On January 20, 1917, representatives of 50 horse shows under the leadership of Reginald C. Vanderbilt met in New York City to draw together the horsemen and horsewomen of the North, South, East, and West in a unity of intention to maintain clean competition and fair play in the show ring.
The first annual meeting of the Association of American Horse Shows was held on January 29, 1918. By then, 26 well-known shows, including Brooklyn, Bryn Mawr, Devon, Tuxedo, and Wilmington, were elected to membership. A certificate of incorporation was adopted in June. In 1919, records showed that the Association listed 35 member shows, with 16 Association Medals.
By the annual meeting in January of 1924, the Association had extended its influence beyond the eastern border of the country, enrolling 67 shows.
Mr. Vanderbilt passed away in 1925, and Mr. Alfred B. Maclay was elected president.
Mr. Alfred Maclay engaged himself in the sport as an exhibitor, breeder, and judge, and devoted himself to his new presidential duties. In 1927, still early in his administration, the Association first printed the rules in a six-page pamphlet which included the Constitution. Additional rules, more protests, the election of new members, and other matters occupied the attention of the Executive Committee in the next few years.
At the annual meeting in 1930, a suggestion appeared in the minutes that the Executive Committee should have a representative of the Association at every recognized show, to be appointed by the committee and to send a report on the show to the Association. This suggestion never became effective, but it revealed a need which existed even then, and which finally found a solution in the provision for American Horse Shows Association Stewards publicized in the 1948 Rule Book. Not until 1959, 29 years after the initial suggestion, did the AHSA set in motion the machinery for licensing Stewards and adopt the rule first printed in the 1960 Rule Book.
February 1933 marked a milestone. The original name Association of American Horse Shows, Inc., was changed to the American Horse Show Association, Inc. (later, the title was slightly amended to the American Horse Shows Association). At this same meeting, two classes of membership were established: Show Membership and Individual Membership.
Many items filled the minutes for 1935. One interesting moment was the report of the Committee appointed to look into the matter of joining the International Equestrian Federation. The Committee, subject to the agreement of the Cavalry Association, recommended that the American Horse Show Association take over the United States' membership in the International Equestrian Federation. Also subject to the agreement with the International Equestrian Federation that their rules apply only to the International Military classes, it was decided that a Committee appointed for that purpose would arrange the details of sending out invitations for such contests. Such membership would take effect after the 1936 Olympic Games.
By the end of Mr. Maclay's term in 1936, the Association had grown to include 183 Member and Licensed Shows. Maclay stepped down on January 3, 1936.
The one year of Pierre Lorillard's presidency was not particularly eventful and the Executive Committee only met a few times. A new pamphlet containing the rules was prepared and submitted to the Annual Meeting in January 1937. At that meeting, Mr. Adrian Van Sinderen was elected President.
As the incoming president, Van Sinderen believed that expansion of the Association in organization, membership, functioning, and representation was vital to its existence. The office moved to 90 Broad Street, New York City.
By June of 1937, another Rule Book was published with several major changes. The United States was divided into five zones, each with a Vice President in charge and a Regional Committee of five members. The geographic size of the United States constituted a real hurdle to be crossed in the building of an association of national scope.
In 1939, the first Van Sinderen perpetual equitation trophy was placed into competition. Horse Show magazine was created with a monthly circulation of 1,200 copies, and there were 187 recognized shows, and 800 individual members in the Association. The Rule Book reached 168 pages.
Mr. Van Sinderen acted as President until 1960, when he became Chairman of the Board of Directors. Upon resignation from the Chair, was distinguished as Honorary Director and Chairman of the Board for life.
Albert E. Hart, Jr. became president in 1960 and after much research and effort, introduced the Equine Drugs and Medications Program in 1970. The program utilizes veterinarians and technicians around the country to collect blood and urine samples from horses competing at AHSA and FEI events, delivering on the organization’s mission of providing and maintaining a safe and level playing field for its athletes. Hart also changed the High Score Awards to the Horse of the Year Awards, which are still celebrated annually. After 15 years as president, Hart resigned in 1975 and became Chairman of the Board of Directors until 1986.
