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The Silver Spotlight: APHA Executive Director, Billy Smith




Q & A with American Paint Horse Association Executive Director, Billy Smith


Q: Congratulations on your recent appointment as APHA’s Executive Director. What does it mean to you to be taking the reins for the organization’s landmark 50th year?

A: I just feel a significant amount of responsibility to deliver to APHA members an organization that does not only weather the next 50 years, but thrives to its 100th birthday. It’s safe to say that none of the employees at APHA today will be here for that 100th celebration, but we can sure lay the foundation for an organization moving aggressively into the future.

I was determined when I first arrived, but my passion for the American Paint Horse has only blossomed, mostly because of the kindness of its members. When I work I know that there are members cheering for APHA’s success.  APHA has a serious and devoted fan base. It’s unparalleled. I feel a great sense of responsibility to them and to the Executive Committee that hired me.


Q: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in the horse industry?

A: My start in the horse business was initially at a distance. Both sets of grandparents raced American Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds in West Texas and New Mexico. My uncle still trains Thoroughbreds. It’s interesting in life how so often you drift back to those roots. When I finally got a chance to purchase some property, the first thing I did was start looking for horses. My son’s involvement in horse shows brought me into that world. It was a terrific bonding opportunity. I wouldn’t trade all of the miles and dusty arenas for anything.

My involvement with associations began while I was a professor at West Texas A&M University. I collaborated with many not-for-profits on ways to make their operations for streamlined and cost-effective. I also helped organizations with data-mining and other sorts of database marketing efforts. That’s where I first had an inkling that I’d like to be involved professionally in the horse industry.  Jim Jennings, editor of the American Quarter Horse Journal, had always been something of an icon to me; he has since become a great friend.  In our first meeting, he asked me to help judge some magazines. It was such an enjoyable experience that I explored an association with the American Quarter Horse Association. To make a very long story short, a gracious Don Treadway offered me a job and, as a bonus, the opportunity to learn from him. I think the experience worked out well for both of us; it certainly did for me.


Q: Your family seems to be a big part of who you are. Are they a source of inspiration that will impact your job as Executive Director? 

A: My father always stressed to me to leave things better than you found them. I have always tried to do that and, for the most part, have successfully left a better place in my wake. My family grounds me. I’m never too smart for them, nor too dumb. I’m never anything more than what I am, and that’s a powerful place to call home. I’ve been married to the same woman for almost 30 years. I can’t envision life without her, and I can’t envision life without the kindness of family and friends. It’s the kindness of family and friends that leads us to a better place in our own skin.

After 50 years of reflecting, my upbringing is easily divisible into themes that were hugely important to my father. He stamped them on me; I can’t wash them off:

  • Never end your quest to find a better way—nothing was ever good enough for my dad, and I mean that in the very best possible way. Life is truly an adventure that requires pruning, foraging and a keen since of self and those around you.
  • It’s not about WHO is right, it’s about WHAT is right—arguments almost never end positively. Search for what’s right, and don’t worry about who gets the credit or if anyone gets credit.
  • Encourage the success of others—I’m much more enthused when I see someone succeed who I have helped along the way; great companies work that way as well. I’m still naïve enough to believe that kindness leads us to greatness. 
  • Give more than is expected—I ascribe to that notion that when it’s time for me to die, I would prefer to be utterly worn out and used up.  What a waste to leave things undone, unsaid, unmade and memories uncaptured.
  • Learn names. Pronounce them correctly—I grew up among a large population of Hispanics. I admire that culture very much. My father was insistent that we learn to pronounce names correctly, particularly Spanish surnames. “It’s respectful,” he said, and he’s right.
  • Enthusiasm is contagious—Most of us want to be around people who are enthusiastic. It’s way too easy to find negative people. They’re everywhere and it takes almost no effort to be negative.


Q: What are some things APHA is doing to celebrate its 50 years? Can we expect surprises at the AjPHA or APHA World Championship shows?

A: We’ve lined up a host of activities for the 50th anniversary. It’s just going to add to what I believe will be a breakout year for the APHA World Shows.

APHA 50th buckle

  • First we’ll have a celebration dinner at Austin Ranch in Grapevine, Texas, on June 1 during our Workshop, which takes place May 31–June 2.
  • Gist has produced a very elegant 50th anniversary buckle, and our members are truly excited about it.
  • We’re planning a “Happy Birthday” celebration to be held at the Youth World Show, June 22–30 in Fort Worth.
  • At the APHA Convention, we’ll celebrate with an event on Thursday, October 5 at 6:30 p.m. with a 50th anniversary celebration at APHA headquarters in north Fort Worth. We invite everyone to join us for a fun evening of music, food and socializing. Then, at the Fort Worth Hilton on Friday, October 6, at noon, take a break from committee meetings and join us for the President's Inaugural Luncheon. Outgoing President Scot Jackson will welcome the new president and Executive Committee members.  Later that evening, at 6 p.m., the inaugural class of inductees to the newly created APHA Hall of Fame will be installed at a dinner at the Hilton.  The Hall of Fame will provide recognition to 25 members and 25 horses that have made extraordinary contributions to the Association, the Paint Horse breed and the equine industry.
  • Several anniversary-related activities—including a 50th anniversary reception—are planned Open/Amateur World Championship Show, which takes place November 7–17 in Forth Worth.


Q: The APHA marketing department has always been a stand-out as one of the best in the equine industry and I think most would agree that the Paint Horse Journal and Paint Horse Connection has been a big part of that. How do you intend to build upon that success to further showcase the breed, and what changes would you like to see?

A: We’re going to focus our attention on integrating the already great work with our magazines and our web presence. You’ll see a new web look that will allow members to market, buy, sell their horses on the APHA website. We will make a concerted effort to attract the best corporate partners to APHA as a way to beef up our shows and provide members with greater membership value. In addition, we’ll begin dipping our toes into a greater video presence, starting with a new weekly series that we’re calling, “Fresh Paint.” It will be a YouTube-based program that will add a video dimension to our existing slate of communication opportunities. 

In addition, we’ll work very hard to incorporate our directors more directly into our communication and media mix. They represent great, supportive allies who are capable of elevating APHA to new levels. 


Q: What do you personally love the most about the American Paint Horse?

A: Two words: Each unique.


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