49th Annual US National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championships

By Linda White

Like a character from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the US National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Show has taken on a life of its own. This latest incarnation will create delightful new memories because once again, the combined efforts of the US National Show Commission, the Arabian Horse Association (AHA), and show management are far exceeding the ordinary.

This competition is our breed’s most relied-upon barometer of excellence; every change and update reflects the interests and current needs of the Arabian horse community. Kelsey Berglund, AHA’s National Events Coordinator, outlines some of the changes exhibitors will see this year.

“Based on the many requests we received, AHA President Cynthia Richardson created an hoc halter committee to address the many requests from the halter community. “The ad hoc committee, working with the Breeding in Hand Committee, suggested consolidating the purebred halter championships into just six: a yearling championship; a junior championship (ages 2 and 3); and a senior (age 4 and older) championship. This will reduce the number to three national halter championships for purebred females; and three for purebred colts and stallions. The purebred open final halter championships will be on the Saturday starting at 11:00 AM. This is when the break starts from the Ford Arena so exhibitors and spectators can come and cheer for the Breeding In Hand National Championships.”[Those six championship classes do not include the US National Futurity classes, all of the HA/AA championships and the purebred gelding championships. See the 2015 Omnibus on the AHA website for more information.]

“New also will be Michael Steurs’ Arabian Horse Results, computing halter class scores.” [Note: Arabian Horse Results is not affiliated with Results, the daily class results publication.] Our US Nationals results will be listed with major shows around the world on his website.

Since the show moved there in 2008, a collaborative effort between show management and Tulsa Expo Square has allowed the facility to meet most of the US National Show’s requirements. “There has been dissatisfaction with the size of the Pavilion warm-up area and the paddock’s size,” Berglund states. “We have now moved all the outdoor stalls at one end, making the warmup area much larger; and new, permanent wash racks are being installed in RiverSpirit. Traditional green shavings will be put down in Ford Truck Arena the last three nights, and we’re encouraging spectators to wear formal attire on Friday and Saturday evenings.”

The US Nationals trade show always tantalizes show-goers. “The products and services this year really run the gamut,” says AHA’s Eri Hook. “We’ll have riding apparel, both custom made and off-the-rack; and all kinds of leather goods; one vendor will be bringing beautiful Italian boots. We have a furrier; and a vendor with alpaca wool clothing and gloves; and there will be all kinds of children’s toys and gifts. Original sculpture and other fine artwork, in every medium and price range, is always a favorite with US Nationals shoppers.”

New this year will be Arabian/Half-Arabian/Anglo-Arabian Amateur Limited Reined Cow Horse; and Arabian/Half-Arabian/Anglo-Arabian Adult Western Horsemanship. Looking ahead, performance maturities, halter futurities, and an AWPA (Arabian Western Pleasure Association) futurity will be added in 2016. A reminder: don’t forget to check DNA testing requirements that exist now, and will include additional divisions in 2016.

Another reminder: $212,500 will be available to International Arabian Breeders’ Sweepstakes participants this year. Since 1983, the IAB Sweepstakes has awarded more than $4 million in prize monies, and enticed stallion owners with handsome financial incentives. IAB Sweepstakes national championship and reserve have been added for yearlings, along with a variety of IAB Sweepstakes performance classes for junior horses.

Bill Hughes will again serve as Show Commission Chair and 2015 US National Championship Show Manager. Hughes has more than 35 years in the equine industry, as trainer, breeder, exhibitor, judge and educator. His numerous, ongoing contributions to the Arabian horse world include shouldering the often thankless job of US national show manager.

“We aren’t perfect, and neither is this horse show,” Hughes believes, “but we’re getting closer to having it be just what we need.”

“We go out of our way to listen to people,” says AHA President Cynthia Richardson, continuing that thought. “We’re trying to bring back a sense of the value of a national halter championships. By reducing the number of national titles this year, the six purebred halter classes on Saturday will represent a true US Top 10 for those horses. Winning a US Top 10 – even earning eligibility, and competing at US Nationals – will once again be recognized world-wide as a great accomplishment.

“Our goal is to bring back the fun and excitement of the US National Championship Show as it once was,” she explains. “A new Regional Challenge Contest should create some good-natured rivalry, and we’re hoping it will help fill the stands. We hope that, for example, an announcement that, ‘Region 8 is now leading by six points!’ will create some root-for-the-home-team excitement. We want folks to come and cheer for their friends instead of sitting back at the stalls, watching classes on their closed-circuit TVs.”

The Judges and Stewards Selection Committee has chosen a distinguished panel this year. Halter judges will be Leslie Connor, Joplin, MO; Allan Preston, from Luddenham, Australia; Cindy Reich, Lakewood, CO; Susan Witte, Scottsdale, AZ; and Eric Wolfe, Apopka, FL.

“It’s a privilege to get the opportunity to see and evaluate the best the breed has to offer,” states Wolfe. “For halter horses, our standard really hasn’t changed. Our ideal is still the Gladys Brown Edwards Arabian sculpture on the US National Championship trophy. I think the scoring system brings out an overall balance of judging each horse, not only for its beauty and Arabian type, but also for its potential to be athletic. I believe that asking us to judge each horse in seven categories will make a real difference.

“I only wish that in finals classes, when there may be only a half point’s difference in our two highest-scoring horses, we could have a second look: we could compare just those two together, like we do on a second workout in a performance class.”
English classes will be judged by Steve Lieblang, Richmond, TX; Martha Rattner, Paris, KY; and Mitch Sperte, Tijeras, NM. Judges for the western classes will be Shannon Armstrong, Puyallup, WA; Kathy Callahan-Smith, Temecula, CA; and Van Jacobsen, Pine Island, MN.

