Explanation, Please: AQHA’s new Leveling Program

Confused about the AQHA’s recently implemented attempt to level the playing field in competitions? Maegan Gossett breaks it down.

Top photo: Maegan and her horse Elle competing in Hunter Under Saddle. Photo courtesy of Sarah Elder Chabot.

From Maegan:

As a life-long AQHA competitor, I welcome any changes that will make the association more accessible and user friendly for newcomers. One such change came about on January 1, 2013, when AQHA instituted its new Leveling Program. AQHA recognized the need for both the horse and rider to have more level options in their division. This new program allows for more horses and riders to be distinguished for their effort by creating new levels for each horse and rider similar to other associations.

The previous system allowed for new riders to compete in Novice classes, but after “pointing out” in that class (25 or fewer points), horse and rider would have to advance to the open youth or amateur level. With the new levels, riders and their horses can compete with exhibitors in their own level rather than having to face-off against veterans who have been showing for years.

The new levels are broken down by the horse’s points and the rider’s points.

Exhibitor levels are Rookie, Novice, Intermediate and Open.

Horse levels are Rookie, Green, Progressive and Open.

To determine what level you and your horse are, you can look up your “exhibitor data” and “horse data” at www.aqha.com/leveling if you or your horse has ever earned at least 0.5 points in a class. The first column in the exhibitor’s and horse’s eligibility data is the Rookie Eligibility. The second column is the Novice/Green Eligibility. The third column is Intermediate/Open Eligibility. You will also need to look at the 2013 Point Ranges for Determining Horse or Exhibitor Level as the point ranges for each class will be different per level.

These are the points that you take into account for each level:


  • Rookie: lifetime points from all divisions and all levels
  • Novice: Novice amateur + novice youth + amateur + youth + open = earned in the past three years, excluding Green.
  • Intermediate: Amateur + youth + open = earned in the past three years
  • Open: Amateur + youth + open = earned in the past three years


  • Rookie: lifetime points from all divisions and all levels, excluding Novice
  • Green: lifetime points from all divisions and all levels, excluding Novice
  • Progressive: Amateur + youth + open = earned in the past three years
  • Open: Amateur + youth + open = earned in the past three years

For example, let’s look at some of my “exhibitor’s data”:


If I were trying to determine my level eligibility for Showmanship At Halter, I would look at the first column, which is the Rookie eligibility. I have 106 lifetime points in showmanship, which exceeds the limit of 10 points, meaning I am not eligible to show at the Rookie Level in this class. Next we look at the second column, which is the Novice level eligibility. Because I have recently started showing again, I only have nine points within the last three years as of the beginning of this year. By looking at the leveling point range for showmanship, I see I could show as a Novice because I fall within the 0-25 point range.

In the beginning, I loved the concept of this program both as a competitor and member of AQHA. However, upon looking at the point ranges and seeing what level I could technically compete at, I am discouraged. There is no way I should ever be considered a novice in my events. Since I was 10 years old, I have been showing. I have learned the ways of the classes: what to wear, what is cool, what is proper. I’ve learned the in’s and out’s of AQHA. For this reason, I think the novice point ranges should not be calculated on the three year renewal basis. I know a lot of competitors, not just myself, who will choose to not compete in the novice classes for this reason.

So at the end of it all, I think AQHA has slipped up in its attempt to level the playing field. The program almost has it all, and I think newcomers will still find that this leveling program has opened AQHA’s doors a little wider. As long as seasoned AQHA competitors do not take advantage of the slackened novice rule, this program should open up opportunities for riders of all levels to compete with their equals.

This new program will be implemented at participating shows choosing to level their classes. AQHA shows choosing to not level their classes will have classes distinguished as they were previously (novice youth, novice amateur, youth, amateur, and open). In order to show at an AQHA sanctioned show, you will need to obtain a yearly membership card – youth (18 and under), amateur (18+), or general membership (for people only showing in the open division, like trainers).

If you have anymore questions, please visit www.aqha.com/leveling or leave a question in the comment section below, and I will do my best to answer it!

If you enjoyed this story, be sure to check out Maegan’s Horse Nation column, “The Long Road,” chronicling her journey to the 2013 AQHA World Show in November.

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