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The World’s Foremost Heavy Horse & Mule Publication
The World’s Foremost
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We receive many inquiries about the All-North American Program: How it developed, how it works, how to get involved. To answer these questions we gladly present:

The All-North American Shire Contest

What Is It?

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. The All-American contest was (and remains so) an annual competition that 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.” Competition for Clydesdales was added in 1994.

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 assisted the Canadian Percheron Association in developing the All-Canadian Percheron Contest, and the All-Canadian Belgian Contest followed. The Shire All-American Contest was included in 2010.

SEVEN different contests being administered and co-sponsored by The Journal proved to be overwhelming, so a proposal to consolidate these programs into an All-North American Contest for each breed was presented to the associations. We felt 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. Unfortunately, only the American and Canadian Shire organizations were in agreement, so the remaining six contests were turned over to their respective associations. Most have continued on with the tradition.

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/or 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 All-North American continues to be) the kind of program that works best with 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-North 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-North American nomination form, found on the Shire association web sites and in their publications, in accordance with the deadlines established.

Upon receipt of the nomination forms and photos, the Shire associations’ All-North 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 committee then compiles a ballot, picturing each animal in its respective qualifying class. The qualifying show placings are listed, in addition to foaling date, sire and dam, 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-North 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-North 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-North 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-North American, the second highest, the Reserve All-North 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-North American and Reserve All-North American horse. The respective breed publications run the ballots and results in their entirety and provide certificates or plaques to the winners.

The Rules for Entry

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 Shire placing 2nd in a mixed breed class behind a Percheron would not qualify as the 1st place Shire.

All horses must be registered with either the American Shire Horse Assocaition or the Canadian Shire Horse Association. This includes foals.

An official nomination form must then be completed for each animal, 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.

Lastly, the nomination and photo must be received by the All-North American Chairperson by November 15. Late entries are not accepted.

What Happens If You Don’t Follow the Rules?

In 1998, the All-American 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, 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. Very few exhibitors have been disqualified from the All-American Contest; and none, to date, have been from the All-North American Contest.

How Are The Qualifying Shows & Their Ratings Determined?

The concept behind the original All-American program was 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 Shire associa-tions have designated 20 qualifying shows which have a solid representation of animals exhibited.

The level at which a show assumes qualifying status is based on the number of animals actually shown in hal-ter 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.

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 Iowa State Fair reporting 31 head exhibited is given consistent representation, as it relates to the level of competition and recognized qualifying placings, with an exhibitor competing at the Calgary Stampede reporting 21 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 12 head exhibited being compared directly to a show with 40 head exhibited.

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. The intent, rather, 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-North American is definitely an incentive and has happened. 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 All-North 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. 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 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-North 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 20 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-North American Contest may not be in alignment with their priorities. However, from our vantage point, the All-North 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 Shires; 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 The American Shire Horse Association or the Canadian Shire Horse Association for a list of qualifying shows and a nomination form.