Arizona Quarter Horse Association Celebrates Its Members’ Accomplishments At A Fun and Festive Awards Dinner.

Arizona Quarter Horse Association exceeded expectations with their 2018 Year End Awards Celebration for AzQHA, Arizona Stock Horse Association and Arizona Reined Cow Horse Association members on February 2, 2019. The festivities were held at Los Cedros USA, a unique horse facility and event venue in Scottsdale. Reminiscent of a Moroccan citadel, Los Cedros is a mix of ancient design and modern flair that provided an exotic and casually elegant setting for the evening. About 260 people attended this special celebration event. Enormous hand-hewn timber doors ushered guest into the lush courtyard where dinner, drinks, fun and friends were enjoyed. Members were greeted with goodie bags from Farnam and photo ops resembling a red carpet premier.

Dinner was provided by area gourmet food trucks, and everyone enjoyed sampling goodies from one, or all of them. While the majestic setting provided a prime canvas, it was truly made magical by the artful strokes of Jayne Vatcher’s crew at Cre8tive Event Rentals. They sponsored and provided all the audio and visual equipment, tables, settings and lighting that tied everything together. Dramatic fire tables added a warm glow as night fell.

As the evening’s presentations got underway, AzQHA CEO Doug Huls gave a brief report on the status of the organization and the growth of its biggest shows. An organization like this is only successful with the hard work and dedicated hours of service from volunteers. The Youth Volunteer of the Year, Morgan Farrell, was awarded with a buckle for all that she has done helping with the Youth program. Ray Belmore, who spends countless hours handling a multitude of tasks at the shows, was treated to a heartfelt round of applause and a buckle as the Volunteer of the Year. Doug Huls then surprised Carol Belmore with another award, citing how she is always at the ready to fix any problem that pops up at Sun Circuit or the Fall Championship. Carol was also recognized for her ability to inspire and manage the army of volunteers who make those shows run efficiently.

The celebration next took time to induct two new members into the AzQHA Hall of Fame.

Becky Dunning and Peggy Kimes are the dynamic duo behind America’s Horse Cares, an AQHA program that supports equine assisted therapy across the country. Peggy also held the reins of Sun Circuit for several years, guiding it to new heights and setting it on the course for becoming one of the preeminent AQHA shows in the world. Becky served on the AzQHA board form many years and has been a horse show announcer in Arizona and across the country.

Members work hard all year preparing for shows that range from the “No Bling” series to VRH events, Trail Challenges and the nationally prominent Fall Championship and Sun Circuit. The year end champions and reserve champions in each class were honored with awards that included trophy buckles, decorative head stalls, leather halters, utility bags, saddle pads, blankets, embroidered coolers, blankets and saddles. All around Hi Point awards were given to youth, amateur and select exhibitors in both Pattern and Rail and Ranch and Cattle divisions. and seven Versatility Ranch Horse Saddles were awarded. AzRCHA presented the winners of their saddle series. Shadd Parkinson won the Open Bridle, Karen Stallings won the Non-Pro Bridle and No-Pro Limited went to Bronwyn McCormick. All together over $30,000 in awards were given.

The evening was a resounding success by everyone’s account. AzQHA board member Anica Reddick spear headed the Banquet committee and lobbied hard for the unique outdoor setting. She commented afterward how pleased she was that the Board agreed with her out-of-the-box thinking. She is quick to include everyone who was integral to the planning and presentation saying, “I would like to foremost thank AZQHA and my Awards & Banquet Committee for helping this event be successful.” She adds, “Big thanks go to Connie Hay, Dana Yingling, Sammy Roberts, Curt Fender, and Julie Hoefling.”

AzQHA supports AQHA shows, non-competitive and recreational horse activities though out the state and maintains and active youth program. Many shows have opportunities for All-Breed participation as well. Members who exhibit at AQHA or State approved shows can earn points toward year end awards. As this Year End Awards Celebration demonstrates, the experiences are priceless and the rewards are grand. 

