The Arizona Fall Championship: Where Showing Can Still Be Fun
The third Arizona Fall Championship ushered in 5 days of top notch AQHA, NSBA, NRCHA and NRHA competition October 7 -11, 2015 at West World in Scottsdale. In a short time, this Arizona Quarter Horse Association show has managed to find an ideal balance. It is large enough to award plenty of points, yet not so large that a person feels lost in chaos. It has plenty of room to show, practice, warm up and hang out, without elbowing for space. It has the breadth to cover disciplines from halter to cutting, trail to reining. It has the depth to offer challenges for the most seasoned pro, as well as pathways to success for those just starting out. It is long enough to make the trip, but not so long that you lose your way.
The one thing that is overflowing at the Fall Championship is fun. Smiles, laughter and mutual support were everywhere. And it’s not only because they gave away a lot of trophies and saddles – though of course those winners were beaming. There was a general positive atmosphere that settled into every crevice at West World. “People aren’t intimidated by this show,” asserted Event Producer Doug Huls. He added, “It’s a place where you feel ‘I can do this’. It helps too that Huls and his staff are welcoming and efficient. From the gate to the office, people are willing to help.
The word has gotten out about this show. Even though it followed close at the heels of the Novice Championships and runs at the same time as The Congress, this year saw a strong increase in the number of horses. It is seen as an alternative to The Congress for many owners and trainers who simply don’t need or want to go to Ohio. The Fall Championship seems to appeal to a broad range of exhibitors, from first timers to World Champions. AQHA leveling had high participation. “We offered a lot of leveled classes to really have a place for everyone,” said Huls. “It’s a great way for Novices, Level 2 or Level 3 riders to have a very positive experience at a high quality show.”
Champions in all of the AQHA classes received a handsome bronze trophy mounted on a slate base. All Around Champions were rewarded with a pair of Rod Patrick Caiman Boots, an Atwood hat from Barbara’s Custom Hats, Cinch jeans and shirt from Cinch. Additionally, saddles were given away, and added money was awarded in numerous classes including Western Pleasure, Horsemanship, Trail, Hunter Under Saddle, Ranch Riding, Cow Horse, Boxing, Reining, Ranch Riding and Ranch Trail.
Reiners enjoyed numerous NRHA added money classes in the Best of the West Extravaganza, produced in association with Arizona Reining Horse Association. The highlight of the reining was the $5,000 added Open Futurity, run concurrent with a $2,000 added Intermediate Open, the $1,000 Limited Open and the $500 added Open L1. It is no surprise that with Scottsdale being the epicenter of elite reining trainers and horses, that many of them were center stage Saturday night. However the Futurities attracted entries from across the west. An appreciative crowd was duly impressed with the talent. At the end of the night, it was Andrea Fappani’s fluid and flawless run on his own horse, Smart Shiners Spook, who topped the board with a score of 150, earning a check for $2,183. Boomin Spark Owned by Steve Flaherty and shown by Patrick Flaherty won the $2,000 Added Intermediate Open Futurity Championship earning $1,268.40. In the Limited Open, it was Sparklin CD Owned by Marcelo Strang and shown by Pedro Baiao who garnered the best marks. A run off for the Level 1 division saw that Magnificent Dreamer owned by Smoking Roosters Performance Horses and shown by Ashley Kelkenberg had enough left over for another great run to take the prize.
Undoubtedly one of the most popular classes at the Fall Championship was the Ranch Riding. The Equine Chronicle sponsored a Ranch Riding Bonanza with added money and great prizes. Tricia Sarchett, who exhibited in Amateur Ranch Riding and the non-AQHA Amateur Ranch Trail, was excited about the numbers of entries in both those classes. “It’s amazing. I’m here because it’s a great show, and it gets me ready for the World Show,” said Sarchett. “And we’re going for the Ranch Riding, Ranch Trail saddle….along with everybody else out here,” she added jovially. Tricia also sponsored $500 added to each of the Ranch Riding classes. That coveted saddle was a Don Leson Classic, a finely crafted saddle that was awarded to the horse with the cumulative high score in either youth or amateur of both Ranch Riding and Ranch Trail.
