The All-American Program Primer
As the All-American Contest enters its 19th year, we realize that we have a whole new generation of subscribers who were not around at the inception of this program. As a result, we felt it necessary to include an introduction/refresher.
What Is It?
The All-American contest is an annual competition which provides an historical photo record of the top halter animals shown across the country. The competition itself is not a show. It is tabulated mathematically, and therefore, may best be described as “the average opinion of the majority of contemporary judges in the U.S.”
The Draft Horse Journal started the All-American Program for Belgians and Percherons in 1988. As an all-breed magazine with international circulation, the need to provide a promotional program which would recognize breeders and exhibitors and provide The Journal an opportunity to acknowledge their accomplishments without singling out specific shows was readily apparent. Competition for Clydesdales was added in 1994. Hopefully, in the years to come, the other breeds will be afforded the same opportunities as their breed numbers continue to flourish.
Why Horse Shows?
Because of the nature of our publication (all breed, no breed, farming, logging, showing, pulling ... We don't care so long as it involves the use of heavy horses and mules), the emphasis placed on the All-American Contest has at times been called into question by those that do not show. Folks, the simple fact is, whether you show horses or not, whether you are show "oriented" or not, whether you even like shows or not … if you are in the business of breeding, buying and selling draft horses–shows DO have an impact on your life. They set the tone and trend concerning type. Those show ring winners, their sires and dams, are an important part of any permanent breed record and are what future generations will use to define "history." Horse shows are also undeniably a price stimulant. And, last but certainly not least, horse shows are one of the most effective vehicles for presenting our product to the public at large. Thus, they are vitally important to the heavy horse industry as a promotional tool.
So, why is it just for individual halter horses and not groups and/or hitches? The composition often changes in both groups and hitches during the year. The All-American was designed and continues to be the kind of program that works best on individual animals. The North American Six-Horse-Hitch Classic Series is doing a great job promoting hitches.
How Does It Work?
At any one of several shows designated by the breed associations’ All-American Committees and The Draft Horse Journal as a qualifying event, an animal qualifies for participation in the contest by placing in the top four of its respective open class at a Level AA show; in the top three at a Level A show; in the top two at a Level B Show; and must be first in class at a Level C show.
Once qualified, the owner must submit an unretouched photo of the animal from the current year and fill out an All-American nomination form, found in the respective breed publications, in accordance with the deadlines established.
Upon receipt of the nomination forms and photos, each breed association's All-American Committee reviews the entries for accuracy and compliance with the contest's guidelines. These committees have the right to interpret the guidelines and disqualify any entry based on their discretion. The associations then compile a ballot, picturing each animal in its respective qualifying class. The qualifying show placings are listed, in addition to foaling date, sire and dam (not required for grade geldings), owner/exhibitor and breeder. Those ballots are sent to The Draft Horse Journal, and in turn, are sent to each individual that judged an All-American qualifying show that year. Each individual receives only one ballot and thus one vote regardless of the number of qualifying shows they may have judged for a given breed. The ballots are accompanied by a standard form for the judges to record their placings, akin to a judge's card.
The judges are asked to place the top half of each class and return their placing to The Draft Horse Journal for tabulation. When the ballot forms are returned by the judges, a numerical value is assigned for each placing based on the number of entrants in the particular class. For example, if an All-American judge places a horse 1st in a class of 12 nominees, the horse receives 6 points from that judge, 2nd place would receive 5 points, etc.; if an All-American judge places a horse 1st in the class with an odd number of nominees such as 17, the 1st place horse would receive 9 points from that judge, 2nd place would receive 8 points, etc. These figures are summarized for all the judges and constitute the final scores. The animal with the highest score becomes the All-American, the second highest, the Reserve All-American. Honorable Mentions are determined by the spread in point totals. For instance, if the top five scores for a class were 160, 101, 100, 95 and 50, there would be two Honorable Mentions named, as the point spread between 95 and 50 is significant. Tie-breakers are determined first by the number of 1st place votes, then 2nd place votes and on down the line.
