Scottsdale becomes the horse capital of the world as 2,400 horses thunder into WestWorld for the 63rd annual Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show.
The international event draws competitors, trainers and horses to the Feb. 15-25 event that carries a Broadway if-I-can-make-it-there-I’ll-make-it-anywhere cache not afforded other shows.
“The title of Scottsdale Champion is one of the most prestigious an Arabian horse can earn,” said Janice McCrea-Wight, show spokeswoman. “Arabian enthusiasts from around the world anxiously await the results.”
The intense competition is in contrast to the 200,000 fans expected who come for the relaxed atmosphere, easy seating and parking, bevy of food options and shopping galore.
Here are seven reasons to check it out.
The Arabian horse, of course
The ancient breed of Arabian has a signature look: Big, dark eyes, a dishy face, a high-arching neck, huge nostrils and delicate legs. The Arabian is the oldest pure bred horse in the world, is black-skinned under its coat and how about this fun fact? Some Arabians have one less vertebrae than other horses.
About 2,400 Arabians and half-Arabians will be competing in 700 individual competitions or classes during the 11-day show.
The beauty pageant of then horse show is known as the halter class but the Arabian is prized for its versatility and will compete in classes that demonstrate its speed, agility and dexterity.
The Arabian’s personality trainers say is much like a dog — they love to be loved and are eager to please.
Next to the watching the superstar horses, this is the event to attend. Crowds swell to 400 for any single tour.
“We started the tour and thought maybe we would have like 25 people,” tour organizer Mary Lou Houge said. “We had 200.”
Horse show organizers host two tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17-Saturday, Feb. 24. Attend on a weekday if you want a less crowded tour, but the barns can fit you in because they are huge and speakers allow people to hear.
The guided talks start with a walk on the WestWorld grounds with a primer about the horse show, which dates back to 1955, on the way to a barn. Once inside the barn, a horse is trotted out and a trainer takes over. The trainer discusses the attributes of an Arabian and how it gets ready for a show.
But the primary reason people go on the tour?
“They get to touch the horse and talk to the horse and ask questions about the horse,” Houge. “And we get a lot of people telling their own stories about horses too.”
Anytime you go, you’re going to see horses and competitions. But there are some key classes that hold huge public appeal. Call ahead and ask about when to see these classes at 480-515-1500 or check the schedule at scottsdaleshow.com, but be aware that sometimes they run behind.
- Mounted Native Costume: The rider’s attire is of native, desert regalia with flowing capes, coats, pantaloons, head dresses, scarfs, sashes and other colorful decorations.
- Reining: Horses perform a prescribed pattern of circles, spins, lead changes, fall backs, runs, stops and backs. Stops require the horse to bring the hind feed and hocks under the horse and slide on the rear shoes.
- Dressage: Considered classical training because it uses gymnastic exercises — a series of movements and figures — which have been studied and developed for centuries.
- Breeding/Halter: The horses are judged on the standards of the breed that define it: conformation, which is how the horse is put together, suitability for breeding, quality of skin, coat and grooming, movement, manners, alertness and attitude.
- Liberty: This class features unsaddled, riderless horses set free in the arena, performing to music.
- Country English Pleasure: This class is meant to give the appearance of being a pleasure to ride and are ridden in informal saddle seat attire at a walk, trot, canter and gallop. These horses possess obvious ease, balance and smoothness. They are judged on attitude, manners, performance and conformation.
- Western Pleasure: These horses are shown in stock-type saddle and a standard, western-type headstall. Riders wear western hats, long-sleeved shirts with collars, and scarves and ties. Chaps and boots are required. The horses are shown at a flat-footed, ground covering four-beat walk, a jog, a lope and may be asked to hand gallop.
Free admission for some ages/dates
At $10 for adults, the horse show is already a bargain. But the following visitors and dates can take in all the action for free:
- Ages 12 and younger are always free.
- Free for veterans and their families with credentials on Tuesday, Feb. 20.
- Free for all everyone after 6:30 p.m. during Family Fun Night on Friday, Feb. 23.
Fun for kids
Over the years, organizers have added more events for children and added times and dates for their existing activities. Just check out these these occurring activities that cater to kids:
- An ice cream social
- Meet an Arabian, where kids get to sit atop a horse and get their picture taken with the horse.
- Paint-a-Pony, which is a ceramic horse painting
For a small fee, kids can also enjoy pony rides, camel rides and a petting zoo.
Some events happen daily, some are on specific dates and times. Call 480-515-1500 or go to scottsdaleshow.com and click on Events & Activities for times.
No joke: Some women come to the horse show and never leave the air-conditioned shopping tents. More than 300 vendors have everything from jeans to one-of-a-kind lamps to children’s toys to high-end leather couches and art. There’s even quite a few merchandise stations that cater to pet accessories.
Even if you’re there to experience the horses and the fresh air activities, take a spin through the shopping expo, simply to take in the retail-therapy spectacle.
The Scottsdale show was started in 1955 by a group of Valley families with 102 horses and no prize money. It’s grown to thousands of horses and more than $2 million prize money.
Although owners, riders and trainers come from the Middle East, Europe, South America and Australia, the show is still hosted by Valley families and the show has called WestWorld it’s permanent home since 1989.
“Each year the show is like a reunion for the organizers and exhibitors,” said McCrea-Wight. “It is always exciting to meet the babies — humans and equine. It is a very close, global community.”
When a trainer and horse pass by, and remember the rules of etiquette is that a horse always has the right-of-way, you’re seeing a piece of Valley history that has become a worldwide success.
Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show
When: Gates open at 8 a.m. February 15-25.
Where: WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Rd., Scottsdale.
Admission: $10 per day general admission, $7 per day for seniors and military, free for children 12 and under, $15 a day for reserved bleacher seating, $25 per day for reserved box seating, $50 eleven-day button general admission.
Evening performance on Friday, Feb. 23 $15 for general admission, $7 for seniors and military, children 12 and under free, $15 for reserved bleacher seating, $25 for reserved box seating.
Free admission for veterans and their families on Military Appreciation Day on Feb. 20 and for families during Family Night on Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m.
Details: 480-515-1500, scottsdaleshow.com.
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