AZ Sun Circuit 50th Anniversary

Still riding high on its record obliterating 50th Anniversary, the question on everyone’s mind at the start of the 2024 Arizona Sun Circuit was how could the show possibly top itself. It soon became clear that Sun Circuit continues to improve on success, delivering a top notch showing experience for everyone. Huge entries, memorable events and great competition spanned the entire show running from March 1-10 at WestWorld in Scottsdale. The show had a dizzying array of awards this year. There were 37 champion saddles, Rod Patrick boots for Best of Show winners in 10 divisions, logo’d saddle pads, trophies, buckles, Sun Circuit spurs, custom champion rings from Sami Fine Jewelry and more in the Awards booth. Additionally, there was over $132,000 in added money.

With 26,625 AQHA entries plus NRHA, NRCHA, NSBA and special event entries, Sun Circuit is a big show by anyone’s standards. The addition of another arena for cattle classes along with ample warm up arenas easily accommodated riders so that it rarely felt crowded. “WestWorld has fantastic facilities to handle a show of this size,” said Sun Circuit Producer and AzQHA CEO Doug Huls. “From the indoor, climate controlled arenas to all the outdoor pens, they keep everything in top shape and the footing is excellent no matter how big we get.” Huls also credits his experienced staff for keeping all the arenas running efficiently and helping exhibitors have a great show. Office staff, arena managers, announcers, the scribes and gate people who keep everything straight in the Horse Show Tracker tablets, the awards booth crew, Prize Patrol crew and dedicated volunteers all work exceedingly hard to make Sun Circuit a premier event. Large classes, prolific awards and generous payouts have been the hallmarks of Sun Circuit, drawing veteran exhibitors as well as first timers. However it’s the fun, friendly atmosphere of a well run show that people remember most. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the weather was great.

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 24 chasing the money. When the scores were tallied, One Heart Beat Away owned by Catherine Finger and shown by Jess Albion was tied with Flat Out Frosted, owned by Lisa Stewart and shown by Ashley Dunbar-Clark. A tie breaker determined that Catherine Finger would take home the Champion saddle. Both won $2,954.40. Sara Simons rode Cathy

Ryden’s horse, Made Me Famous, to a third place finish and a check for $1,723.40.

Additionally, there was a Machine Made $2,000 added Four and Five Year Old Trail Limited Rider Futurity. Becky George racked up a string of plusses aboard South Beech for owner Kate Upton to take the top spot. The team won $960.50 plus a Sterling Custom Saddle sponsored by Kathy’s Show Equipment. The team’s 4th place finish in the Open added another $1,231 to their winnings. Reserve went to No Doubt Hez Hot, owned by Judith Bower and shown by Whitney Lagace, earning $762.75. Third place paid $565 to PSU Luv N A Goodbar owned by Dean Saul and shown by Hayley Kittler.

The $7,500 Nothing But Nett 5 and Under Maiden Stakes Western Riding gave everyone a look at 30 up and coming horses that will undoubtedly be making a splash in the future. Kristy McCann edged out the pack with consistently good goes over three days aboard Too Helen Back. Their efforts earned $3,120. VS The Vital Machine was reserve with Reid Thomas for owners Jon and Roz Forsyth, winning $2,145. Chad Evans piloted Patty Goodwin’s Flat AZ Showing Off to third place for $1,852.

Ranch classes continue to be wildly popular among youth, amateur and open exhibitors at Sun Circuit, with plenty of great awards and money. Senior Ranch Riding saw as many as 84 on the pattern. Working Western Rail classes saw entries in the 30s and 40’s requiring some divisions to be split. Ranch Trail interest has grown as well across the divisions, but the Senior was truly a stand out with 59 horses working the logs. The trajectory for Ranch classes is clear when you see so many youth and L1 horses entering. The Kristin Brock Show Horses L1 Open Ranch Stakes added $3,500 to the pot this year with a large field hunting the points in Level 1 Ranch Riding, Ranch Trail, Ranch on the Rail and Halter. Bud Lyon showed Stylish Donatella with consistency across the board to win $2,000, a champion buckle and a Sami ring for owner Janet Mathies. Second went to Sissie Shank’s horse Ronni Rey Gun, with Jimmy Daurio at the reins. They won $1,000 along with a saddle pad.

