Animal Welfare

Learn more about AQHA's efforts to promote animal welfare.

Per AQHA's mission statement, every American Quarter Horse shall, at all times, be treated humanely and with dignity, respect and compassion.

Animal Welfare Commission

Recognizing that animal welfare is the single most important issue facing the equine industry today, the AQHA Executive Committee created the Animal Welfare Commission in 2012. The Animal Welfare Commission serves as AQHA’s primary body for rules, policies and procedures related to all areas of animal welfare. In addition, the commission oversees the educational processes associated with AQHA officials responsible for animal welfare. The Animal Welfare Commission’s mission is to provide a framework for its members to 1.) identify issues negatively affecting the welfare of the American Quarter Horse, 2.) stay current on all animal welfare issues and 3.) recommend actions that will help to protect the American Quarter Horse from inhumane practices and AQHA and its members from the negative impacts associated with those practices. The AQHA Animal Welfare Commission, in an effort to do right by the horse, will share discussion, action items and recommendations with alliance partners. The commission reports directly to the Executive Committee, which evaluates all proposals in relation to the current state of the industry.

AQHA Animal Welfare Commission's Accomplishments since 2012

Animal Welfare Commission Members

AQHA's prohibition against inhumane treatment applies to AQHA members and non-members.

AQHA Disciplinary Actions

AQHA Animal Welfare Grievance Committee

The Animal Welfare Grievance Committee reviews violations that involve a judge’s disqualification for abuse or the issuance of a steward warning card. The review consists of all evidence gathered in the investigation of the violation. Evidence includes, but is not limited to, steward warning cards, photographs, videos, witness statements, judge’s cards, judge’s score sheets, etc.

Once the members of the AWGC review the case and determine a disciplinary action is appropriate, they will recommend a fine and/or penalty to the AQHA Executive Committee. The fine and penalty will be based on the Level of Violation (see AQHA rules VIO200-VIO204.19) and the AQHA Fine and Penalty Chart.

The Animal Welfare Grievance Committee is made-up of industry professionals who include AQHA judges, AQHA Professional Horsemen, university professors, veterinarians and association professionals.

Fines & Penalties Chart

Latest Animal Welfare News

It's imperative to AQHA that our members are informed quickly and accurately about the latest animal welfare issues. Visit regularly for news and updates, including animal welfare rule violators and the fines and penalties assessed to each violator.

Animal Welfare and Unsportsmanlike Conduct Violations, May 6, 2015

Animal Welfare Violations, April 22, 2016

Animal Welfare: A Continuing Effort, May 11, 2016

Animal Welfare Recommendations Approved, May 17, 2017

AQHA Executive Committee Approves Animal Welfare Measures, August 30, 2017

AQHA Disciplinary Actions, August 2018

Animal Welfare Commission Recommendations Approved 

How the Fines and Penalties Process Works

In accordance with the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules & Regulations, there are the actions taken when an individual violates the animal welfare or unsportsmanlike conduct rules at an AQHA event. View the AQHA Fines and Penalties regarding Inhumane Treatment and Unsportsmanlike conduct - VIO200-204 & VIO220

Should an exhibitor receive a warning card, learn the process to determine a final ruling for an inhumane treatment or unsportsmanlike conduct violation.

Additional Animal Welfare Initiatives:

