AQHA Past President Rick Johns died December 16, 2022.
AQHA has been notified of the death of AQHA Past President Rick Johns of Prescott, Arizona.
“My interest in horses has always been toward mares,” Rick Johns said in 1984, when he was serving as AQHA’s 34th president. “Some of the old-timers I had an opportunity to be around in my younger days all said that the mother was a really important part of the program and I still believe that.”
Rick built an impressive broodmare band, half of which were show producers. The other half produced potential runners. But long before he was ever in the horse business, he was familiar with the working horses on his family’s vegetable farm in Arizona.
Rick first started showing in the mid-1960s, taking a real liking to the cattle events, and it was not long before he was hooked. He had connections with many active horse breeders and exhibitors, particularly Dan Opie of Oregon, who had owned and campaigned halter sire Quincy Dan. Dan was also the owner of a Quincy Dan son, Sir Quincy Dan, to which Rick bred many of his mares.
Some of the top horses that Rick was associated with were 1978 world champion yearling mare Triple Lindy, Superior halter horse Quincy Cupid, AQHA Champion and Superior halter horse Quincy Style, 1976 world champion aged stallion Son Of Sun and racing ROM earners Chicks Gann, Everything Lovly, My Gracious and Azure Sugar.
Rick became an AQHA director in 1972 and served on the Association’s judges and membership committees. He was a past president of the Arizona Quarter Horse Association and was also active in the Arizona Livestock Association and the Arizona National Livestock Show.
“In the mid-1960s, I was a founding member and the first president of the Arizona Quarter Horse Youth Association,” says AQHA Professional Horseman Al Dunning, who writes the Reflections column for The American Quarter Horse Journal. “We had a great group of kids that were excited about showing horses and having loads of fun together. We were lucky enough to raise a substantial amount of funds to support our activities. In those days, the Arizona Quarter Horse Breeders Association sent representatives Jim Trimble and Rick Johns to talk to us at our meeting. They asked us to join as part of the parent association. I was against the idea (we had substantially more money in our treasury), and that’s when I got that famous Rick Johns look: a squint with a raised eyebrow. I knew I was in trouble!
“Over the years, when Rick would enter our boardroom or any other committee meetings, he had an air about him that commanded respect,” Al says. “He had done so many things within AQHA, was thoughtful in his speech, wise in his decisions and was a powerful presence. Rick has been my friend since the 1960s and has mentored me in many ways to serve AQHA and AzQHA.”
In addition to showing, Rick took on leadership roles within the Arizona Quarter Horse Association, eventually becoming president in 1971. His active role in the organization helped spur friendships with other high-profile AQHA members.
“I developed a really good relationship with Don Dodge and a very close relationship with (former AQHA executive vice president) Bill Brewer,” Rick told Al for a column he wrote in 2021 in the Journal. “Those two have always been special for me. There were a lot of other people who were meaningful to me, including Tom Finley, Bob Kieckhefer, Martin Clark, Bill Englund, John Hoyt, Howard Weis, Dr. Barry Wood and so many others.”
These relationships shaped the future of Rick’s political career within AQHA for many years to come.
In 1973, Ruth Adams approached Rick about creating a circuit show in Arizona. “She said the Florida Gold Coast had a circuit and asked, ‘Why can’t we do one, as well?’” Rick told Al. “I liked the thought, and I had the ability to financially back it. I offered it to the state association, and they said it simply couldn’t be done. I said, ‘If you don’t want to do it, I will!’ They agreed, and that was the start of the Sun Circuit.”
Rick financially backed the show for nine years, believing in the concept and knowing its potential future significance. Today, the Sun Circuit is consistently one of the biggest AQHA shows, with more than 22,000 entries during its nine-day run. Without Rick, this elite AQHA event never would have happened.
With the Sun Circuit’s quick success, Rick was eyed for more grandiose leadership roles. “(AQHA past presidents) Tom Finley and Bob Kieckhefer came to me in the late ’70s and asked me if I would be interested in being president of AQHA,” Rick said. “I told them I would be very interested, but I didn’t see how I was qualified. Finley and Kieckhefer took me under their wings. It took four years to get it done but they were masters at politics.”
Rick was elected as the 34th president of AQHA in 1984. The same year, he married his second wife, Marsha Brown, who shared an equal passion for horses.”
Al says, “The thing that I respected Rick for the most when he was AQHA president was his dedication to the membership.
AQHA Past President Frank Merrill recalls the unconventional approach Rick took toward the presidency during his term by saying, “I think Rick might have been the first president, at least in my time, who really postured himself as the members’ president. Rick really took that job seriously, and he wanted to make sure the members knew he was willing to listen, and he would take action when he thought it was necessary. He really had the members’ best interests at heart. Rick didn’t care whether you had racehorses, show horses, cutters or reiners. He cared for everybody. Rick Johns is high in my book!”
Al recalls Rick walking through the barns alone and mingling with people at the AQHA World Championship Show. This was uncommon for the AQHA Executive Committee at that time, but Rick wanted to know what was happening beyond the walls of the Executive Committee.
“That’s what I enjoyed doing,” Rick told Al. “I made a lot of friends down there. There were so many great people in the Quarter Horse association. It was one of my best experiences as president.”
Many people took notice of this new approach to leading the association, including Bill Brewer, who served as AQHA executive vice president when Rick was president. “That’s a practice I learned from Rick and one I continued doing myself,” Bill says. “Rick has been a leader at AQHA for many years and is a valued friend and confidant. I really became close to him during my time working with the judges committee, which Rick was on. One of my very favorite programs during my time at AQHA was the Judges Applicant School. AQHA was the first association I am aware of that implemented such a school, which set the standards for providing qualified judges by putting them through a real test before they ever became judges. Without Rick, I’m not sure that program would have ever happened. From the very first time I talked to him about it, Rick strongly supported the school and the concept of what the school was trying to do for AQHA and judging. I feel strongly about Rick’s influence on the school and getting the school up and running. To this day, I speak to Rick every few weeks, and he continues to support AQHA with his keen interest. He is one of the best ever!”
Al says, “Rick was able to combine it all with his heart for the American Quarter Horse and for his fellow man. Thinking of others is a wonderful attribute. Even with his esteemed status, Rick always thought of people first.”
Rick was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 1997. More details will be posted as they are available.