Chex Out Tuff, AKA Wilson, took home the honors of AQHA Horse of the Year at the 2022 NHSFR. He is ridden by Will Jones […]
AQHA Hires Karl Stressman
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Karl Stressman can’t turn down a challenge. Coming out of retirement, the 71-year-old accepted the position as CEO of the American Quarter Horse Association, the largest equine breed association in the world with more than 230,000 members in more than 130 countries. With a staff of over 200, Karl will take the helm with the same intent as he has tackled any of the projects he has taken on over the years. “I just want to work as hard as I can with the people who work here; Ultimately, I want to continue to enhance the Association for the future.” Underlying the entire plan is a simple concept. “I’m not taking any prisoners – we are going to rock and roll. I’m not doing it if I’m not having fun, and I expect the staff to have an environment they enjoy.”
The son of a Methodist preacher, Karl was raised in Tucson, Ariz. He competed as a gymnast in high school and started team roping during college. He attended the University of Arizona with a major in art and a minor in education; however, he quickly determined that being an art teacher and coach wasn’t his career path and ended up in the car business for eight years. He eventually had an opportunity to sell for a major western saddle company, and he was hooked on the western lifestyle. He decided to try his hand at western retail and opened two stores in Colorado. Two years later, Wrangler came knocking, and he landed his dream job. “I was hired to be in charge of rodeo event marketing,” he said. “I moved to North Carolina, and thankfully there was a group of ropers there.” Living on the east coast was a far cry from his life in the West. He traveled as many as 240 days in a single year, attending all the major rodeos and having the best life he could have. “I was going to rodeos, playing a little golf and roping with my friends across the country! I had the job down to auto pilot.”
Then the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) came knocking. “I thought I had the skill set to take on the PRCA,” he said, looking at the career move as another challenge. “You take jobs when they aren’t great, make them great, and walk away.” He still has an emotional attachment to the Wrangler brand, wearing their line proudly. He stayed at the PRCA for 10 years, until announcing his retirement in 2017. He later took a job heading up the United States Team Roping Championships (USTRC), a position he held for two years until announcing his retirement in 2020.
“I wanted to retire to spend additional time with my family and friends, rope and play golf,” he admitted, but quickly added, “But, I don’t think retirement is in my DNA right now. You can only rope and play golf so much! I do believe that the couple of years I took off will make me a stronger leader for AQHA. I had to get away from the member association business; gather my thoughts and now I feel I am as strong a leader as I’ve ever been – maybe stronger.”
Karl has the best partner for the job at hand, his wife, Allie. “She’s the rock star – I’m just carrying her bags around. She never disappoints me – my whole life has been a string of luck, and I’m not going to change anything.” The couple are all in with the new challenge. They bought a house in Amarillo, and Allie is ready support this new endeavor. “This is going to take some support from her – this is a big undertaking, similar to the PRCA. We spent a lot of time getting to the nitty gritty of what makes it tic and how we can help improve it.”
His plan for his new job is three-fold:
1) Establish the most important initiatives for the Association.
2) Accomplish those things at 100%. If you take on too many initiatives, you only get 60% completed. In the overall picture, AQHA is not just in this building, it’s serving the members worldwide and their American Quarter Horses – that’s what we need to focus on.
3) The stronger the staff gets, the stronger the results will be.
Karl has been at the job for a month. “I’m a quick study – everyday I’m learning more and more and processing what the priorities are. The people who work here are going to be instrumental in establishing what we need to do – they speak for themselves.
“I like to get down in the weeds and get after it,” he concluded. “After representing the brands that I loved from Wrangler in the 1990s to the PRCA in 2008 – the largest rodeo association in the world, then USTRC, and now the largest equine breed association in the world – game on – I may be the luckiest guy in the world.”