The Draft Horse Journal pictures the winners in the Spring issue and pays a "premium" to the breeder and owner of each All-American and Reserve All-American horse. The respective breed publications run the ballots and results in their entirety and provide certificates or plaques to the winners.
What Are The Rules?
Over time, as with any type of competition, unique situations present themselves and a solution for how to handle them must be addressed. These solutions invariably turn into "rules" which insure that the situation is handled consistently from exhibitor-to-exhibitor, year-to-year. As the contest's creator, The Draft Horse Journal serves as a central clearing house for these rules to insure they do not interfere with the original intention of the contest: promotion and recognition; and that the situations are also handled consistently between breeds. In other words, if, for example, the Clydesdale Breeders of the U.S.A. encounters a unique situation and wishes to establish a new "rule," the other two breed associations are impelled to review and adopt this same ruling. This, in turn, means that anyone entering a Clydesdale follows the same entry process, the same guidelines, etc., that an exhibitor entering the Percheron and/or Belgian contest encounters. In today's environment, with some exhibitors campaigning multiple breeds, this consistent design is intended to avoid confusion and unnecessary disqualifications. For example, to be consistent with the other breeds, one breed association recently eliminated a rule they had limiting the number of entries to two per class by one exhibitor. An example of how a new "rule" is created occurred in the 2005 contest. One of the breed associations discovered a grade mare had been entered in the gelding class. The decision was made to disqualify this horse by the respective association's All-American Committee on the basis that unregistered females are not recognized by the breed registry. As a result, a new "rule" has been adopted by the association for the 2006 contest specifically stating that the class is only open to geldings. To insure consistency, this rule has also been added to the guidelines of the other two breeds for the 2006 contest. Establishing the rule to not accept grade mares will insure that this situation is handled in the exact same manner from exhibitor-to-exhibitor, year-to-year, breed-to-breed. Other examples of rules originating in recent years based on the decisions of the committees include the requirement for standing shots only, no horses pictured in harness, no altered photos, etc. Others were added based on committee requests, such as the requirement that foals entered in the contest must be registered (certainly a reasonable request from a group representing a breed registry). Understandably, not every rule/request is honored or agreed to by all. For example, a request to require an entry fee was rejected by the majority as it was determined it could be detrimental to the promotional "grass roots" concept behind the contest.
To be clear, the rules of the contest are not "The Draft Horse Journal’s rules,” but rather the rules created and agreed on by the three breed associations in cooperation with the magazine.
The rules for entry include:
- The horse must earn a qualifying placing in the open class at one of the recognized shows. Placings in bred & owned and/or other specialty classes do not qualify. Qualifying placings are the official class placing only, regardless of breed, age or sex eligible to enter the class. For example, in a mixed sex foal class, a stallion foal placing 2nd behind a filly would not qualify as the 1st place stallion foal. Likewise, a Percheron placing 2nd in a mixed breed class behind a Clydesdale would not qualify as the 1st place Percheron.
- All mares and stallions must be registered with the respective breed association. This includes foals. Geldings are currently the only non-registered horses accepted in the contest.
- Completion of the respective breed association's official nomination form which includes: a complete listing of all qualifying placings at all qualifying shows and any championships. (Why list all the qualifying places? Why not? As stated, this contest is meant to be an accurate historical record of the year's events. Inclusion of only the first place finishes does not accomplish that goal.)
- An unretouched/unaltered, standing, current year, unharnessed photo of the horse must accompany entry. Photographer's proofs and Polaroids are not accepted. Belgian exhibitors are required to submit a color photo as that breed has opted to publish their ballot in color.
- Lastly, the nomination and photo must be received in the respective breed offices as designated by the breed associations. For Percherons, that is November 1; for Belgians, it is November 15; and for Clydes, it is November 1 for Canadian entries and November 5 for American entries. Each of the breed associations publish a "no late entries accepted" policy.
What Happens If You Don't Follow the Rules?