$2,500 Added Bar 54 Non Pro Ranch Riding Derby showed 21 horses. Composite scores of all three judges in  both the Select and Amateur Ranch Riding were used for placings. Seismic Reaction, shown by Katie Fox, had a smooth and precise pattern earning top marks, a check for $1,921 and the champion buckle. Just a half point behind was SG Valentine shown by Karen Johnson who won $1,525.50 for reserve. Mylanta Time shown by Tricia Sarchett took home $1,130 for third.

Bar 54 threw in another $2,500 to the 4 Year Old Ranch Riding Derby with 44 entered. Bud Lyon racked up a stack of plus ones to take the lead aboard Nic The Whiz owned by Monte Freeman. Pete Kyle rode his horse KR Emma Kayt to the second spot earning $1,485. Gonnaloveprettywomen, owned by Julia Schwartz and shown by John Irish was third and won $1,100.

There was plenty of action in the cutting and cow horse arenas too. 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. Shadd Parkinson won both. First he took the Senior on Tornado Watch winning $1,170 for owner Jerilynne Michaels. Second and $975 in the Senior went to Randy Paul showing CD Highlights.

Shadd was back in the Junior aboard Ironclad Rebel, owned by Theresa Thraen, winning $1,344 and a Jeff Smith Saddle.Tracer Gilson aboard Senorita was second, earning  $1,056.

The Amateur Spectacular had $1,000 added by Parkinson Performance Horses. ShinersDiamondLights, show by Katie Fox, had the highest composite to win a buckle, a Saddle House Saddle Certificate and $868. A set of Sun Circuit spurs and $604 went to Calling Dibs and Gianna Hansen.

Anchor Cross Ranch sponsored the $1,000 added Amateur Boxing Spectacular. Lindsey Paul Foreman and Peppy’s On Time topped the field to claim the $896, buckle and Superior Saddle. Spurs and $704 were awarded to Jeff Wenig riding RTR Rone Ranger for the second place spot.

Shadd Parkinson and Tornado Watch 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 a buckle and $1,950 of the $2,500 purse sponsored by Cushing Performance Horses. Hail Cat shown by Jake Telford was second for $1,300 and a saddle pad.

Beyond the spectaculars, the AQHA and NRCHA classes saw a lot of horses come through the pen. Senior had 59 horses entered and 43 in Junior. The amateur numbers were robust as well with 36 going down the fence and 33 L1 amateurs boxing. The Reining pen stayed busy all week as well with as many as 74 Junior horses showing, 164 Senior, 109 Novice horses and 102 Amateurs. With so many entries in the Reining and Cattle division, it took a lot to stand out from the crowd to win Best of Show awards. Cee My Special Nite, owned by Libby Haydon did just that in the Open and along the way picked up a Circuit Champion award in Heading and the High Point All Ages Team Roping. Morris Kuhlmer and NVR What A lucky Joe won the Best of Show Reining & Cattle for the amateur side, while TR Mr Joe with Michelle Fumagalli accumulated the most points in Youth.

With  6,371 entries, NSBA classes were well represented at Sun Circuit and a number of futurities rewarded Pleasure and Hunter Under Saddle exhibitors.$2,000 was added to the Never Have I Ever Non-Pro Western Pleasure. Awe Snap owned by Dena Veno and shown by Delaney Good marked the same total as Pleasure With Class owned by Dana Hokana and shown by Bree Hokana. They split the 1st and second money earning $1,210 each. Third Place went to VS Dress Code, bred, owned and shown by Michelle Coulter.

Gil Galyean Quarter Horses added $1,000 to the NSBA 3 Year Old Western Pleasure. Champion honors and a check for $839.40 went to Hart To Hart owned by Barbara Bouma and shown by Kyra Ley.

No Doubt IM Sleepn, owned by William Cox and shown by Dillon Vaughn, was Reserve Champion and earned $559.60

Third Place was Code Of Many Colors owned by Steve & Tanya Relander and shown by Andrew Sharp.

