AZ Pinnacle Circuit and AQHA L1 West Championships See Tremendous Growth

The bet to move the Arizona Pinnacle Circuit and AQHA L1 West Championships to Las Vegas paid off with a big win for exhibitors May 11-18.  It was obvious from the start that the double billed shows were going to be huge. Competition was robust and the fun level was off the charts.  The Pinnacle Circuit had classes at every level, so trainers had something for everyone in their barn. A total of 507 horses were shown in the Pinnacle, and 70% of them stayed on for the L1. Additionally, quite a few horses came just for L1, resulting in a total of 544 being shown and over 2,800 class entries. Exhibitors in both shows had the option of cross entering with NSBA.

The Level 1 Championships are designed to give novice AQHA competitors a taste of the grandeur embodied in a world show experience. They offered Level 1, Rookie and Walk/Trot divisions for amateur, select and youth, allowing a wide swath of less experienced exhibitors to compete with others at their same level.

Arizona Quarter Horse Association partnered with AQHA to produce the L1 West Championship for a third year. “South Point is a wonderful facility and the arenas give you that feeling of showing somewhere really special,” says Doug Huls, AzQHA CEO and producer of both the L1 West and the Pinnacle Circuit. “We knew the shows would grow when we moved them, but we were surprised just how much bigger it was.” The ability to stay where you play, the entertainment amenities and a plethora of dining options on site make showing at South Point convenient and enticing  Another factor contributing to the growth is that the Las Vegas location makes it more accessible to the Northwest states and Canada than the previous Scottsdale location. It’s a winning combination that makes for a memorable destination horse show for the whole family. Huls continues, “We had representation from just about every western state and province. We were really honored to have a few folks come from the East coast as well.” Despite long days, exhibitors and Huls’ A-Team staff remained strong and the energy level throughout the week was electric.  Arena managers and gate personnel kept the flow efficient, yet never rushed, always encouraging and supportive. The announcers kept everyone well informed and hyped.

Because of the explosive growth, show management and AQHA have already committed to adding two extra days onto the schedule for 2025. The shows will return to South Point  May 14-24 next year, with move in on Tuesday, May 13. The Pinnacle Circuit will be held May 14-18. The AQHA L1 Championship will run May 19-24. “The extra days will allow the schedules to spread out and get classes finished earlier each day,” says Huls.  “We will also have the entire facility to ourselves with plenty of stalls for both shows.”

While both shows increased class numbers across the board, some truly remarkable entry numbers in the L1 classes hint at the future of showing. L1 Amateur Ranch Trail had 55 working the pattern and 29 were entered in the Youth Ranch Trail. Ranch Riding is still enjoying a wave of excitement. Rookie Amateur had 50, while Amateur saw 36 and Select had 38. L1 Amateur Walk/Trot Western Pleasure was so large with 33 entries that it was split in two, with the top placings coming back for a second go. Similarly, the other divisions of Pleasure required splits as well. Pattern classes remain strong with L1 Amateur Western Horsemanship showing 51, Select 47 and all the youth divisions showing numbers in the 30s. All divisions of Showmanship combined saw over 200 horses presented.

South Point’s arenas offered a true Championship Show experience for the top 15 exhibitors being recognized during award ceremonies at the conclusion of each class.  The kiss and cry area at the out gate saw an overflowing of emotions as riders, trainers, friends and family gathered to celebrate the culmination of tireless passion. Whether a finalist patch or a gleaming gold trophy, the pride was palpable and infectious seeing goals fulfilled and hard work rewarded in a grand, public spectacle.

The top 10 received ribbons and custom trophies were presented through 3rd place. Champions took a victory lap with trophy held high and their red, white and blue neck ribbon fluttering amid thunderous cheering. Other awards included belt buckles and gift certificates. All Around trophies were awarded in each division as well.

Adding to the excitement, The Equine Chronicle and the show’s social media prolifically covered the events and the L1 West was live streamed for folks at home and around the world.

Education and experience are foundations of the L1 Championships. Nutrena Ride the Pattern Clinics had AQHA professional horsemen break down class patterns to give exhibitors in depth and actionable insights on how to approach each element and how to put the pieces together for a polished ride.

Beth Clemons took spectators through each of the trail maneuvers, while Jenn and Justin Wheeler presented the nuances of showmanship.  Micah Hansen dissected the ins and outs of the horsemanship pattern. There was a Ranch Riding clinic with Kristin Brock and Jimmy Daurio guiding a crowd through the ranch trail pattern. Genny Miller took everyone through Hunt Seat Equitation, piece by piece.

AzQHA has always believed that horse shows need to be rewarding outside of the arena as well as inside. To that end, Prize Patrol was roaming the barn areas with games and prizes from show sponsors. One of the highlights of the week was the Pinnacle’s Got Talent competition. Sixteen entries were aired during a happy Hour party in the Cinch Saloon on Friday night, with the  judging by cheers from a packed house. After round one, the field of contestants was narrowed to 4 who were asked to stand up and perform live.

Carter Kail and crew, Paityn Simpkins and Katherine McAurthur were all on hand for the call backs, while Rylee Snodgrass was surprised to be snatched by her mom right out of her Western Riding class and hustled up to the Cinch Saloon. The crowd was vociferous with their support, and another tie ensued necessitating a head to head final between Rylee and Paityn. Both girls had 45 second on a song of their choice and the crowd judged one last time. Rylee won the $2,000 E-Bike.

It’s a winning combination anyone would bet on in Vegas: stellar South Point venue, plenty of classes for every level exhibitor, awesome champion level competition plus all the fun of AzQHA produced shows. While everyone left a little exhausted, the prevailing sentiment was that the experience was well worth it.

2024 Level 1 West

Special Awards

Top Ranch Heritage Bred

Youth – High Brow Jess Perry & Sadie Joy Lamar

Amateur – Boxo Heavens Falcon & Iliana Shelby Nemmers

Rookie Youth High Point

I Look Extremely Hot & Maya Dias

Rookie Amateur High Point

Southern Extreme & Kristy Bennett

L1 Youth Walk Trot High Point

The Best Bet Yet & Willa G Bruce

L1 Amateur Walk Trot High Point

Looks Good Lopin & Mackenzie Russell

L1 Amateur All Around

  1. No Doubt Chex Me Out & Shelby L Devet
  2. No Question Im Lazy & Morgan Miller
  3. Look Here Im Hot & Caitlyn Kauffman

L1 Select All Around

  1. Lazyz Back In Black & Robin Baldes
  2. Chicks Dig Chocolate & Johanne Fenwick
  3. Touch N Go Show & Ashley S Mossman

L1 Youth 13 & Under All Around

  1. Good Evanescence & London Nietzer
  2. Invitation To Boot & Reagan Taylor Thenhaus
  3. I Gottem Talkin & Emma Kutac

L1 Youth 14-18 All Around

  1. Catch Twenty Two & Aidan Rizk
  2. Willy B Lazy & Ruby Gunderson
  3. Take Me Home Tonite & Bailey Saenz