  1. AQHA Stewards
    • The stewards program was started by AQHA to develop a network of individuals to be advocates for the horse and help ensure fair competition. Stewards also help prevent inhumane practices and unsportsmanlike conduct at AQHA shows and events. The health and well being of the American Quarter Horse is our utmost concern and stewards help to ensure that. Stewards answer exhibitor questions about rules, identify and document inhumane treatment, evaluate any unsafe conditions regarding the show grounds, and guide others on acceptable training practices and equipment. AQHA stewards are trained and tested on AQHA’s rulebook, the stewards training manual, and their ability to handle difficult situations professionally. Most importantly, stewards help protect the breed, advance animal welfare and help ensure the integrity of the competition. The AQHA Animal Welfare Commission helps protect the horse by defining inhumane practices, outlining acceptable training equipment at any AQHA show and outlining a penalty system (Page 15-16 of the Showing section of the AQHA Rulebook) for individuals who violate the rules designed to protect the horse.
    • Locate Stewards by Region
  2. Owner Responsibility
    • AQHA believes it’s the owner’s responsibility and, ultimately, their choice regarding decisions concerning the welfare of their horse(s). The Association encourages responsible ownership practices and management that will reduce the number of unwanted horses. Read the Unwanted Horse Coalition's booklet on responsible horse ownership. AQHA, along with the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association, recognizes that the processing of unwanted horses provides a humane euthanasia alternative for horses that might otherwise continue a life of discomfort and pain, or inadequate care or abandonment. AQHA has actively supported legislation to ensure the safe and humane transportation of horses that are bound for processing facilities and backed guidelines for how horses must be treated at the facilities. AQHA supports other choices for unwanted horses, including euthanasia by injection, life in an equine retirement facility, donation to a college or university, or other options.
  3. Drug Testing Program
    • Read the Rule VIO300-VIO406 in the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules & Regulations.
    • USEF Therapeutic Medication Hotline if you have questions about medications: 1-800-633-2472
      • AQHA Rule VIO401.1 Prohibits an drug or substance considered a Class I or Class II substance as defined in the most recent edition of American Racing Commissioners International Uniform Classification Guidelines for Foreign Substances. Click here to find out if a drug you are considering using is a Class I or Class II substance.
  4. Considerations for a Responsible Breeder
    • Information coming soon.

What to Do if You Witness or Suspect Inhumane Treatment

AQHA supports humane treatment of horses at all equine events, as well as at other locations, and recognizes that all of us are responsible for protecting the horse. 

At an AQHA event:

AQHA has processes in place to oversee humane treatment at its AQHA events, to receive and review reports of inhumane treatment, and to impose penalties commensurate with the inhumane treatment. 

If an incident occurs at an AQHA event:

  • First and foremost, do not put yourself in danger
  • If possible, get other witnesses
  • Promptly report the matter to show management and an AQHA steward (if one is present)
  • Provide documentation to show management and AQHA steward
  • Documentation should include your name and contact information; name and date of show; date, time, and location of observed inhumane treatment; detailed description of the observed inhumane treatment; name of person(s) involved; names and contact information of any witnesses; names of show management and steward to whom the matter was reported
  • If possible, provide photos and/or videos of the incident evidencing the inhumane treatment
  • Maintain copy of above documentation for yourself

At locations other than an AQHA event:

AQHA is a worldwide organization with more than 250,000 members and a horse population exceeding 2.8 million. While AQHA denounces inhumane treatment outside of AQHA events (for example, at a private training facility), such incidents are more properly reported to local l\aw enforcement and/or animal welfare authorities. Such authorities proximity to the incident, investigative resources, jurisdictional/subpoena powers, and if necessary, ability to confiscate horse(s) that have been subjected to inhumane treatment places such authorities in a more effective position to address matters that occur at locations other than AQHA events. 

If an incident occurs at a location other than an AQHA event:

  • Again, do not put yourself in danger
  • If possible, get other witnesses
  • Promptly report the matter to local law enforcement or animal welfare authorities
  • Provide documentation to such authorities in form requested
  • Be prepared to report the following to authorities: your name and contact information;date, time,and location of observed inhumane treatment; detailed description of the observed inhumane treatment;name of person(s) involved;detailed description of the horse,such as color, markings,and name (if possible);names and contact information of any witnesses
  • If possible, provide photos and/or videos of the incident evidencing the inhumane treatment
  • Provide AQHA with same information provided to authorities as well as detailed description of contact with such authorities including name and phone number of the authority,date contacted and name of authority representatives contacted
  • Maintain copy of above documentation for yourself 
  • AQHA will seek updates on the status of the case from the authority in question; however, AQHA appreciates any assistance from you and others in that regard
  • According to AQHA Rule V10205, AQHA may accept (1) an individual’s conviction,no contest plea,or deferred adjudication or (2) judicial confiscation of a horse for an offense inhumane treatment as a presumptive violation of AQHA inhumane treatment rules, the effect of which is to automatically suspend the violator’s AQHA membership.