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.