ACTHA breaks its silence on organization’s troubles

actha statment
A screenshot of the ACTHA article in ACTHA Monthly magazine.

After months of rumors, canceled rides and angry members asking where ACTHA (American Competitive Trail Horse Association) had gone, the organization has finally broken its silence on the financial crisis it is facing.


In the magazine, ACTHA Monthly, a two-page spread titled “What’s Going On? The Real ACTHA Crisis” outlines the organization’s troubles, the first time the members have been addressed on the crisis even though staff members had been laid off weeks earlier, leaving the offices empty and phones ringing when members tried to contact the group.

In the article, ACTHA first offers some background. “The real truth is ACTHA has been struggling for a long time.” The article alludes to funding that didn’t come through, and investment in a new website that also didn’t materialize. It doesn’t go into any further detail on those two points. It also issues vague blame on “eccentric leadership” and “managerial frustrations” for the organization’s inability to “flourish.”

The article admits that the organization had “some financial loss” it was working to overcome and went into the winter with very low reserves.  For the first time it was unable to pay its ride hosts.

Then on Dec. 6, 2015, the ACTHA donation page was hit by a series of credit card donations. “They donated $1, $2, $20, and so on, until thousands of donations had come in totaling over $60,000.” The organization says it started paying bills and felt “rescued” and “relieved.” But then fraudulent claims started to come in.  The donations turned out to be fraudulent charges made to stolen cards, and the organization was facing $15 charge back fees on those $1 donations. ACTHA’s accounts started to fall into a “bottomless abyss of disappearing funds.”

As of Jan. 1, 2016, all staff was laid off. A few continued to work as volunteers. Two people manned the customer service phones and email.  That remains the situation at this time. “Our volunteers managing Facebook cannot answer questions regarding refunds, ride closing, etc., so while it seems like they are ignoring those questions, they don’t have  access to those answers.

As to its future, ACTHA says it will not give up fighting and lists some of the people that are working to revive the organization: “a volunteer professional with experience with non-profits” a “highly active new board member … with a professional background in the corporate world” an attorney, two CPAs and state offices. “We are fighting the good fight and will not give up easily!”

The organization says it is looking at several options including Chapter 11 bankruptcy, although “that is certainly not a first choice.” ACTHA insists that its first priority is paying its ride hosts.

ACTHA is restructuring its policies and procedures “to provide an environment of accountability.”  The organization plans to create “executive teams in the areas of IT and finance, rather than having those areas controlled by one particular person.” Positions such as president, vice president, etc., will be eliminated and replaced by teams.

Rides on the schedule for February will all be canceled and refunds given while the changes to the organization are implemented.  ACTHA has obtained ride insurance and it will be activated once necessary IT changes have been made, hopefully by the end of February. Rides are expected to be able to continue by March 1.

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Is ACTHA in crisis?


ACTHA runs on the concept of six miles, six obstacles, six judges. Photo by CC.

“Casual competition, serious fun.”

The American Competitive Trail Horse Association has gained great popularity in recent years, attracting all levels and genres of riders to its obstacle course events. It offers arena and trail challenges across the United States, with some of the proceeds from each ride going to local horse charities. The organization also plays up that its events are a great way to give jobs to horses that otherwise might just stand in the pasture, and therefore also give them value.  Legions of people have flocked to this wonderful concept, enjoying their horses and challenging themselves while making new friends along the trail. And plentiful sponsors have flocked to them as well.

But rumors have been swirling about problems at the American Competitive Trail Horse Association.

Hosts are reporting that they haven’t been paid for putting on ACTHA rides. ACTHA staff is reporting that they have been laid off. And riders report that they aren’t receiving year-end awards. In fact, there is a Go Fund Me page set up to help get awards to the riders.

“I am a laid off ACTHA staff member.  ACTHA is in the middle of a major crisis.  Many competitors never received their year end prizes. I have volunteered my services to embroider the State Top Ten sheets and ship to winners, but these need to be shipped to me and then shipped to each individual competitor. Estimate at this time for shipping alone is $1120.

I have the first box of sheets and hope to start shipping them out this week as the embroidery is finished, but as much as I’d like to pay for shipping myself, I can not do so. 

Should we collect more than the amount needed, excess will go from my own account directly to pay for other, as yet unpaid for, awards. 

Please give as your own heart desires.”

ACTHA’s FAQ page on its website seems to allude to the issues.

On ACTHA’s own website, on the FAQ page, in bold lettering it reads “ACTHA LIVES! Details later today (1/20/16).” However, details cannot be found. Efforts to get those details from ACTHA have so far gone unanswered.

The Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, one of ACTHA’s most popular rides in the East, has no ACTHA rides scheduled this year and its rides are scheduled with Equine Trail Sports, which is very similar to the ACTHA model. A search found several other former ACTHA rides that have switched to ETS, and they encourage participants to register with the ACTHA number so that their 2015 points will transfer to ETS. “We will be riding with Equine Trail Sports for the next few rides,” one ride host said of their upcoming events.

ETS confirmed that ACTHA points transfer to their awards system. “Effective 01/01/2016, ACTHA Placement Points earned through 12/31/2015 fully transfer into ETS’s Carrot Award Program.”

However other rides, like with Elite Equestrian Events in Randleman, North Carolina, are moving ahead with their ACTHA rides.

ACTHA’s future does look uncertain. Watch closely to see if they can right the ship.

UPDATE, Feb. 8, 2016: ACTHA ride hosts are reporting that all rides scheduled last weekend (Feb. 6-7), across the U.S., were canceled due to the organization’s lack of liability insurance.