The Nutrena AQHA West Level 1 Championships kicked off with 500 exhibitors and over 2,500 entries on May 18 at WestWorld in Scottsdale, Arizona. Roughly half were first-time championship exhibitors. The Level 1 show was held in conjunction with the Arizona Quarter Horse Association’s Pinnacle Circuit that offered classes for Level 2 and 3 exhibitors and Level 1 Open horses.
The event provided a true Championship Show experience with custom trophies through 3rd place, champion belt buckles and neck ribbons, along with recognition and award presentations in the arena for the top 15. Smiles and celebrations proliferated throughout the arenas and a sense of camaraderie filled the air. Class champions enjoyed a victory lap in front of the crowd with enthusiastic whooping and hollering from not only their cohorts, but from fellow exhibitors as well.
Over the five days of competition, more than $100,000 in purse and prizes was awarded. Youth, amateur and select classes included halter, showmanship, horsemanship, western riding, western pleasure, hunter under saddle, equitation, over fences, speed events, trail, ranch riding and reining. There were also Rookie and Walt/Trot divisions so that all Level 1 exhibitors could find their niche.
Arizona Quarter Horse Association partnered with AQHA to produce the show. AzQHA CEO Doug Huls was very pleased with the inaugural event in Scottsdale. Huls comments, “We saw a great number of exhibitors from throughout the west and northwest who would likely not be able to haul all the way to Oklahoma City. We also welcomed many true beginners here. It gets them excited. For Rookie and Walk Trot exhibitors, as well as many Level 1 exhibitors, this was their first opportunity to have a Championship Show experience. It’s a big deal for them and their families. We wanted to make it very exhibitor friendly, yet also give a lot of recognition for their achievements.” Making it fun, rewarding and educational builds enthusiasm and establishes new goals for exhibitors. Huls adds, “Hopefully from here, they have that desire to move onward and upward.” AQHA has built in a path for L1 East and West finalist to move forward. Those who placed in the top 15 in the core classes have the opportunity to compete for overall Nutrena Level 1 Champion of Champions titles at their respective Youth, Amateur or Select World Championship show.
Whether exiting the arena with a gold trophy or a 9th place ribbon, the joy was obvious. Beaming smiles, high fives and appreciative hugs of their four legged partners were the hallmark of the show in every division. “I think these are my favorite shows for that very reason,” comments Justin Billings, Chief Show Officer of AQHA who was on hand throughout the event. “The excitement I see in exhibitors faces make it so enjoyable.” He continues, “I think AzQHA has been a fantastic partner of AQHA’s in producing this. We mesh well together and look forward to building from here as we move forward.”
To support and encourage the learning trajectory of exhibitors, free Ride the Pattern clinics in Trail, Ranch Riding, Horsemanship, Showmanship, Equitation and Equitation over Fence were presented by AQHA Professional Horsemen during the show. The clinics demonstrated the pattern exhibitors would be riding and answer questions. The clinics were also videoed and are available for everyone on AQHA’s website.
One key to the success and number of entries of the Level 1 Championships was offering an additional show, The Pinnacle. While AzQHA’s priority will remain on presenting a buzz worthy L1 Championship experience, Huls adds it is really nice to be able to produce the Pinnacle simultaneously so that more people can enjoy all that WestWorld and Scottsdale have to offer. Brad Jewett expressed a sentiment shared by many trainers, “We only have a couple Level 1 people. I don’t know if we would have come here if there weren’t opportunities for our other horses and clients.” The Pinnacle Circuit presented $500 along with an embroidered day sheet to All Around Champions and custom designed spurs to Circuit Champions.
The vast facilities of West World easily accommodated exhibitors’ needs. Most classes were held indoors in climate controlled arenas. There was also ample warm-up arenas and covered pens. AzQHA also brought out the infamous Prize Patrol which roamed the grounds with fun games and give aways with thousands of dollars worth of products and gift certificates from the many vendors on site.
By offering the L1 East and West Championships as stand alone events, AQHA has opened possibilities for many more exhibitors to get their first taste of a prestigious show. Judging by the enthusiasm inside and around the rings in Scottsdale, that taste is the spark for a new passion.