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What Matters? History Matters.

As we come together next week in Lexington, KY for the UPHA annual convention, it’s interesting to note that the official registration and schedule notes that the UPHA is “joined by the American Hackney Horse Society, the American Morgan Horse Society, the American Road Horse and Pony Association, the American Saddlebred Horse Association, the American Saddlebred Museum, and the American Saddlebred Registry.” Since the Super Convention, which brings together all organizations, was first held in Boston in 2016, these groups have been collaborating for the betterment of all these breeds. This past year, as we’ve noted in previous What Matters columns, the ASHA has been part of the Joint Leadership Council made up of representatives from many of these same organizations to take on issues facing our industry. Additionally, we have spent time with the Arabian Horse Association and the other USEF affiliate breeds and disciplines to learn from each other. Even as we work together, there are many passionate voices in this industry with strong opinions. Through these discussions, let’s ensure though, that collaboration and unification isn’t lost. Our industry is too small to be fractured. We find our strength in numbers.

What’s interesting is that as much as we work together with other breeds and discipline organizations, it might be instructive to examine the history of the American Saddlebred Horse Association and why the current ASHA and American Saddlebred Registry are two different entities. 

So how did this happen? And what have we learned from this restructuring?

The ASHA descends from organizations that go all the way back to 1891 when a non-profit association was organized primarily to maintain the breed’s registry. But as the needs of the breed expanded and evolved, it became apparent that the original registry-oriented organization was not enough to meet these new requirements.

So in 1990, the American Saddlebred Horse Association Foundation, Inc., a 501c3 organization, was established to promote the breed and make contributions tax-deductible, which was not possible under the previous organization.

But, the best of intentions sometimes lead to what is sometimes called “the law of unintended consequences.” In organizing a separate entity that was completely complementary in mission but had separate functions, Boards of Directors, and accounting, there became duplication of efforts and costs. This led to discussions around how we could use the 501c3 non-profit charitable status of the Foundation to better serve the purpose of the breed. 

Fred Sarver was ASHA President at the time of this restructuring. He recounted in detail the adaption of the ASHA to create the present-day ASHA and ASR, “During the year of 2004, the ASHA Board of Directors recognized the need to make changes in the way that it conducted its business on behalf of its members. A Planning Committee was formed, and its report back to the ASHA Board of Directors was a proposal of a reorganization of its corporate structure. Information was disseminated to ASHA members, seminars were conducted at Charter Club meetings, articles were written, all in order to inform ASHA members in a very transparent way, and in great detail of the proposal.  

The reorganization was not a division of the ASHA and its Foundation, but a method of utilizing both the ASHA Foundation and the Registry in a more efficient manner. The Registry Board was composed of duly elected members of the ASHA Board of Directors, and ASHA members that had interest and expertise in breeding. ASHA would have a better opportunity to serve its members in the area of fundraising, promotion, and member services.

The late David Howard, the Treasurer of ASHA, and Publisher of the Saddle Horse Report published an editorial in the Saddle Horse Report prior to the 2005 Annual Meeting where the ASHA Membership would vote to approve or disapprove the reorganization. In this editorial, he said, “And in reality, it is not a terribly significant change except that it will enable the Association to more effectively raise funds, provide potential tax benefits to donors, save sales tax of certain purchases and enable the ASHA to use those funds to provide much needed promotion for this horse.” " To maintain the unity and mission, Fred was also named ASR President after the reorganization and served in both capacities congruently.

Judy Werner, a key member of the Planning Committee and former ASHA and ASR President, had this to say in regards to the history of the restructuring, “In 2004 I was asked to join the ASHA Planning Committee under the leadership of Joan Hamilton and Jim Ruwoldt. Jim brought his business acumen to the conversation and Joan her knowledge of the workings of the Registry and ASHA. After a year of talking to other equine organizations with registries-considering and rejecting plans-Joan and Jim presented the acted upon restructure plan to the ASHA board. Our mission was to make both entities stronger-with an interlocking connection to create stability for the breed.” 

This leads us to 2005. In 2005, after a year of debate, communication, and ultimately a vote of the ASHA membership (with ninety-one percent of the membership voting for the reorganization), a plan became real—The American Saddlebred Horse Association, Inc. becomes a public charity under the Section 501c3 of the IRS Code and the American Saddlebred Registry, organized under the Section 501c5 of the Code (making it not-for-profit but not subject to charitable donation benefits) handles registry matters. The newly formed ASHA’s mission was and remained to promote and protect the American Saddlebred breed through marketing and educational means. The newly formed ASR’s mission and remains to promote and protect the American Saddlebred through matters pertaining to the breeding and bloodlines of the breed, and overseeing certain awards programs. Very similar missions. Different functions. In the business world, it would be like two divisions, say Marketing and Record-Keeping, of a single corporation.

As we move forward into the future, as all equine activities are challenged due to many factors, including availability of land, affordability, other discretionary activities, competition for time, less agrarian society, the list goes on, we need to make sure that we are single-minded and focused in our approach to matters including governance. We are a relatively small breed working hard to increase our distribution in new parts of the country; working hard to increase understanding of our horse’s versatility and usefulness; working hard to create and support shows of every size. Against these headwinds, we must fight unified in mission and resolve. We have to really pay attention to What Matters. As our president says, “United We Stand; Divided We Fall.”

To read an interesting article that recaps the history and reasoning behind the 2005 reorganization, here’s a link to an article from the March/April 2005 edition of the American Saddlebred magazine.

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