Mitch Sperte also judged the English classes at US Nationals in 1996 and 2009. “I look for the horse that most meets the class’s criteria,” he replies to the question. “Which one would I most want to throw a leg over, and take home? I want an eye-catching horse with charisma that sets it apart from the rest of the field: a talented horse with extreme quality. And quality is an intangible. It’s hard to define; but it’s always identifiable.

“When I look at a class from a horseman’s perspective, I want to see a horse presented to its best advantage: to be able to assess that horse for its assets – and not broadcast its weaknesses. If you make multiple extra passes after the class is asked to line up, you must want me to judge your horse … so you’d better be in good order!

“I judge a class the way I’d want to be judged,” he adds. “I give every horse and rider every chance to do their best, and not try to catch them out, or trap them into making a mistake. I try to tie the best horse within the class specs: within the class parameters. I don’t beat a horse for a mistake with a horse that is a mistake.

“I think our horses’ quality and ability, and our horsemanship, are at an all-time high,” Sperte says. “The horses’ care and upkeep, and concern for their welfare, are also at an all-time high. I’m proud to be part of such a community.”

Kathy Callahan-Smith was also a US Nationals judge in 2008 and 2012; she holds judges’ cards with six show and breed associations. She has won 50 national and world titles, and taught in Cal Poly University’s the equine program for 14 years. “I want a western horse to be well trained, well presented, and looking the part,” she explains. “I have three criteria: is the horse doing the correct gait? What is the quality of the gait? How difficult is that gait? It’s not just that the horse is executing the gait; it’s how he is executing that gait. In other words, it’s not how slow the horse goes; it’s how the horse goes slow.

“Is he comfortable with that head set? A western horse’s head should be on the vertical, or a little ahead; but never behind the vertical. Is the horse representative of this class? You might have the most beautiful horse, but he isn’t suitable for this class. For example, an open horse may not be the best horse for his amateur or junior rider.”

Callahan-Smith also coached Cal Poly’s collegiate team for 10 years. “This is the second year we’ve had adult horsemanship and adult showmanship. I’m very excited to be on the ground floor of these classes; some other breeds have had them for decades.”

Laura Doran, Lincoln, CA; Wendy Gruskiewicz, Jefferson, OH; and Patrick Newby, from Abbotsford, BC, will judge the hunter pleasure and show hack classes. “These divisions are among the most competitive,” Doran says. “A hunter pleasure horse should travel in a horizontal frame, with a relaxed neck and long, ground-covering strides – and it’s always a plus when horse and rider make it look pleasurable and effortless.

“My favorite show hack has a more upright frame, and is balanced, obedient, and animated. The best show hack is very well-trained, and I’m confident that our winners also will be of supreme quality.”

The working western division will be judged by Julie Addante, Salida, CO; Linda Hitt, Elizabeth, CO; Holly Hover, Cave Creek, AZ; Leon Matthias, Norwalk, IA; and Marilyn Randall, Bridger, MT. Bobby Ingersoll, from Reno, NV will judge cutting. The second cutting judge had not been selected, as of this writing.

National Reined Cow Horse Association Hall of Famer Bobby Ingersoll has been training cutting horses and reined cow horses for 60 years. He holds judges’ cards in the NCHA, NRCHA and AQHA (Quarter Horses) and has judged the Quarter Horse World Show nine times.

Ingersoll has trained and competed on two Arabians: a Half-Arabian mare he showed in reining and reined cow horse; and a purebred gelding he won the novice cutting with at Scottsdale. “The Half-Arabian mare was stronger in the rear, so she had a quicker stop, better balance, and more strength behind. Arabians can slide like anything - but most don’t have the conformation to put one hind foot on the ground and spin on it. That makes for a slower reaction time to the cow.

“Conformation has played such an important part of Quarter Horses’ success as cow horses,” Ingersoll reminds us. “Most purebred Arabians aren’t built to reach down to the cow: most of them are too long-legged, and too lightly muscled behind. Now that breeders are looking for the heavier muscling, more strength in the rear, and less leg, I’ve seen some Arabians and Half-Arabians do very well.

“Another thing a cutting horse or reined cow horse has to have is what we call ‘cow instinct’; this comes down from the wild horses. A true cow horse has to respond to an innate herding instinct. When wild stallions had it, they herded their mares. Then, there were the ‘bachelors’ who had no idea of –and no desire – to herd anything. The rider is only a conductor, to keep the horse on pattern.”

There will be a Champions of Today Showcase in the Exchange Building; details will be forthcoming. Also in the Exchange Building will be a Tour of Arabian Horse Legends “Take a walk back into time and explore the Arabian horse trainers, breeders, organizations and horses of yesterday, in a miniature exhibit of history,” touts the pre-show promotion. At 5:00 pm Friday, October 30, the Arabian Horse Distress Fund’s annual Wine Walk will take place in the Ford Truck Barn. There also will be a golf cart raffle benefitting Arabian Youth; raffle tickets can be purchased at the AHYA booth in the Exchange Center. The foregoing only hints at the excitement. You’ll just have to go to the show to take it all in.

For a complete list of show officials, class lists, rules, stabling, show schedule and special events, visit www.arabianhorses.org, select “competitions”, and follow the prompts for the specific information you seek.