
said Heird has devoted his professional career and personal life to
horses, the American Quarter Horse in particular.
“He has focused his many unique talents to advance the breed,
the association, the membership, the equine industry and ‘the
horse’ from more conventional roles as a horseman and equine
industry leader, as well as from unconventional roles as an
academician and academic administrator,” the dean said.
“He is a scholar, an innovator, a ground-breaker, an influencer,
a role model, a game-changer, a program-builder, an equine
welfarist, a generous giver of his time and talents, and a
longtime, loyal member of AQHA,” Green said.
The Equine Initiative, which connects A&M to the industry
through extensive outreach programs, is a collaborative effort
between the Department of Animal Science in the College of
Agriculture and Life Sciences, and College of Veterinary Medicine
and Biomedical Sciences.
Heird said the program involves teaching future industry
leaders, research and veterinary medical care that improves not
just the industry, but the welfare of the horse. It works toward
curriculum enhancement, outreach and engagement expansion, facility
construction and developing partners, said Heird, who holds the
Glenn Blodgett Equine Chair at A&M.
Heird landed Texas A&M in the international spotlight with
the development of the $35 million Thomas G. Hildebrand DVM ’56
Equine Complex, a much-needed state-of-the-art facility that opened
in 2014 with a show arena, classrooms, meeting spaces, barns for
A&M’s Women’s Equestrian Team and a cross country course used
by the college track team.
“There was an event of some type out here 285 days during 2017,”
he said, adding that 32,000 people used the facility last year.
It’s even been rented for weddings and as a work retreat site. “It
was not built with that intent, so it’s surpassed our wildest
He’s currently raising funds and developing plans for a new
equine nutrition and reproductive research facility at the complex,
as well as an orthopedic and wellness center for horses at the vet
At a gallop
Heird grew up on a small east Tennessee tobacco farm where
horses dominated his first dreams, he said. His father ended most
days telling him a bedtime story born from his college days in
Kentucky where the blue grass country side was lined with white
fences and horses grazed in picturesque fields.
“Horses are all I can ever remember,” he said. “I read all the
popular books on horses and was consumed by them. I remember my dad
coming home and saying we needed to go to a man’s place to look at
a new breed of horse brought in from out west. He said they’re
called quarter horses. I fell in love. The breed can do anything –
they have a great disposition, even-temperament, they’re fast, they
work well with beginners and veterans, they can work cattle and
they had the mystique of coming from big ranches out west. It was
that classic image of the cowboy’s horse.”
He was about 12 at the time and soon ended up working for a
breeder cleaning out stalls and exercising the horses, never
imagining he’d live out his dream spending his life studying,
enjoying and educating others about his favorite breed.
“That’s really a tribute to my parents – recognizing and
realizing what I had a passion for and supporting me,” he said.
It’s no surprise that Heird went on to do the same for scores of
students over the decades, said Craig Huffhines, executive vice
president of AQHA.
“He’s a globally-renowned horseman and university administrator
who has influenced hundreds of equestrian and agrarian leaders
around the world,” Huffhines said.
“It will take bright minds coming together who are committed to
excellence — Dr. Heird is a catalyst that has been proven to
do just that,” Huffhines said, adding that the researcher is
not just driving educational opportunities at A&M, but also
“It’s exciting for me to see the kind of top caliber leadership
at our university,” said Huffhines, a 1991 A&M graduate and
father of two Aggies. “Texas A&M has been and always will be an
institution of higher excellence and it takes people like Dr. Heird
to create that kind of success.”
For more information about the
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu
or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive Director of
Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College
of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; firstname.lastname@example.org;
979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)
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