The courtyard provided a welcoming environment for members and family to mingle while browsing the bounty of silent auction items before the evening’s program got underway. Attendees bid on everything from weekend vacations to artwork, wine baskets to jewelry.  Over $7,000 was raised from the auction for the AzQHYA Scholarship Fund. The money will be specifically designated for the live interview scholarships that are open to all Youth members.

Arizona Sun Circuit slotted into a perfect weather window March 2-10 in Scottsdale. Exhibitors and horses from all across the US and Canada flocked to Arizona for a hefty dose of sunshine and to scoop up copious amount of points, awards and cash. Growth of this show continues to explode. A total of 27,150 class entires encompassed everything from jumping to roping and included a range from Level 1 exhibitors to World Champions. That figure includes 21,750    AQHA class entries and 4,028 NSBA entries, along with NRHA, NRCHA, Versatility Ranch Horse, Color Breed and All-Breed classes. Both stall counts and entries were up about 15% over last year.

Most days saw continuous action in 7 arenas. Class sizes were very large across all disciplines and some creative reorganization was required to keep things on schedule. Arizona Quarter Horse Association CEO and Sun Circuit director Doug Huls credits the hard working staff, “I think our arena managers did an excellent job accommodating the increases in entries. They kept things moving along, maintained the arenas well and handled the logistics when they had to relocate classes.”

Ranch, cattle and reining classes were bustling at Sun Circuit. It was very evident that Ranch Riding continues its popularity. There were 34 in Senior and 23 Amateurs rode the pattern, followed by another 26 Select. AzQHA offers a Ranch on the Rail class that is also wildly popular with 40 Amateur and 26 Open exhibitors long trotting and loping around the arena. VRH Ranch Trail is seeing increasing numbers too, with 43 Open and 32 Amateurs navigating naturalistic obstacles.

There were some truly remarkable line-ups at the end of youth, amateur and select horsemanship classes, with as many as 43 riders side by side awaiting the judges’ placings. Equally large classes were seen in Western Riding and Equitation. The trail arenas were going non stop all week. There were 72 L2 and L3 Junior horses on the poles and another 149 Seniors across the levels. Amateur and select divisions were large as well.

One reason for the continued growth is that Sun Circuit’s Scottsdale location and predictably nice weather have made it a destination show. Many exhibitors had their non-showing family with them to work in a little vacation time. The show’s structure and atmosphere fosters a great sense of camaraderie for everyone. “Our number one goal for Sun Circuit is for people really enjoy this show,” emphasizes Huls. “We want them to have a good time showing their horses here as well as to enjoy their entire time in Scottsdale.” 

A lot of effort goes into developing a schedule that allows exhibitors to finish  showing at a reasonable time each day. Huls adds, “A big part of the Sun Circuit experience is that exhibitors have time to hang out with friends or go out to the many great restaurants in the area.”

Another huge draw for Sun Circuit is the astonishing amount of prizes, awards and give aways that are distributed across all levels and disciplines. A total of 26 saddles were awarded in reining, roping, cow horse, trail, pleasure, jumping, Versatility Ranch Horse and to All Around Champions. Rod Patrick Ostrich boots were awarded to 9 High Point Champions. Other prizes included buckles, trophies, pads, headstalls, custom halters, coolers, vests, jewelry, jackets, T-shirts  Vendor Bucks and over $150,000 in prize money.

The Smart Boons Fence Challenge always draws a large crowd. Thirteen of the top cow horses in the nation and their riders put on a fantastic show for the enthusiastic fans. Smart Boons owners, Eric and Wendy Dunn added $20,000 to the pot and 100% of the entry fees were added back for a total payout of $23,900. Young Wyatt Fisher rode Prize Winning Gal, owned by Marissa Greenberg, through a truly heart thumping run to score a 150 for the win. That earned a check for $6,552 along with the custom Smart Boons trophy buckle.

