By: Kristin Spinning
In every one of the Scottsdale Arizona Sun Circuit’s 11 arenas, it was evident that there were more horses, more exhibitors, and more family and friends. The final numbers showed 2,500 stalls reserved, which was 300 more than last year’s record-breaking event.
Held March 4th through March 13th at WestWorld in Scottsdale, AZ. the show delivered on its promises of fun, competitive, exciting, and lucrative classes. While the biggest names in the industry were represented in classes ranging from Cutting to Trail, there were also many exhibitors who had never shown at Sun Circuit before. There were even quite a few who chose this whopper of a circuit as their very first AQHA show. As one dazzled Versatility Ranch Horse exhibitor commented, “I’ve been to a couple all breed shows, but this is absolutely incredible! Everywhere you look, there are incredible horses. Even though it’s huge, everyone has been so welcoming.” That’s the spirit Sun Circuit always strives for.
Sun Circuit producer and Arizona Quarter Horse Association CEO, Doug Huls, added several classes to this year’s lineup with the expressed intention of giving new exhibitors a place to start. Amateur Walk Trot classes in Western Pleasure, Horsemanship, Trail, Hunter Under Saddle, Hunt Seat Equitation, Ranch on Rail, Ranch Trail, and Ranch Riding were available to entice novice exhibitors. There was even an All Around buckle award for the Walk Trot division. Youth had Walk Trot classes as well with a buckle for the All Around Champion. Green horse pattern classes were also new; giving those horses a starting place to be shown against their peers.
In addition to added money classes, Sun Circuit is known for a dizzying array of awards. A total of 37 saddles were given as circuit awards, High Points, and VRH awards. Best of Show awards in Open, Amateur, Youth and Select for both the All Around and Reining and Cattle divisions included Rod Patrick Boots. Non Pro High Point saddles from Bob’s Custom Saddles were awarded in L1, L2, and L3 divisions. New this year in the prize line up were Sun Circuit logo EZ-Go electric golf carts to High Point exhibitors in five categories. Katie Green won the cart in Western Pleasure, while Beth Case racked up the points for the Hunter Under Saddle cart. Shadd Parkinson showed an exceptional string in Cow Horse to win his cart. Bud Lyon dominated the standings in Ranch classes to win a cart, and Andrea Fappani took home the cart for Reining.
Sun Circuit hosted the National Championships in Showmanship, Horsemanship, and Equitation once again this year. The tournament-style competition welcomed the top 64 nationally ranked exhibitors for 2021 in each division to compete through three elimination rounds until The Four finalists were chosen to show in head to head matches. The Four were awarded embroidered leather bomber jackets and the champion received a trophy buckle.
Cinch was the sponsor of the National Championships in Horsemanship. The youth competition saw Brooke Jolstad and Betta Believe It work their way to the top after getting the judge’s nod in the final match-up riding against Jayna Lagace and Huntin Hotty Tottys. “Coming into it, I was super nervous because all these girls are amazing riders,” Brooke says. “Plus, I’m friends with them all.” She practiced the pattern the night before just in case she found herself in the finals. Practice made perfect, and her smile with her new buckle was priceless.
In the amateur division, fifth-ranked Kaleena Weakly was on board Definately A First riding in the final pairing against the number 1 ranked youth exhibitor, Giorgia Medows, who aged into amateur this year. Giorgia rode Son Of A Sudden, and the pair impressed the judges to claim top honors.
Second-ranked Select exhibitor, Laina Banks, riding Strawberri Wine rode head to head against top-seeded Karen Zarda on Betcha Want This in their finals paring. After both ladies presented lovely runs, Laina had just enough extra polish to win the champion buckle.
The Equine Chronicle presented the National Championship in Equitation. The final match up for the youth tournament featured top 10 ranked competitors. Isabella Buckley showed Shes Rockin My Dream, and Emma Dejong rode Just Call Me Lazy. Isabella was crowned the champion and received a buckle. She says, “I didn’t know I was in it until about 20 minutes before. My first go was good, but the second go was a lot better. It’s a really fun format as well as being super challenging.”
The final, head to head rides in the amateur tournament featured third-ranked Johnna Letchworth riding On The Roks and second-ranked Maria Salazar presenting RL Suddenly Lopin. While both patterns were picture perfect, Maria edged out to win the buckle. Sharon Forbes-Hanks and Lopin Makes Me Lazy were atop the leaderboard in Select with only two others who made it to the finals, Leena Volmer on Al B Making Memories and Jamie Lou Devencenty on The Only Deal. Sharon took home the buckle.