In 1998, the contest adopted a “Three Strikes, You're Out” policy which arose from annual questions and complaints about inaccurate placings included in the breed ballots. The questions frequently came from contest judges. They would note that two competitors were claiming the same placing in the same class at the same show. The complaints also came from fellow exhibitors that were upset that a horse appeared in the ballot with a placing that they did not actually receive; oftentimes that they had won with their animal. At the time this misinformation was discovered, it was too late to recall the ballots as they were already in the hands of the judges. In most cases, the discovery was not made until after the contest results were already published. Whether or not these inaccurate placings had any bearing on the contest results is unknown, but it did call the integrity of the program into question and, as the ballot serves as an historical record of the show ring for the year, a desire for accurate results was certain. Following the lead of the Percheron Association, a policy was developed that stated that exhibitors claiming false placings or otherwise not following the rules should have the horse's entry in question disqualified and that a single exhibitor's third offense (three disqualifications) would exclude him/her from competing in the contest in the future, or “three strikes, you're out.” Each breed association accepted the responsibility of reviewing the nomination forms for compliance and issuing "strikes" or disqualifications as they determined appropriate for their breed as it related to inaccurate placings and other instances not in accordance with the contest guidelines.
The best advice is to read the contest rules in the respective breed publications, follow the instructions for nominating horses, ask if you have any questions and, as the grade school teachers always point out, double check your work. In the last eight years (since the inception of the policy), the Clydesdales have reported the disqualification of three entries, the Percherons 12 and the Belgians 30. To put those numbers in perspective, that is roughly 0.3% of all of the Clyde nominations entered in the contest since 1998; 1% of the Percherons and 2% of the 1,250+ Belgian entries during this time period.
How Are The Qualifying Shows & Their Ratings Determined?
The concept behind the All-American program is not to single out a few shows or a few winners. A broad population of horses is necessary as well as a significant number of qualifying shows. The Belgians, Percherons and Clydesdales have each designated 20+ qualifying shows which have a solid representation of animals exhibited in their respective breeds.
The level at which a show assumes qualifying status is based on the number of animals actually shown in halter in the standard line classes. Entries in group classes, bred & owned, or other "special" classes are not included in this count. There must also be sustainability in the numbers from year-to-year, or a show's level can be changed. In reviewing the numbers of head exhibited, surprisingly enough, it is relatively easy to divide the qualifying shows into one of the four classifications: AA, A, B or C.
The purpose of graduated qualifying "levels" is to establish comparability and consistency–in other words, to level the playing field as far as qualifying placings. Thus, an exhibitor competing at the New York State Fair reporting 85 head exhibited is given consistent representation, as it relates to the level of competition and recognized qualifying placings, with an exhibitor competing at the Wisconsin State Fair reporting 80 head exhibited. The contest would dictate that both of these shows would be assigned to the same "level" given the numbers exhibited. This thought process prevents a show with only 45 head exhibited being compared directly to a show with 90 head exhibited.
The guidelines, established at the contest's inception way back in 1988, are as follows: AA status is reserved for only the largest of the breed shows. In the Belgians, it is for the North American Belgian Championship; in the Percherons, it is for the World Percheron Congress when held in either the U.S. or in Canada; and for the Clydes, it is for the National Clydesdale Show and the World Clydesdale Show. In today's environment, it is generally agreed that there must be over 100 head actually exhibited to be considered an A Level Show (with the exception of the Clydesdales who currently do not have any shows other than the National reporting numbers greater than 100). To qualify at an AA or A Level show, suggests qualification against the stiffest of competition. For a B Level show, 65 to 100 head is a guideline, certainly not to drop below 50 head for two years in a row (again, the Clydesdales are an exception). Assuming that the number of heavy horses shown in competition increases in years to come, the numbers required at the higher levels should continue to inflate over time and therefore, will need to continue to be reviewed regularly for changes.
For a C Level show, a minimum of five exhibitors is recommended, but certainly geographical considerations carry the most weight for this category for the sole purpose of establishing venues which exhibitors from every nook and cranny of the country can get to. It is much harder to round up 40 head of one breed of draft horses in Arizona than it is in Indiana.
