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Desert Show Birds

Competitors from California and across the country flock to early-season events that set the year’s tone

From Horsetrader staff reports - January 17th, 2013 - Cover Story, Show & Event News

What if you had a show and everybody came?

For Show Director Doug Huls of the Arizona Quarter Horse Association, that’s not far from his experience each winter at the show he manages alongside the AZQHA, the Sun Circuit.

Last year, Huls says this nine-day event was the largest AQHA circuit competition worldwide. This year’s event, which will feature eight AQHA shows spanning Jan. 26-Feb. 3, will require 100 additional stalls.

“It’s more than a horse show – it’s an event,” says Huls. “We try to make sure everybody has fun there.”

A good time is a consistent theme when you ask California’s frontline trainers what they enjoy most about the show.

“The reason it’s going wild is because it’s fun,” says Bob Avila, who along with his wife, Dana, and others in the Avila barn will compete this month. “They’ve made it fun, and when it’s all said and done, people want to have fun.”

Huls says that’s exactly what he likes to hear.

“Everything I try to do – that we all try to do – is to make sure when people come to Scottsdale, they not only enjoy the weather, but they have a good time,” he says. “The majority of the arenas will be done by 6:30 at night, and we want people to get out of there and enjoy themselves in the evening. Get them to bed early, make sure they have fun while they’re here, and that there’s lots to do while they’re here.”

And lots of AQHA points to win. Almost every class, Huls says, is a 9-point class. Such point accumulation further attracts competitors eager to qualify horses for the World Show or Select World.

“A lot of times, we get qualified in the reining and the pleasure classes right there at that show,” says trainer Dana Hokana. “It takes pressure off in that sometimes when you wait until later in the year, you might have to sweat it a little bit to get classes big enough to get points. These classes are big enough to get the points we need.”

Huls has cultivated a wide variety of events at Sun Circuit, including new added-money classes this year in mounted shooting and hunter under saddle, as well as a 4D barrel racing sweepstakes. He has a keen eye on attracting public spectators with intent on introducing new folks to the Quarter Horse universe.

“We need as horsemen to expose more and more spectators to the event to get more interest,” Huls says. “That’s one of my big personal goals — and the association’s — is to get as many people as possible exposed to Quarter Horses through this show.”

Stock horse competitor and reiner Nicolas Barthelemy makes the Sun Circuit his first stop of the year to get his young horses in the show pen.

“It’s a very useful show for us,” says Barthelemy, based in Descanso. “It’s the first big show of the year, and we use it to get our horses ready for all the coming shows. We’ll take our 2-year-olds coming three for their first show out.”

“It’s a good venue — a big place,” he added. “They have a lot of riding area for us to take our babies and practice with them. It gives us a really good start of the year — and a safe start of the year. It’s well-organized and well set-up.”

Barthelemy adds that the talent is good.

“We use it as a schooling show, but the competition is there,” he says. “If you want to compete this time of year, it’s the place to be.”

Hokana also appreciates the opportunity provided by the show to see the other horses in the arena.

“It’s a way for me to go right into the new year knowing what my competition is, who the great horses are out there,” she says. “Our horses haven’t been shown in a few months, so it really helps me get a point of reference where we need to be for the rest of the year.”

“It is a well-run show,” she adds. “A gorgeous facility. Beautiful stalls. It’s just where we all want to go. It shows us the cream of the crop from all over the country. It’s like the World Show out west.”

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