For a few nerve wracking days, it looked as though inclement weather across the nation would severely impact horses getting to Arizona for the 50th Anniversary Scottsdale Arizona Sun Circuit March 4-12. However, as the rain and snow moved on and the much anticipated sun for which Sun Circuit is famous emerged, it was clear that this milestone year was going to be bigger than ever. Total AQHA entries were up nearly 20% over last year’s record breaking numbers, notching 31,329. Long a favorite of veteran exhibitors and a Bucket List show for hundreds more, Sun Circuit blew away expectations. Class sizes were large, awards were prolific, payouts were lucrative, events were memorable and the fun was infectious. A Sun Circuit first timer in the Ranch Trail commented, “My horse is a little nervous. In truth, I’m a little nervous. We’ve been to a couple all breed shows, but nothing like this. It’s absolutely incredible! It’s huge, but everyone has been so welcoming and it’s so much fun.”
Sun Circuit has always offered numerous NSBA classes in the past, but this year the association added a whole slate of NSBA Ranch classes to the schedule and participation caught on. In total, NSBA entries were up 42% over last year. The NRCHA portion of the show more than doubled from last year and was like its own world with record obliterating numbers of runs.
In addition to over $100,000 in added money, the show went all in on awards this year. There were 36 saddles, Rod Patrick boots, saddle pads, trophies and gift certificates from Woods, CR Ranch Wear and Cinch waiting for exhibitors in the Awards booth. But the true highlight was twelve 50th Anniversary EZ Go golf carts parked in front of the Show Office that were awaiting to be awarded as high point prizes on the last days.
AQHA roping and the ARHFA Sun Circuit Roping Futurities also saw significant increases in numbers. Trevor Brazile kicked off the first day of Sun Circuit with a bang by taking the Open Heading Futurity Champion title on Step N Small Town, owned by Relentless Remuda. The pair marked a 234.26 on their final run, which was well ahead of the pack and they finished, with a composite score of 916.65 on four head. They took home the champion’s check for $11,845 and the DT Horses bonus of $1,250.
There were 129 in the Open Heeling Futurity chasing a total payout of $66,500.00. Jungle Cat with Cade Rice for Brian and Amy Bush pulled out all the right moves in the short round to score a 234.59 and had a final score of 924.48 at the end of the day winning $13,300 plus the DT Horses $1,250 bonus.
The ARHFA Sun Circuit Futurities offered Non Pro divisions as well with $2,500 added. Liz Hirdes had a clean sweep winning all three rounds in the Non Pro Heading on her gelding Walking The Dog. Liz claimed the Championship title and $6,480. Quincy Probst stayed consistent all day on TRR Lucky Playgun to land in second for $4,150. On Non Pro Heeling side, tightly packed scores in round one made for an exciting competition.But in the end, Koda Peterson and Catty N Stylish were nearly a point and a quarter ahead of the second place horse DT Metallic Mojito with Quealy Probst in the saddle. Peterson took the champion title and $4,170 while Probst won $3,475.
Ranch classes continued with explosive growth at Sun Circuit with plenty of great awards to enticed exhibitors. The $5,000 Farnam L1 Open Ranch Stakes was back again this year with a large field hunting the points in Level 1 Ranch Riding, Ranch Trail, Ranch on the Rail and Halter. Lil Bit Shiny showed well across the board with Lori Allen to win $2,500 and the buckle. Second went to Whizkey Friendly and Kimberly Laser winning $1,500 along with a saddle pad. Pale in Comparison owned by Lynn Walker was third for $1,000 and a bronc halter.
Bud Lyon had a very successful week, parlaying his run of wins in the Ranch classes into claiming the Ranch Exhibitor cart award. The Non Pro high point champion golf cart went to Jenny Honey after combining scores from Ranch Rail, Ranch Trail and Ranch Riding.
There was plenty of action in the cutting and cow horse arenas. Combining scores from those, there were four Spectaculars offered again this year. Rogers Heaven Sent Ranch sponsored the Jr. and Sr. Spectaculars with $2500 added to each. The Senior saw Shad Parkinson and Bronwyn McCormick’s Metal Storm at the top, winning $1,230. Shadd also rode the second place horse, Tornado Watch owned by Jerilynne Michaels, for another $984.
Ken Wold rode SJR Talkin In Style for Dell Hendricks to win $1,320 in the Junior Spectacular while Shadd notched another check for $1,056 on Smoothacular, owned by Hannes Winkler. The Amateur Spectacular had $1,000 added by Parkinson Performance Horses. Cutter McLaughlin and Peppy Reys had the highest composite to win $750 and the champion buckle. Anchor Cross Ranch sponsored the $1,000 added Amateur Boxing Spectacular that paid 7 places. Becky Stockett and Thats All Boon topped the field of 23 and took home the champion buckle along with a check for $924.
When all the points were tallied, Shadd Parkinson dominated the Working Cow Horse exhibitor standings to take home a golf cart award. On the Non Pro side, Chantz Stewart accumulated the most points and was awarded the Non Pro Reined Cow Horse exhibitor cart.
Shadd and Metal Storm were also chasing the Golden Cowboy title that challenges competitors with a trio of classes that includes Golden Cowboy Herd work, Muley Steer Stopping and either Jr. or Sr. Cow Horse. The team came out on top once again winning $1,800 of the $2,500 purse sponsored by Cushing Performance Horses. Jay McLaughlin rode his horse Gotittogive to the second place spot winning $1,350.