The contest was specifically not designed as a high point contest like that utilized by several of our light horse counterparts; contests that recognize the winners as those animals that won at the largest qualifying shows or the most shows in a given season. No, the intent is to recognize individual excellence and those doing the promotion of it, regardless of the size of the show or the location on the continent. The possibility for someone to show an animal at only one show and still become the All-American is definitely an incentive and has happened in recent years. Under a point contest, this animal, owner, breeder, and bloodline would have received no recognition. It is also very important to remember the C level shows are doing as much promotion for the heavy horse as the very largest of shows ... and possibly more. They are exposing the breed to a whole new group of people, which is why accessability for all is a must.
A show's level can not be retroactively changed if they have unusually high or low numbers in the current year. Instead, consideration for a change would be given for the contest in the upcoming year. The list of qualifying shows is examined each year with respect to the number of animals actually exhibited. When adjustments are warranted, a consensus is generally reached between the respective All-American Committee and The Draft Horse Journal. This entails adding new shows, deleting some that no longer meet the criteria or fail to submit official results, and changing the level of qualification for others whose numbers have changed. To insure the integrity of the contest, one of the most important considerations is to review each show consistently and to avoid personal preference or the "pork barrel" approach. A show should never be given a higher or lower rating without the numbers to support it. (However, occasionally an extension can be granted. This is the case with the 2006 National Belgian Show whose numbers have fallen under 100 head. The show has been an "A" level show since the inception of the All-American Contest and new show management has committed to higher standards for 2006.) The best way to raise a show's rating is to earn it–improve the show and the rating will most assuredly follow.
All that is required of the qualifying show is submission of official show results to the respective breed association(s). A show that fails to submit results is placed on probation for a one-year period. In all cases, active exhibitors have insured show results were submitted by any shows in question the following year.
Is It Perfect?
It was designed and still is a means of promotion and recognition, and not as a horse show. We all know you can not judge horses from pictures alone. However, just like at a horse show, an animal that qualified at only one show can and sometimes does beat a horse that was campaigned extensively. Sometimes a horse that placed below another horse at a particular show will place ahead of that same animal in the All-American contest. That is the nature of mathematics (and of horse shows). What is significant is that the final decisions are reached by a broad consensus, made up of the people who actually judged the designated shows.
Is it fair? It is as fair as any show. The only difference is that the Contest works with the opinions of close to twenty judges instead of one.
Is it biased to the Midwest? The fact is, the draft horse population is currently heavily concentrated in this region as are most of the major shows. So, the odds are that the contest is going to have a midwestern flavor. However, the intent is to equally recognize those shows, breeders and exhibitors outside the midwest that are presenting quality animals to the public. The Draft Horse Journal encourages the addition of shows in these more remote regions as they become warranted and has also asked for the addition of larger shows outside of the Midwest to offer more opportunities to those that are less centrally located.
Is it the right thing to support? We recognize that breed associations have a single breed focus and may have different agendas; and that the direction of the All-American Contest may not be in alignment with their priorities. However, from our vantage point, the All-American Contest is meeting its original goals–promotion and recognition. We believe the Contest is one of the single most effective means of promotion available to the breeder and exhibitor of Belgians, Percherons and Clydes; that it is doing it's part in raising the bar in breeding excellence, encouraging improvement and upgrading of breeding programs and encouraging people to get their horses in front of the public in places they would otherwise not be seen; And, that this has the desired ripple effect on horseshoe sales, trailer sales, feed sales, and all that other "good stuff" that goes with horse ownership.
How Do I Get Involved?
It is open to all. There is no entry fee. Contact your respective breed association (Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron) for a list of qualifying shows and a nomination form.
What's All This "American" Stuff? I Live In Canada!
In cooperation with the Canadian Clydesdale Association, The Draft Horse Journal became a co-sponsor of the All-Canadian Clydesdale Contest in 2005. During 2006, The Journal will also do likewise with the Canadian Percheron Association in developing the All-Canadian Percheron Contest. As with the All-American Contest, we feel that promotional endeavors of this nature are of the utmost priority and value to North American breeders, exhibitors and owners of the heavy horse and to those that supply them. The quality of an animal and the promotion of a breed have little to do with a mailing address.