Farnam sponsored the National Championships in Showmanship. Anne Wilson presenting RR Certainly A Lady prevailed in her two match-up runs in the select finals to win the buckle. She was really excited about her progress with Lady saying, “Last year, I had just gotten her, so we didn’t even show here in this class. I’m so pleased how we’ve come together. She’s sweet and really wants to do well.” Scott Reinartz and Only One Request, Sid Karr and MS ExtremelyHotChips, and Jaqueline Marlow showing Mugg Shot rounded out The Four.
Anne Oldfather was beaming when she was awarded her champion buckle in the Farnam National Championship in Showmanship. She had made it to The Four last year. “It’s tough to show in the regular class to make it to the top four and then have to put together another big pattern right away,” she says. “So we worked on preparing to do more patterns this year.” It paid off. She showed two nice runs in the finals with One Exclusive Cookie. Other finalists in The Four were Kaleena Weakly showing Definately A First, Vito Latini showing Bettin Im Best, and Meg DePalma presenting Dont Think Twice.
The Four contenders in Youth Showmanship were Camille Kennedy, Tatum Keller, Tierney Horton, and Sydney Ann Swallom. While they all presented crisp and meticulous patterns, it was Tierney who had the extra polish with Sudden Top Notch to win the champion buckle.
From futurities to jackpots, exhibitors enjoyed competing for a slice of added money. Thirty-three horses entered the $7,500 added Nothin But Nett 5 and Under Maiden Stakes Western Riding. It was a close race all week between Dirtie Money with Sara Simons in the saddle and Snippity Snap guided by Blake Weis. After three goes, Dirtie Money, owned by Mike and Michelle Preston, cleaned up winning $2,496. Snippity Snap placed second for $2,112.
Sara had an exceptionally good show in Trail as well. She rode Dirtie Money to win the 4 and 5-Year-Old Machine Made Open Trail Futurity with $2,000 added. That class paid first place money of $1,257. On top of the cash, Arizona Quarter Horse awarded an additional golf cart to the winner. Sara rode the second place horse in the class as well, MS Extremelyhotchips, owned by Sid Karr, and took home $918.65. Sara kept the paychecks flowing as she was also entered in the Super Sires 4 and 5-Year-Old Open Trail with MS Extremelyhotchips, winning an additional $2,304 along with a Super Sires silver tray, NSBA trophy, cooler, and halter. Anthony Montes and I Gottem Talkin placed second in the Super Sires Stakes winning $1,728 for owner, Julia Oxendine. There was also a Super Sires Senior Trail class with $2,500 added. Champion, Will Knabenshue, received a check for $1,134 on Party Favours, owned by Kara Sisco. The second place horse was VS Born To Be Good with Shannon Walker on board. Owner, Laurie Rutledge, received a check for $850.
Super Sires added money to the L1 Green Junior and Senior Western Riding with $2,500 going to each class. In addition to the cash, winners were presented with the Super Sires prizes and NSBA trophy. In the senior class, a total of $3,300 was awarded. The judges’ combined scores showed it was Blaze O Rama and Shannon Walker loping through the pattern with commanding precision to win $1,188 for owner, Erica Thorpe. On the junior side, there was $3,700 in total payouts. Snippity Snap shown by Blake Weis proved a great future awaits this mare after winning the top spot. The team received $1,332 for first place.
NSBA futurities were also held in Western Pleasure and Hunter Under Saddle. This Cowboys Mine, owned by Paula Czapko and shown by Aaron Moses, was the favorite in the 3-Year-Old Western Pleasure, sponsored by Gil Galyean Quarter Horses. This team added $792 to their winnings. Reserve went to Sweet Ryde, owned by Jana Olsen, and shown by Angie Cannizzaro earning $594. In the 3-Year-Old $2,500 Limited Horse Open Pleasure, also sponsored by Gil Galyean Quarter Horses, Sweet Ryde was the champion, earning an additional $936. Made Me Famous, owned by Cathy Ryden and shown by Sara Simons, was reserve and won $624.
Amateur riders had two opportunities for Western Pleasure futurities. In the 3 and 4-Year-Old Non Pro, Best To Be Lopin was shown by Courtney Moses to top honors and earned $382. Reserve went to Made Sleepy, shown by Brody Galyean, who won $297. Brody and Made Sleepy were the top pick in the 3 and 4-Year-Old Intermediate for an additional $426. Call Her Daddy was shown by Katie Shepherd to place second winning $284.