The popular $15,000 added Sun Circuit Rope Horse Futurity was held on March 2. JD Yates double dipped, winning both the heading and the heeling over a tough field of talented horses. In the Open Heading, he rode DT Juno Shine owned by Mike Van Egdom for a payout of $5,550. JD was back in the Open Heeling aboard DT Pecos Whiz, owned by Tony Clinco, winning another  $6,525.

The Farnam Golden Cowboy award presented at the Arizona Sun Circuit this March answered one question: got cow? Les Oswald proved he did and was crowned the Golden Cowboy. Farnam became the title sponsor of the event this year and added $10,000 to the purse, along with an impressive prize line. To be eligible, horse and rider had to show in the Golden Cowboy Herd Work, the Muley Steer Stopping, Junior or Senior Cow Horse and the Smart Boons Fence Challenge. The week-long dual came down to a tiebreaker in the Smart Boons. As champion, Les Oswald received a custom Golden Cowboy buckle,  a Jeff Smith saddle and a check for $3,120.

Sun Circuit welcomed the NSBA Riders Cup with a total purse of $75,000. With classes ranging from Trail, Western Riding, Hunter Under Saddle, Western Pleasure and Limited and Open divisions of Equitation, Horsemanship and Showmanship, there were many silver trophy cups awarded. The Riders Cup had nearly 300 entries, an increase of almost 60 percent over last year. The Trail classes were especially large. The Senior Trail saw 22 navigate the poles. Chad Evans showed June Liston’s horse, My Vital Valentine, to take the top spot, winning a check for $1,259.42. There were 15 entries in Junior Trail. Cool Cruzen Lady Ridden by Blake Weis for Diamond Ranch LLC was the winner, claiming $1056.86.

Riders Cup Rail and Pattern classes were also sizable. Non Pro Western Pleasure had 12 entries. Kristen Galyean rode VS Lady in Red to win $1,074.02. The biggest Pleasure class payout was in the $2,500 Limited Horse Open Western Pleasure with 11 horses showing. Aaron Moses rode Snapit Sendit for owner Twylla Lynn Brown and picked up a check for $2,922.71.

Sara Simons and Talk Southern To Me, owned by Alessandra Megan Ehrle, found them selves at the top of both the $2,500 Limited Horse Open Hunter Under Saddle and $2500 Limited Horse/Limited Rider Open HUS classes earning two checks for a total of $4,096.75

Diversity is what makes this show special. There is something for just about every AQHA exhibitor. On one side of WestWord, Ropers were chasing down steers to collect jackpots and saddles. Yet at the same time,  large Over Fences classes gave hunters an opportunity for cash and prizes as well. The Sun Circuit Hunter Derby, sponsored by Greenway Saddlery added $5,000 to the Open along with 65% jack potted fees. Kamanyawanndance was the big winner with RyanPainter in the irons for owner Carly Estreich-Lueck. They won $1,943.10. The Non Pro Champion Jeanne Benowitz will be riding in a new Marcel Toulouse Desiree Genesis Saddle after her smooth and steady ride on Kiss My Blues Away.

In a bid to offer more to Amateur all around exhibitors, Sun Circuit debuted the National Championships in Showmanship, Horsemanship and  Equitation. There was a great deal of buzz around this event leading into the tournament style competition. The top ranked 64 competitors in the country, in youth, amateur, and select divisions, were invited to participate. Being consistent each day of showing was the key to moving forward in the brackets to be name one of The Four. The Semi Finals and Final rounds proved to be very closely matched competitions. The head to head show-downs saw The Four reduced to two, who then had 5 minutes to review the Finals pattern and put it all on the line once again.  Exhibitors who made it the finals were all in agreement that not only was the format challenging, it was a great deal of fun. All of the top four exhibitors received embroidered leather bomber jackets and the champion was awarded a finely styled buckle.