There is a great deal of support among the riders in these two classes. People swap advice, critiques and strategies freely, as well as hang around to watch their fellow competitors. Abby Cosenza was among them. She too thought the numbers were amazing, adding, “we had so much fun riding in the Ranch Trail. It’s the most fun class in the whole show.” She really hopes to see it become an official AQHA class soon. For those unfamiliar with Ranch Riding, she implored, “you need to try it. It’s a blast. You don’t have to have an expensive horse. You don’t have to have expensive tack. You don’t have to have any sparkles.” Nancy Elton agreed whole-heartedly, injecting, “it’s a place you can show your Reiners, or any horse for that matter, and keep them quiet.” Elton was also attracted by the added money and prizes offered. The Equine Chronicle and Shorty’s Caboy Hattery sponsored one man’s and one ladies hat as a Lucky Exhibitor Award to riders who showed in both Ranch Riding and Ranch Trail. Additionally, Champions in Open, Amateur and Youth Ranch Trail won a full size color ad in The Equine Chronicle. After 3 days of transitions, obstacles, logs and even a teepee, Natalie Brown Baca and Doc Acres Reward had surged ahead taking the championship in both Open and Amateur Ranch Trail, and both Senior and Amateur Ranch Riding. Natalie was blown away by her win, as she doesn’t consider herself a seasoned exhibitor. She shared that when she first drove into the impressive West World complex, she considered turning around and heading back to Santa Fe. “It’s so impressive, and so much bigger than anything we show at in New Mexico. I was a little intimidated.” She quickly regained her confidence when warmly welcomed by fellow exhibitors. “It was so much fun!”
Another busy and fun hub was the trail pen. Plenty of smooth moves were executed over courses designed by Tim Kimura and set down by Don Lehman. The large number of entries were efficiently handled by having two course running simultaneously. Added money sweetened the deal in several classes and leveling was very popular across all divisions. A Scottsdale Performance Saddle awaited the horse and rider with the highest cumulative score in L2 Amateur or Amateur Select Trail. Hillary Armstrong-Reinhard and Zippos Ultra Gold emerged at the top of the field and added this gorgeous saddle to their tack room.
The trail pen was taken over on Friday evening by the USTPC #13 Trail Challenge. It was a relaxed and jovial event, even though teams were riding for money. Riders cheered each other on, breaking out in applause after each run.Riders were handicapped based on points they have earned, and a team’s combined handicap total could not exceed 13 – hence the name. Challenge, coordinator Holly Hover commented, “we are really trying to encourage mentorship. That’s why we handicap the riders. The higher number riders mentor and encourage the lower number riders. We saw that a lot today with this event.” Some riders entered solo, and a partner was found for them, others entered as a team. Pros were very enthusiastic about participating, happy to partner with someone not from their barn. The Challenge offered a 100% payback, plus Holly Hover and Chas Roberts AC and Plumbing added $2,000 to the pot. At the conclusion of the team rounds, the judges wanted to see Kellie Hinely and The Vital Invitation and Garry McAllister with Should Be Chocolate go head-to-head in the Judge’s Choice Round. Kellie edged out Garry to claim the cash prize.
The show hosted NSBA Futurities as well. In the 3 Year Old Hunter Under Saddle, Laurel Champlin’s ride on her own horse, Fashion Statement impressed the judges to take the first prize. Over in the 3 Year Old Pleasure, Melissa Zanetti rode Hilarey Bhatt’s horse Hez Lopin Lazy to the top spot. Hilarey then mounted up and showed she could repeat the performance to take first place in the Non Pro. A gorgeous Jeff Smith Saddle sponsored by Bella Vista Ranch was the grand prize in the Amateur Cutting & Cowhorse Bridle Spectacular. It was a tough and seasoned field, but after one day of Cutting, and three more days of Cow horse, Darleen Woods riding Wimpys Sassy Shiner had the consistency to come out on top. Darleen was blown away by her win in such a competitive class. It’s the first saddle she has ever won in Cow horse, and what a nice saddle it is! The Open division of the Cutting & Cowhorse Bridle Spectacular saw Kevin Stallings take the top spot with Smart Lil Hemi as well as having the #2 horse, Rowdy Truckin Chex. Hick Oleana impressed the judges in each round in the Amateur Boxing Spectacular with Betty Stockett aboard.
Comments heard around the rings were effusively positive, and decisions were made to return next year. Huls stated, “with the Novice Championship show moving its dates next year, an opportunity exist to grow this show even more. Creating a destination event for the Level 1 exhibitors in the Fall will be our focus in 2016 along with growing our Level 2 and 3 participation.” With the kind of momentum this show is seeing, it will undoubtedly grow larger. Yet as it grows, organizers are determined to keep it exhibitor-centric.