Good Better Best and Nancy-Sue Ryan sponsored two Hunter Under Saddle futurities. Beth Case rode Give Me A Good Alibi in the 3 and 4-Year-Old Hunter Under Saddle for owners, Michelle and Sheila Bauer, and won $607. Couture Down South came in second with Alyse Roberts at the reins for owner, Lauren Huffaker, winning $472. In the 3 and 4-Year-Old Non Pro Old Hunter Under Saddle, Michelle Bauer was in the irons on Give Me A Good Alibi to take the win and $496. Making Me Happy was ridden by Angela Fox for second place, earning $372.
Sun Circuit expanded the number of classes that offered 2D jackpot money in Trail, Ranch Riding, and Reining. The 2D format splits the class jackpot entries in half. Money is paid to the top horses in the first D, then to the top horses at the start of the midpoint of the pack. At least three places are paid in each D. Therefore, it essentially levels out two groups in one class that are competing for prize money. “I think, as more people understand how 2D jackpots work in the show world, the more they will want to participate in them,” Doug Huls says. “It’s fun, plus it’s a great way to earn back some money. Even horses that don’t win the class can get in on the money with a modest investment.”
With 48 horses signed up to play and $2,000 added in the Senior Trail jackpot, there was a total of $4,400 to be split. Tonya Brown guided Cool Cruzin Lady through the poles to win $1,100 in the first D, while Snap Chat Diva and Leslie Lange were first in the second D and also picked up $1,100. Anthony Montes and Rageous Rodder won $600 in second place of the 1D and Leslie Lange was back with Hez Kool for second in the 2D.
In the 2D Jr Trail Stakes, Susan Johns’ Nothing But Nett was ridden by Deanna Searles to win the 1D and $712. Deanna followed that with a second place finish in the 1D on Cowboy Sings The Blues for another $427. Made in Detroit with Charlie Cole and Couldn’t B Any Lazyer with Michael Hoyt received their slice of the pot as the first and second place finishers in the 2 D. Amateurs in Trail enjoyed payouts with their jackpot paying a total of $1,950 to six horses. Nothin Compares and Lauren Levy, along with Mechanic Parkin Only and Charlotte Green, each got checks for $487 for being the 1D and 2 D top finishers.
The Select Trail had a atakes class with a total of $2,400 to distribute. Laina Banks won the class and a check for $600 with Eye On The Ball. With a tie for the top slots in the second D, Only One Request with Scott Reinartz and My Vital Valentine with June Liston split the combined first and second payouts for the second D and each got $480.
Twenty-two horses jumped on to the jackpot craze in the Amateur Ranch Riding where a total of $2,100 was available to split over six holes. Kimberly Colvin and Lecytic Chic Olena topped the class and won $525. While Jimmy Smith’s ride on Lil Bev At The Bar may have had him out of the points, it landed him in the first hole of the second D, earning $525. It’s nice to be a L1 rider and still get to ride for money in a jackpot. Amanda Kimes on Diamonds N The Dust rode off with $537 in L1 Ranch Riding- a class that had 23 horses entered in the jackpot. Always Gotyer Gun and Daralee Lindsay topped the second D.
NSBA Foundation’s Heroes On Horses debuted in the west with riders from several therapeutic riding programs in the region participating. Exhibitors entered in the Heroes On Horses Western Pleasure class got expert tips in a boot camp the day before with top trainers. All the heroes, their families, and representatives from their programs were treated to a welcome dinner Tuesday night. To kick off Wednesday’s celebration, longtime NSBA Non Pro Rider, Chris Lagerblade, and her company, LHM Financial, hosted an outdoor luncheon ringside. An emotional Parade of Heroes flag procession was followed by the Western Pleasure competition. As part of the NSBA Equestrians with Disabilities division (EWD), the Heroes On Horses program is a catalyst for recognition and thanks to our military service men and women who ride and compete. A 3-year commitment from the Bob and Ingrid Miller Family of Mesa, Arizona allows NSBA to bring this special tribute and competition to Sun Circuit through 2024.
Fun and winning extends beyond the arenas at Sun Circuit. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of electronics, products, and gift certificates from vendor sponsors were presented by Prize Patrol for winning, or just playing, in fun and downright whacky games. Everything from trivia to dance competitions, egg and spoon races, snail races, Reining slide-offs, balloon races, and scavenger hunts were entertaining across the grounds.
Complete awards and scoresheets from the event can be found at SunCircuit.com, and all results are available on the HorseShowTracker app.
Next year, Sun Circuit will be back in Scottsdale, AZ. March 4-12, 2023 for its Golden Jubilee. Everyone can expect even more of