They are the two of the biggest associations for western bred horses in Europe, their German affiliates host the largest shows outside North America and they share many similarities – and still there is a slight ongoing rivalry between the AQHA and the APHA in Europe. One can often hear the statement that the AQHA industry is more developed than the APHA industry, and is therefore better. But is it really? While any paint horse enthusiast would most likely scream “No!” and most AQHA competitors would agree, we figured it was about time to start an objective discussion on the topic.
She is one of those who must know what makes the difference between AQHA and APHA: 23-year-old Laura Pfeifer has been a household name at the European APHA circuit for many years, but has also won the 2016 Amateur Intermediate Award of the DQHA. Being a multiple APHA European Champion as well as two-time #1 in the APHA world rankings in SPB Youth with her late gelding Hesa Nigel Paycheck Laura has reached everything one could desire as a European APHA competitor. Since 2016 she is competing in the AQHA amateur allround events with her 5-year-old gelding Potentializing and her double-registered mare Fashionable Irons.
When asked what the main difference between both show circuits is, Laura states: “The classes at the AQHA shows are bigger and much more competitive. Which does not mean that there aren’t APHA competitors that are highly competitive and extremely good riders. But what makes the difference is the relationship between mass and quality. At the AQHA shows you can see many people and a large part of them is very experienced, whereas at the APHA shows you won’t find as many. But the APHA competitors that are really good, could easily compete at an AQHA show.“ Laura who has managed to make it into all finals at the 2016 ECQH stresses that this is something you can be glad about: „Being a finalist at the ECQH is really something to be proud of, because you compete against many top riders!“
The one fault of AQHA that Laura points out is that some of these top riders do not always enter in their appropriate division: „I sometimes get the feeling that the level of the novice riders at APHA shows is more balanced, meaning that they can compete against each other on a fair basis. At AQHA shows you can often spot a highly experienced allround horse with a rider that has been competing at the AQHA circuit for several years, but hasn’t reached the limit of points to non-eligible for the novice division, in class together with real novice riders.“
We all ride to have fun, but – admit it – we also want to win. And this is one positive point for APHA riders as Jennifer Abröll who is the 2016 APHA European Champion in Novice Amateur Showmanship, points out: “APHA gives away really pretty year-end awards, a sculpture of a horse’s head.” Laura agrees with Jennifer: „I had the pleasure to experience this myself – I got two amazing saddles for being the #1 in the world rankings and I like that they give awards to the top 5 of the world rankings in each division.“
As mentioned, Jenny is an APHA European Champion in the Novice Amateur division – a title she could not hold if she achieved this at the AQHA circuit: „I know that some do not like giving away titles in the novice divisions, but I like it. We invest a lot of money as well and you could also argue that if you win a novice class at the Euro Paint you are the best one in Europe among the people you competed against!“
But – as often in life – there is always an alternative. In this case its name is VWB, Vereinigung der Westernreiter Bayerns, an open-bred association that is the host of three annually AQHA/VWB combined shows in Rieden, Bavaria. These three shows belong to the top 10 of the largest AQHA shows in Europe and you can be sure that everyone of distinction will be there! And since it is possible to enter any kind of breed in VWB classes many AQHA competitors who travel to the show enter these classes as well which makes it possible for APHA members to compete against them. „I plan on doing this next year or in 2018 with my junior horse,“ Jennifer tells us. „I’m a little afraid, but it will be an exciting challenge!“
Entering the VWB classes with a paint horse is exactly what Laura did in the past: “I showed my mare Invest In A Shine in the VWB allround classes and it was a lot of fun. If you have a well-trained allround horse it is worth traveling there, because that’s the way you can enter the most classes. The only disadvantage of the VWB classes is that they do not include english events.“ But there are other special classes in the VWB programm: The Golden Series events in which you can win a lot of money. „If you have a paint horse that is good enough to be shown in these classes the VWB/AQHA shows are definitely a great option because you can add more classes. It would not make sense to travel to shows this big and only enter two events,“ Laura states. She has won the Golden Series Showmanship in 2015 with Invest In A Shine, proving that paint horses can definitely keep up!
Laura Pfeifer and her APHA mare Invest In A Shine, a multiple European Champion and the 2015 Golden Series Showmanship Champion; picture: private.
Personally, I have started showing as an APHA member and entered the AQHA circuit last year. The one thing that I disliked about the APHA system was the fact that you had to own or lease a horse in order to be eligible for Novice Amateur classes. But since APHA has changed that recently both associations have similar opportunities to offer which makes them equally attractive, it just depends on what you want and whether the horse you fall in love with is colored or solid… In the end, the discussion comes down to this: There are advantages and disadvantages – and you should appreciate both associations for what they are.