NSBA 3 & 4 Year Old Non Pro Western Pleasure with $500 added money saw Courtney Chown come out on top with Lopin Hottie Tottie. The pair won $459.60 for their efforts. The Way I Talk took Alicia Ritsema to second place for $306.40. No Doubt IM Sleepn was back in the pen with William Cox for a third place finish.

Eleven horses were in the ring for the 3 & 4 Year Old Limited Non Pro and had $500 added by Gil Galyean Quarter Horses.  Queen Ov Hearts owned and shown by Candice Hall took the top spot earning $441.32. Reserve Champion was Lady Marmalade shown by Samantha Foust. They picked up $350.46. Third Place and $259.60 went to The Glow Getter shown by Holly Phalen.

More NSBA futurities were held in Hunter Under Saddle. The 3 & 4 Year Old Open had $1,000 added by Ogden Ranch. Pretty Dang Good, owned by Myles Mclean-Foss, was the Champion earning $599.63. Easy Peazy was shown by Beth Case to claim Reserve Champion and a check for $466.38. Third Place and $266.50 went to All Fancy Like shown by Katie Cochran.

Ogden Ranch added another $1,000 to the pot for the Non Pros in the irons, Kara Flentje earned an additional $719.70 taking first on Easy Peazy and Brent Sanders placed second with All Fancy Like winning $479.80.

Super Sires held a slate of Stakes classes with a total of $15,000 added in cash plus prizes. Angela Fox rode Makin Me Happy to win the L1 Junior Western Riding and $1,260. The L1 Senior saw Wine After Whiskey and Anthony Montes at the top of the field of 19 to win $1,440. Moving on to the L1 Trail, Jesse Jones navigated the poles aboard No One Saw It Coming to win $1,360 for the Junior champion title. In the Senior, it was Brad Ost and VS Life Support taking home $1,440 for first.

Sun Circuit is known for more than large class numbers. The events that take place during the week are loved by all. NSBA presented Heroes on Horses for the third year at Sun Circuit. Everyone was invited to carry a flag in the very moving Parade of Heroes procession into the Equine Chronicle arena. They were joined by members of the Scottsdale Mounted Police, VFW flag bearers representing all the armed services, several veterans and the somber leading of the riderless horse honoring all those who lost their lives in service.

The Heroes on Horses Western Pleasure class followed with veterans from local therapeutic riding programs participating. Heroes on Horses is presented as a Special Project of the NSBA Foundation with the generous support of Bob and Ingrid Miller. A free luncheon was also provided ringside for all exhibitors and those who participated in the event.

Kimes Ranch continued the tradition of memorable parties with the inaugural King and Queen of Sun Circuit contest. The gala was a fun evening with food, entertainment and an over the top competition as couples demonstrated their worthiness of such a prestigious title through the costume, talent, interview and dance portions of the evening. Tim Kimura and Debbie Cooper, rocking a cave man theme and wrangling some dinosaurs, got the judge’s nod for top honors.The royal couple were bestowed with crowns, custom rings from Sami Fine Jewelry, Kimes Ranch gift certificates and a Jeep styled cart.

Winning extended beyond the classes with Prize Patrol spreading their infamous games and challenges across the grounds and barn areas. Tens of thousands of dollars in prizes, gift certificates, jewelry, hats, products and electronics were given away. Game Night became a regular event with 50-60 people showing up to play. One of the most fun in-the-ring challenges was the “wine” race after  Senior Working Western Rail for a 65” TV. Prize Patrol captain Tom Forehand had riders lope, long trot, back, spin and do it all over again to prove who had the most left in the glass and therefore the smoothest ride. It was amazing how close the final 8 participants were.

There were educational opportunities as well with the Adequan Free Clinic Series. Presented by top pros who all have multiple World Champion titles under their belts, they offered specific, actionable information to help improve performance. This year’s slate of clinicians included father and son roping duo J.D. and Trey Yates, Al Dunning broke down what it takes to score well in cutting and Deana Searles shared the secrets to a great Western Riding run.

Sun Circuit keeps growing and innovating, giving exhibitors not just a horse show but an experience they remember for a lifetime.