By Linda White
Every year, Ohio’s Buckeye Sweepstakes offers everyone who attends it a refreshing newness that belies its seniority. There is always something exciting going on at the Buckeye, and the possibilities seem endless. The Arabian horse show’s size may have waxed and waned since its 1963 beginnings, but the high quality it attracts has remained constant. Like a brilliant-cut gem, the many-faceted event still glistens with the light of the Arabian horse. The Buckeye is as lustrous today as it was decades ago. And as Show Manager Cindy Clinton reflected, the 2013 Buckeye celebrated its future at least as much as it did the past. She was eager to share details.
“This was our 50th anniversary,” she began. “Because this year’s Region 9 show was held at the same time, we did lose a few of the larger, older stables, which meant that unexpectedly, we had premium stalls available on the front row. Well, the young trainers stepped right up and paid the extra fee to be on the front row. In fact, within a few hours of our announcing that the stalls were available, we were sold out!
“The younger trainers went out of their way to decorate, participate in the progressive barn party, and to support the show. If I ever had doubts about where this show is going, I saw immediately that the younger generation is going to move us forward. For instance, our walk-trot and junior-to-ride classes were full; we almost never see that. Those kids were so competitive; they were phenomenal! They would compete fiercely, and then come right back in and present ribbons. I had the best-looking group of ribbon presenters I can ever remember!
“There were many more amateur exhibitors this year,” Clinton continued, “and a lot of the amateur classes were better-and better filled-than the open classes.”
Manchester, Mich. trainer Abe Cotton agreed. “This was a great chance for our clients, mostly adult amateurs, to measure how well they’re doing,” he offered. “To do well at the Buckeye feels like a real accomplishment.” Cotton first brought his stable and customers to the show six or seven years ago.
“Our clients love it!” said he. “It’s the biggest, most prestigious show in our area, and it’s just over a four- hour drive away. For us this year, two memorable Buckeye achievements were when David Carr won the Half-Arabian Hunter, ATR 40 and Over with DA Travail; and another of our amateurs, Laura Dickerton, was reserve in western pleasure and hunter pleasure with Rollin’ Doubles.”
English, park and driving specialist Bradley Pettit trains at Debra Booher’s New Visions Arabians, in Romulus, Mich. Pettit, who attended his first Buckeye Sweepstakes 20 years ago, appreciates the stabling, the footing, the ring and warm-up areas, and is grateful for the deep competition, especially in the English performance divisions. New Visions clients, many of whom are amateurs and youth, also enjoyed the fun activities that are one of the show’s trademarks.
“And it’s got to be fun,” noted Pettit. “We always try to get a few good young horses in the ring at the Buckeye. There are always good nationals judges, and the caliber of horses there gives us a realistic chance to see where we stand competitively. Oh, it’s a hard show: you’re up late, and back early, but it’s very gratifying when you do well there. We took 11 horses this year.”
Brothers Jim and Peter Stachowski have been showing there since 1974. “We’ve never missed a show since,” Jim said proudly. “It’s one of the top shows in the country; it certainly has the best performance horses. Think of all the national champions we’ve seen: all those great horses that we saw first at the Buckeye. The show has a lot of history, and it’s been a lot of fun. We took 28 head to the Buckeye this year ... but one year in the 1980s, we took 78 horses!
“There were a lot of amateurs this year,” he mused. “In fact, some of the best classes were amateur classes. What was most special for us this year? I really liked the way our amateurs and horses rose to the occasion. They got in the ring and did well. Seeing them go on and win was so satisfying!”
Stachowski had a tense moment when one of the horses he won with shied and nearly unseated him as the victor’s roses were being put on her. “It was unexpected,” he concedes. “She shied and I lost my stirrups. Then one of the stirrups hit her in the shoulder, and she got even more scared. It probably looked worse than it was … but no way was I going off that horse.”
“Jimmy’s still the man!” laughed Venita Proffitt. “Nobody else could have stayed on that mare!”
“It sure taught us a lesson,” Stachowski said ruefully. “All trainers need to be sure to put roses on their horses before they bring them to a horse show. And another good thing about the Buckeye: show management is always trying to do better: to improve the show. For example, this year the footing was better than ever.”
Venita Proffitt and her family have been coming to the Buckeye for more than 30 years. “Our entries this year were close to 400, down slightly only because Region 9’s show fell on the same dates. One more year, and that won’t happen anymore. Our Region 14 show is going to be the biggest, ever.” Daughter Pepper Proffitt is trainer at the family’s Proud Heritage Training Center, in Johnstown, Ohio and Roger Proffitt, husband and father, continued as Buckeye Show Chair in 2013.
“The show committee is very considerate, very helpful,” agreed Chad Roberts. “Cindy [Clinton] is always coming around to see if everything is okay, and if there’s anything we need. We’ve been going to the Buckeye since 2005, and haven’t missed a show since. Our clients love it. They start saying, ‘We want to go to the Buckeye!’ before the show season even starts.
“The Buckeye is a good gauge for our youth riders. It gives them a good opportunity to see what they need to do, going into Region 13, to compete successfully. And our clients like to go watch the good horses perform. Our box is always full-from the very first classes, right on to the Half-Arab park championship at the end.
“We give more than 100 lessons a week,” he adds. Roberts and his wife, the former Marggie Rushlow, have continued the commitment to Arabian horses Marggie’s parents made more than 30 years ago. The Rushlow Arabians team has more than 100 years’ collective experience with the breed.
“We hadn’t had those numbers-or that quality and depth-of junior riders since I can remember,” said Cindy Clinton. “And the amateurs took over the horse show! The Buckeye has always been known as ‘The Show Where national Champions Are Made.’ But there will be more amateurs on next year’s program cover. Trainers catered to their amateurs and young riders. It was great to see.”
Jan Senneker has been breeding national-winning Arabians since 1968, but she and her daughter Stephanie, both amateurs, rode at the Buckeye this year for the first time. “I love the facility, and the Buckeye has been my favorite show for 30-some years,” Senneker admitted. “Our first Buckeye win was in 1980, when Sufi's Fancy Free won the yearling fillies class with the late Danny Thomas. I still have the ribbon and the pewter mug she won.” The 2013 Buckeye Champion cooler and garland their purebred junior hunter won this year with Sharon Blendinger will no doubt be similarly treasured.
The 2013 Buckeye continued its tradition of providing entertainment for all ages. “We always try to have something for the little kids,” said Clinton, “and the Bounce House has really gone over well. This year we added Bounce House 2, which had five different games. Paul Heiman, a longtime exhibitor and supporter of our show, presented a floral blanket, given as a perpetual trophy in honor of his late wife, Joyce. And there was a balloon tribute to the late Marla Ruscitto,” Clinton explained quietly. “At the Progressive Barn Party we released 200 purple balloons, in celebration of Marla’s life.” Ruscitto, 32, of Empress Arabians, began riding at age 8. She died on May 12, 2013.
“I get excited, just telling our lesson kids’ parents about the show,” said Chad Roberts. “I think my excitement is contagious, because we had seven lesson kids come to the show this year with their families to spend the day on Saturday. They all had a wonderful time, and you could just see them thinking, ‘Gee, I’d like to be part of this!’”
“It was great to see some of the rising stars among the younger trainers take their rightful places in the front row,” added Jan Senneker. “Excellent junior horses and talented junior and equitation riders bode well for the future of the breed, the sport and the Buckeye.”
The verdict was unanimous. Everyone with whom we spoke ended the interview with identical salutations. “Here’s to the Buckeye’s next 50 years!”
Also see: 2015 Ohio Buckeye Sweepstakes