Kaleena Weakly and her new showmanship partner Dontskipmygoodimage were the National Champions in Amateur Showmanship. They prevailed after 2 difficult patterns over fellow Four Tony Anderman, Angela Fox and Eric Mendrysa. Scott Reinartz, leading Investin A Goodbar, was at the top of his game all week and was crowned the National Champion in Select Showmanship. Dan Yeager, Heather Lange along with Karen Lee Tegner-Manseth were also in The Four.

Michelle Forness riding Stretch Machine was named National Champion after edging out Carey Nowacek in the final dual in Amateur Horsemanship. The other finalists were Kaleena Weakly and Whitney Walquist-Vicars.

Karen Zarda rode two great patterns on  Ima Lazy Cowboy

to be named the Select Horsemanship National Champion. Her fellow four finalists were Dan Yeager, Scott Reinartz and Linda Coakley.

The last day of Sun Circuit saw the tightly matched Equitation Finals. The Four who made it to the semis were Shelley Grissam, Angela Fox, Carey Nowacek and Ali Edison. In the end it was Angela Fox riding HP The Rusty Fox who was named National Champion in Equitation. The Select Semi Finals welcomed  Laurel Champlin, Jennifer Coleman, Anne Wilson and Sharon Forbes-Hanks with Hot Lil Assets back to the arena. Sharon Forbes-Hanks prevailed to become Champions.

Since the youth showed only two times, their second go was used to name the Exceptional Eight and to move the The Four on to Sunday’s Finals.

In Youth Showmanship, Jessica McAllister, Alexia Rutledge, Hanna Olaussen, and Cori Cansdale worked the challenging pattern. Alexia Rutledge led Dreamin With Me to be named the National Champion.

The Four finalists in Youth Horsemanship were Leah Anderson, Jo Jo Roberson, Lily Anderson, and Ella Petak. Lily Anderson rode Lover Treat Me Good to the National Champion title.

The Four Youth Equitation exhibitors who advanced to the finals were Jacqueline Potwora, Madison Parduhn, June Roberson, and Tatum Keller. These ladies showed enthusiastic support for each other as each worked the pattern. They were surprised by a last minute announcement that they must drop their irons for the first section.  Ultimately, Madison Parduhn’s ride on  Shesa Hot Selection earned her the title of National Champion.

Sun Circuit keeps the fun going all week with parties, entertainment, events and give aways. Exhibitors don’t always have to place first in a class to be a winner. Everyone, at every level and discipline, has a shot at winning something. An estimated $55,000 in gift certificates, vendor products, boots, hats, jewelry, electronics and TVs were handed out by the infamous Prize Patrol. The most talked about give aways involved the fun challenges that test exhibitor skills not often seen at a horse show: wine races, mimosa jump-offs, bareback mounting and of course, racing Arizona’s very own herd of wild bouncy horses.

Three free exhibitor parties also fostered the fun atmosphere of Sun Circuit. A lunch party hosted by AQHA stallions Indefinate, Definitely All That and Tigers by the Tail got things rolling on Monday. An NSBA Exhibitors Appetizer party hosted by Susie Johns and Family welcomed the Riders Cup on Tuesday. Finally on Thursday, Sandra Morgan and her AQHA stallions Mechanic and The Mile High Club hosted a lunch party.

With so much to offer, it is no wonder Sun Circuit continues to grow. Yet it meets the challenges of growth by continually innovating and maximizing its resources of expansive facilities, dedicated staff and vast experience. One innovation that saved time and improved accuracy this year was the use of mobile tablets by the scribes, gate people and announcers in all the arenas. The show integrated The FastShow Apps by FunWare. The system assists with check-ins, scratches, adds, and exhibitor changes along with entry counts. Scribes enter judges’ scores, the tabulations are made automatically delivering near instantaneous class results to the announcers. Exhibitors also loved using the Cinch Horse Show Tracker app for real-time draws and results. Sun Circuit 2019 may be in the books, but planning is already underway to provide even better show experience for next year. The 2020 dates will be February 29 through March 8.