NSBA Futurities enticed exhibitors with added money and coveted awards. A whooping $10,000 was added to the Snippity Snap NSBA Four & Five Year old Trail Open Futurity with 35 teams ponying up $200 to enter. HP Sleepy For Sure owned by Nicole Heron and shown by Carly Veldman were the champions winning $3,655. They also won the Trail Futurity golf cart award. Reserve went to Made Me Famous owned by Cathy Ryden and shown by Sara Simons winning $2,845.40. That team went on to win the circuit award for L1 Junior Trail. Third in the Trail Futurity was My Dad Is The Best owned by Linsay Smaltz shown by Charlie Cole $1,754.40. In the Limited Open Rider division, Catherine De Coster rode her horse Mechanic Parking Only to win $1,110.40 as the champion. She also won the Blue Ribbon Saddle award and the NSBA trophy.
The $7,500 Nothing But Nett 5 and Under Maiden Stakes Western Riding presented a fine group of up and coming horses we are certain to see claiming more titles in the future. Blake Weis and RV Not For Hire for owner, Evon Werner took the Maiden winning $3,072, Xxtreme ridden by Kyra Ley for owner Barbara Bouma was reserve. RV Not For Hire dominated the younger field in Western Riding to claim the L1 Junior/Green circuit award trophy, and the West Coast Breeders L1 Junior trophy.
Sun Circuit is more than just competition in the arenas. NSBA presented the very moving Heroes on Horses for the second year at Sun Circuit. The event kicked off with the parade of Heroes procession of 150 flag bearers into the Equine Chronicle arena. They were joined by members of the Scottsdale Mounted Police, VFW flag bearers representing all the armed services, several walking veterans and the somber leading of the riderless horse honoring all those who lost their lives in service. There were 10 exhibitors in the Western Pleasure class, many of whom participate in therapeutic riding programs across the state. Heroes on Horses is presented as a Special Project of the NSBA Foundation with the support of Bob and Ingrid Miller. A free luncheon was also provided ringside for exhibitors and anyone who came out to watch the ceremony.
To celebrate 50 years, Sun Circuit threw a party with a memorable Dancing With The Stars competition sponsored by Markel Insurance. Horse professionals were paired with local dance pros and had to learn the choreography of their routine in just a couple hours. While they might be able to ace a pattern in the ring, learning the moves, spins and slides on the dance floor was a whole new challenge. Yet these tough competitors pulled out a few surprises. Turns out, Tim the Trail Man can two step pretty well. Deanna Searles and her partner strutted onto the floor like they owned the place and wowed the crowd with side to side hip lifts complete with 3 full spins. Karen Graham channeled her inner J Lo as she shimmied through her routine. Brad Barkemeyer, in a sequined black shirt that really should be his go-to show shirt, got his Latin on, executing crisp turns with extreme focus. Beth Case twirled her way into the hearts of the audience, then threw a few disco moves into her samba for good measure. And JD Yates traded his chaps for some shiny, tight fitting black leather pants.
The panel of judges included Pete Kyle, Chad Evans in a sparkling white sequined jacket, and Sara Simons. They were happy to accept a proliferation of bribes….that all went to the AzQHYA scholarship fund.
After round one, there was a four way tie, prompting a work off. Each team had 30 seconds to put on their best moves and the team with loudest crowd reaction would determine the winner. Over 700 party goers roared for each contestant, but it was Brad Barkemeyer who ultimately took home the trophy. The event raised $17,000 for the AzQHYA. The band Bangers and Mash provided the music and the dance floor opened to all after the competition. There is no doubt, the tradition of Sun Circuit’s infamous parties of old has been revived.
More golf carts were awarded across disciplines at the end of the show. Aaron Moses had an exceptional show, earning the high point Western Pleasure Exhibitor golf cart. Beth Case hung up her dance shoes and picked up the keys to the Hunter Under Saddle Exhibitor golf cart. Luck of the Draw saw Angela Fox win the NP High Point Rail Exhibitor cart. She was one of several eligible contenders, each a Circuit champion from Pleasure and Hunter Under Saddle classes. A random drawing bestowed on her a shiny new ride. It was no surprise that after Scott Reinartz’s string of wins at Sun Circuit, he racked up the points to be awarded the Non Pro High Point Showmanship, Horsemanship and Equitation Golf Cart. Taylor Kennedy won the Non Pro High Point Trail golf cart. Dan Huss had a string of great horses he was showing and he drove off in the Reining exhibitor cart. There was also a Non Pro Reining exhibitor cart and that went home with Michelle Fumagalli.
Fun and winning extended beyond the arenas at Sun Circuit. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of TVs, electronics, along with products and gift certificates from vendor sponsors were presented by Prize Patrol for winning…or just plain playing in the fun and down right whacky games. Everything from trivia to dance competitions, egg and spoon races, hoppy chick races, drawing competition and scavenger hunts were entertaining across the grounds and around the barns.
Sun Circuit keeps growing and innovating, giving exhibitors not just a horse show but an experience they remember for a lifetime. There were actually quite a few people on the WestWorld grounds who had been to most, if not all 50 Sun Circuits. There is no doubt that many who attended the 2023 show will be coming back for decades.
Complete awards and score sheets can be found at SunCircuit.com, and all results are available on the HorseShowTracker app.