The Arizona Fall Championship delivered once again on its promise for being a fun show with something for everyone during its 2023 run September 20-24 at WestWorld in Scottsdale. Arizona’s summer heat broke in time for the show, and with most classes held indoors with climate controlled arenas, exhibitors stayed cool and comfortable. The show always attracts a varied scope of exhibitors from first-timers just launching their showing careers to World Champions prepping a new horse. It also boasts a wide array of leveled classes including english, western, trail, ranch cutting, reining and cow horse. While most everyone comments on how much fun they have, the prizes and added money are a huge incentive too. Champions hoisted handsome circuit award trophies, posed with saddle awards, flashed new buckles, spurs and headstalls. There was also a good deal of cash to win.
Cutting and cow horse classes were dynamic. A highlight of the show was the $10,000 added Rogers Heaven Sent Ranch NRCHA Futurity which welcomed 16 3-year olds into the arena to show off their talents in herd work, reining and fence work. Andrea Fappani and The Rebel Yell, aka “Jojo”, had consistently great runs in each, topping out with a composite of 217.5.
Fappani got interested in cow horse a couple years ago, then wanted to challenge himself further by training some young prospects on his own. “This was the first outing for Jojo and my other two year old (Lectrifyin Metallic) and I couldn’t be happier with them,” commented Fapanni after his win. Fappani shared his approach to his cow horse endeavors. He said, “Rather than be the reining guy who comes in and wins the reining, I want to be consistent in all three events.” That was evident in Scottsdale. The pair marked a 72 in both the herd work and reining, which were near the top of all the scores, along with a 73.5 in the fence work with a strong and fast cow. They won $4,440 for owners Top Fuel, LLC. Teles Moore with Jake Barry at the reins and Nicolas Howard aboard Melting Hot tied at 217, each winning $3,108. Ricky Nicolazzi and Metallic Slayer were fourth, earning $1,554.
Ranch and cattle classes at the Fall Championship continue with robust entry numbers at every level. Now an official AQHA class, AZ Fall Championship demonstrated again that the Working Western Rail is wildly popular. There were 23 horses and riders moving out on the rail in L1 and the L1 Open saw 21 loping with speed around the arena. All divisions of Ranch Riding from Youth to Select also saw large numbers. The L1 Amateur class had 47 entries. Ranch Trail also was a big draw, with more Ranch Riding enthusiasts trying their hand at the obstacles. Added money and a nice prize line surely contributed to the increases seen across the board.
With the growth of interest in Ranch classes comes bigger purses. AZ Fall Championship offered the $10,000 Bar 54 3 Year Old Ranch Sweepstakes this year. It was open to all breeds and saw some Paint horses compete among the 12 entered. Exhibitors showed stand alone classes in Working Western Rail and Ranch Riding for a slice of $1,000 in round money paid over 3 places. Their composite scores determined final standings and the big purse.
Gary Roberts and ShesGotBigDreams swept the event, placing at the top of each judges card in both the Rail and Ranch Riding. The pair earned $500 for first place in each class and $3,740 for the composite for owner Jeanne McNerney. Avalanche and Kendall Woellmer placed second overall winning $2,970 for owner Melissa Brown and another $300 for their second place finish in the Ranch Riding portion of the Sweepstakes. Dana Avila rode her horse Lyfe In The Fastlane to third for a $2,200 plus another $300 for second place in Rail.
The Farnam $5,000 Added L1 Open Ranch Stakes drew a fine slate of contenders showing off their up-and-coming ranch horses in Level 1 Ranch Riding, Working Western Rail and Ranch Trail along with a halter class. When the points were tallied, Always Do and Dana Avila sat on top winning $2,000 and a Buckle. Electrik Whiz with Jestin Simper aboard settled into second, earning $1,500 and a pair of AzFC Spurs. Whizkey Friendlly and Garry Roberts collected another $1,000 and a Bronc Halter for third. Leslie Lang rode Roxanne Doogan’s The Witch Dr to $500 and a Bronc Halter for 4th.
Whizkey Friendly and Gary Roberts were back at it, dominating the $5,000 Added Markel Insurance 4 & 5 Year Old Under Ranch Riding Derby. They won $2,461.60 for owner Kimberly Laser. Second place and $1,954.80 went to Tuff Tuesday Cat owned by Nancy Gillett with Laurel Walker-Denton in the saddle. Spooks Gotta Trashy was third with Debbie Cooper, winning $1,448. Fourth place went to Jayne Vatcher’s Metallicism and Kendall Woelmer earning $724. Fifth place was a tie between Dunit With A Scholar and Jennifer Pearce and Eletrik Whiz and Jestin Simper. Each won $325.80.