Richard E. McDevitt took the helm in 1976 and began developing the regulatory structure for the Drugs and Medications program. After just two years as head of the AHSA, McDevitt met one of his greatest challenges when he approved a rule requiring that show horses be tested for reserpine, a powerful tranquilizer. His leadership paved the way for equine welfare discussion and protection for years to come. One of his greatest contributions was in his steadfast commitment to keeping a fair and just process for all cases brought before the Hearing Committee. McDevitt also established the model for individual memberships to the AHSA.
In 1988, two years after retiring from competition, James C. Wofford became the AHSA’s first competitor to take the role of president. Wofford’s first initiative was implementation of the new membership structure, which continues to thrive with more than 80,000 members of the current organization. He also developed the AHSA’s planning committee to give the governance specific goals and strategic methods for achievement.
Jane Forbes Clark was the first woman elected president of the AHSA in 1991. During her time as president, the organization faced a lengthy and very public equine insurance fraud scandal which ultimately resulted in the suspension of 22 AHSA members. Clark, the Board of Directors, and the Hearing Committee went to great lengths to ensure the fair treatment of its members and appropriateness of the penalty during the hearing process. In addition, Clark led the effort to ensure that the organization took steps to prevent this sort of incident from taking place in the future. On the sport side of things, Clark was heavily involved in the planning and execution of the 1996 Olympic Games, taking place on home turf in Atlanta. Clark served on the FEI Executive Board for eight years, was Chair of FEI’s Group IV, and represented equestrian sport on the board of the United States Olympic Committee for nearly 12 years. Clark also spearheaded the opening of a new AHSA Drugs and Medications Laboratory and oversaw advances in its testing procedures.
Alan F. Balch became president of the American Horse Show Association in 1997. Two years later, the Association moved to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., to its “New Kentucky Home.” In 2001, the American Horse Shows Association changed its name to USA Equestrian, to better designate the member organization it had become. With more than 80,000 individual members, more than 2,700 member competitions, and 100 affiliate organizations, USA Equestrian oversaw 26 breeds and disciplines of competition. Two years later, USA Equestrian and the United State Equestrian Team developed a new organization; a single, unified family woven together from the many parts of equestrian governance and leadership – the United States Equestrian Federation.
In 2004, Olympic, Pan American, and World Equestrian Games medal-winning athlete David O’Connor took the helm of president of the United States Equestrian Federation. In his eight years as president, he brought to life the mission of the newly formed organization, achieving the creation of a financially successful national federation for the whole sport to believe in and go forward with. Early on in his tenure, O’Connor directed the leadership of the organization’s largest member group, the hunter and jumper disciplines, to form an affiliate that would represent all levels of participants under the umbrella of USEF. The United States Hunter Jumper Association was formally recognized by the USEF on July 6, 2004 and remains the organization’s largest affiliate. O’Connor also led changes to the judicial system, creating a more transparent process, and caused the promulgation of stricter equine drugs and medications rules, including a ban on the use of more than one nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory substance.
Chrystine Tauber became the second female president in 2013, overseeing a restructure of the Federation’s governance to create a more agile and efficient organization in her first year in office. The Board of Directors streamlined from 54 members to 19 while the four major administrative and sport groups were consolidated and reorganized to become the Administrative and Finance, International Disciplines, and the National Breeds and Disciplines Councils, reporting directly to the Board. The organization also streamlined its sport committees for FEI disciplines, downsizing to one committee per discipline, effectively maximizing the betterment of the sport in the U.S. Tauber also appointed numerous task forces, including the Horse Welfare Initiative, Competition Classification, Horse Recording & ID, Steward/TD, and Ranking List Task Force that drove initiatives and rule changes aimed to ensure fairness and safety in the sport. These included an expansion of the scope of responsibility beyond the trainer for any prohibited substances found in a competition horse, a comprehensive rewrite of the rules regarding competition licensing that brought forth a transparent, fair, and logical process, and the requirement for microchipping in the hunter/jumper disciplines. In 2016, a new Governance Committee was established, and Tauber chaired a Strategic Planning Oversight Committee of the Board that created new vision and mission statements, and guided the development and implementation of a dynamic, new strategic plan that included a complete rebranding and addition of new member benefits. Other key initiatives instituted during the Tauber presidency included the creation of the Compliance Department, Sport Committee Charters, the launch of the Safe Sport Program, as well as the Equine Disease Control Call Center, the Competition Organizers Dashboard and Licensed Officials Webinars, Core Values, and the Prohibited Practices Rules.
Murray Kessler became the organization’s 12th president in 2017.