Article and photos courtesy of Kristen Spinning/AzQHA

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 percent 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.

NSBA Futurity Winners

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 percent over last year.

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. 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.

The Machine Made $2,000 added Four and Five Year old Trail Limited Rider Futurity saw Mechanic Parkin Only, owned and shown by Catherine De Coster, on top winning $1,110.40. She also won a Blue Ribbon saddle and NSBA Trophy. Blessed With Thebest owned by Joline Humbert and shown by Adam Winter, was reserve earning $763.40.

The $7,500 Nothing But Nett Five 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, showing for Evon Werner, won the Maiden winning $3,072, while 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.

Gil Galyean Quarter Horses added $1,000 to the NSBA Three Year Old Western Pleasure. He got $848 of that back by winning the class on Queen Ov Hearts owned by Cory Seebach and Candice Hall. Reserve went to Lopin Schmancy, ridden by Angie Cannizzaro for owner Jeri Lockwood. They took home $636. Top Gun and Rusty Green were third winning $424.

The NSBA Three Year Old $2,500 Ltd Horse Open was also sponsored by Gil Galyean Quarter Horses and had $1,000 added. Rusty Green was out in front aboard Top Gunn winning $852.00. Aaron Moses piloted Charles Fisher’s The Lotto Machine to the second spot in the line-up, earning $568.00.

Fourteen horses were in the ring for the NSBA Three & Four Year Old Non Pro Western Pleasure with $500 added money. Paula Czapko showed This Cowboys Mine for the win and $451.20. Linda Berwick’s horse Deja Whoo took the second slot and $310.20.

The Three & Four Year Old Intermediate Non Pro presented eight horses and had $500 added by Gil Galyean Quarter Horses. Paula A Czapko showed that This Cowboys Mine has a bright future, winning the class and $452.00. Second went to Made Me Famous and Megan Ryden.

Heroes On Horses

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 ten 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.

Dancing With  The Stars

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 three 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. The crowd of over 700 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.

National Championships

The popular and challenging National Championships were back again in the Non-Pro pattern classes. The top 64 exhibitors ranked nationally are eligible to compete and after three rounds of elimination, The Four remaining show one more pattern in a head to head format. The Champions all receive buckles and everyone who makes it to The Four are awarded embroidered bomber jackets.

The Amateur Showmanship finals as well as the Amateur Horsemanship conclusion saw Patricia Bogosh win the buckles, while Scott Reinartz swept all three Select Amateur pattern classes, winning Showmanship, Horsemanship and Equitation. Brooke Garcia and The Publication won the Amateur Equitation.

Youth exhibitors also competed in the National Championships. In Youth Showmanship, Sydney Swallom and Almost Invited edged out a beautiful executed pattern for the buckle. In Youth Horsemanship and Youth Equitation, Jayna Lagace and Huntin Hotty Tottys had just about flawless gos to cinch the wins.

High Point Champions

The show awarded 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.

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. Additional carts were awarded in Reining, Cowhorse and Ranch.

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.

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