With the expressed intent of building spirit and friendships across barns and divisions, Sami Fine Jewelry sponsored the $1,000 Ranch Riding Team Challenge. The challenge was free to enter and 58 exhibitors signed up to play. They were randomly drawn into teams whose scores were combined to determine the winners. Select Karen Caldemeyer was paired with veteran rider Debbie Cooper. Their total of 465 earned them each $250. Two youth competitors, Bentley Johnson and Haylee Brock notched a composite of 459.5 to earn themselves $150 each. L1 Amateur Nichole Millican got paired with open exhibitor Jimmy Daurio to win the third slot with a 457.5, earning $100 each.
Youth Ranch is seeing a surge as well and the kids had their own prize line up. The Kimes Best of Show Ranch Awards combined scores from Ranch Riding, Ranch Trail and Working Western Rail. Champions won a headstall. In the Youth 18 Under, Haylee Brock tallied the most points for the win. Katherine Kimes put in a solid performance during the week to win the Youth 13 & Under. Kendall Dawson gained the most points to take the Best of Show Youth 11 & Under.
There was plenty of action and awards in the All Around classes as well. Non Pros and L1 Non Pros were running for High Point Bob’s Custom Saddle awards certificates. Points from showmanship, horsemanship, pleasure and halter were counted. Best of Show Awards acknowledged high point winners with a pair of Rod Patrick Ostrich boots and a Cinch Jeans and Shirts certificate. Kristi Perea was still in shock over her win when she picked up her saddle certificate for the L1 Non Pro. A year of hard work and great accomplishments was well rewarded. She was also named the Best of Show in Amateur – All Around Division and carried home some circuit award hardware in L1 Showmanship and Amateur Hunter Under Saddle.
Ellie Becker & A Smooth Machine won the Non Pro Amateur Bobs Saddle award along with a Circuit Champion trophy in Amateur Western Pleasure, and Reserve awards in Horsemanship and Trail.
Roxanne Doogan’s Snap Chat Diva was scooping up circuit awards in the Select All Around, so it was no surprise the duo picked up the Best of Show award for that division as well. Receiving a grand in Open halter mares, circuit champion in amateur halter mares, performance halter mares, Hunter Under Saddle, Hunt Seat Equitation, Horsemanship, Western Riding, L3 Select Trail meant Roxanne took home a lot of trophies along with the new boots. Snap Chat Diva excelled with Leslie Lang at the reins as well, earning a Best of Show title in the Open All Around…..and another pair of boots.
Hez Southern Made, owned by Gary & Kathy Neel, won the BOS Green/ Level Horse for the All Around Division. While the Level 1 Amateur BOS went to Karissa Keen aboard Huntin a Sweet Dream.
Dakota Honea riding Lopin All Night Long won the Youth 18 & Under All Around BOS awards. Rose Amala and Pawn Star took home the L1 Youth BOS. The Youth 11 and Under Walk/Trot (All Breed) winner was Elizabeth Montez, receiving a buckle.
The Ranch, Reining and Cattle division also had Best of Show awards of Rod Patrick Ostrich boots and a Cinch Jeans and Shirts certificate. Gary Roberts had a spectacular show and was seen getting high calls in every arena. But it was his ability to bring out the best in Whizkey Friendly that earned the BOS title, along with circuits awards in JR Western Rail and JR Ranch Riding.
Dana Avila was honored with the Amateur Ranch, Reining and Cattle division BOS along with circuit awards in Open Working Western Rail, Amateur Western Rail, Select Reining, Select Ranch Trail and Open L1 Ranch Trail.
The Youth 18 & Under Best of Show title went to Bentley Johnson riding Hangin Easy. When not working hard with her horse or cheering on friends, Bentley was enthusiastically logging her volunteer hours by helping at the Equidome in gate assisting with bit checks in cow horse.
There were lots of other ways to win at the AZ Fall Championship that kept the fun pulsing through the week. Prize Patrol was busy roaming the grounds and barn areas with games and give-aways. Exhibitors and their cohorts had a chance to win gift certificates, merchandise from sponsors and electronics through silly challenges. Prize Patrol is just one other way AzQHA makes sure everyone who comes to their shows has a wonderful experience. With great competition, generous rewards, smooth scheduling, dedicated staff and fabulous facilities, AZ Fall Championship ticks all the boxes.