Family Affair: Horse show attracts crowds for fun and competition

Family Affair: Horse show attracts crowds for fun and competition

By Laura Latzko

Corey Cushing has worked with many world-champion horses through his business, Corey Cushing Performance Horses.

The North Scottsdale resident strongly believes that each horse must be treated as an individual. 

“For my family and I, our lives revolve around horses 24/7,” Cushing says. 

He is one of many exhibitors at the Scottsdale Arizona Sun Circuit quarter horse show, hosted by the Arizona Quarter Horse Association’s annual Scottsdale Arizona Sun Circuit quarter horse show highlighting the breed through various classes. 

In its 49th year, the event is set for Saturday, March 5, to Sunday, March 13, in seven arenas at WestWorld of Scottsdale. At the event, Cushing — who specializes in training and showing cow horses in reining, cutting and roping disciplines — and his clients will show around 16 horses. 

Showing horses runs in Cushing’s family. His 10-year-old son, Caleb, also competes in cow horse events. His wife, Kristen, showed when she was younger, and her parents were trainers. She and their son help run the business. 

Like his son, Cushing grew up around horses and began competing at an early age — first on appaloosa horses and then on quarter horses. His mother also showed appaloosa horses.

Busy event

One of the largest quarter horse shows in the nation, the Scottsdale event features 2,000 horses from around the country. 

Top competitors in different classes will receive cash prizes and items such as custom saddles or golf carts, along with ribbons, trophies and buckles. In several classes, sponsors contribute additional money. 

Contestants also earn points based on their placement in their classes. To qualify for American Quarter Horse Association world championship competitions, competitors need to score at the top of their classes.  

It isn’t just about the competitions, though. Vendors will sell themed items such as boots; cowboy and cowgirl hats and horse equipment; tack and feed; as well as jewelry, home décor, trucks and trailers, and food. 

On Wednesday, March 9, the National Snaffle Bit Association will honor disabled veterans and wounded warriors through Heroes on Horses. These veterans can compete in a special Western pleasure class, as well as take part in a parade and a flag ceremony. 

During free clinics on Friday, March 4, attendees can learn skills needed for events, such as showmanship, ranch trail and cow horse boxing. The clinics, which are taught by professionals, are geared toward those who want to advance their skills or learn a new discipline as well as those considering showing horses. 

Friday, March 4, features a performance horse sale of horses bred for cow horse, roping and ranch riding events. 

Kristen Spinning, media coordinator for the Scottsdale Arizona Sun Circuit, says the show gives the public a chance to see what makes quarter horses’ abilities. 

“The American quarter horse is such a versatile breed that they can do anything from pulling a cart to cattle classes,” Spinning says. 

“We have roping events. We have cow horse events where it demonstrates the horse’s ability to move a cow around an arena. These things go back to how the horses were used for for hundreds of years, especially in Arizona with ranching and transportation. A lot of our events are rooted in what a horse needed to do and still needs to do as a working horse and of course as a pleasure horse.”

The show also has classes such as English or Western pleasure riding, in which the horses will walk, jog, and canter or lope around the arena. In these categories, the horses and riders will go through patterns individually and/or do work along the rails as groups.  

The English and Western pleasure riding classes differ in saddles and attire. In the showmanship classes, exhibitors take the horses through designated patterns, such as walking, trotting and presenting for judges. 

“That one is judged on how well the horse and handler work together as a team, how well conformed the horse is, how well it does the moves and how well it stands there pretty to be inspected by the judge,” Spinning says. 

“That’s a fun class for people to watch because it’s so beautiful, and these horses move with this elegance and fluidity. In halter classes, judges look more at conformation, or how well horses fit breeding standards.”

For trail classes, horses go through a series of bridges, poles and gates at various speeds, and in reining classes, horses perform patterns at high speeds and do sliding stops, spins and circles. 

For cow horse classes, exhibitors and horses work together and guide the movements and direction of one cow. 

Team roping is similar to rodeos, where two riders work together to rope steer around the horns and feet. At the quarter horse show, the judges look at areas such as how well the horse performs and is positioned.  

“That comes from old cowboy tradition,” Spinning says.

“This is how they caught steers out in the field and would bring them in, brand them or doctor them. So, it’s those kinds of skills but taken to a competition and an entertainment level.” 

Spinning says, in the last 40 years, horse shows have changed. Exhibitors used to show the same horses in different classes. These days, horses are bred and trained to be more specialized. 

“These horses are bred to have a refinement, beauty, athleticism and a fluid motion,” Spinning says. 

Classes are divided by age and by skill level. For seniors over 50, there are select classes. Classes are also divided by professional trainers or amateur owners. 

“Everyone shows against their peers, which makes it really nice. Not all amateurs ride at the same level and would have a hard time competing against a professional trainer. So, they compete amongst themselves,” Spinning says. 

Spinning says through horse competitions, young people learn body positioning, health and fitness, as well as respect for not just trainers and judges but animals as well. 

Spinning says the quarter horse community is very supportive, and young people can often learn tips and tricks from professionals during the Scottsdale show. 

While there is a high level of competition, the exhibitors tend to be a tight-knit group. 

“These people may compete against each other and be very competitive, but they are also going to cheer on the person who beat them. Not everyone is at 100% every year. Not every horse is at 100%. If your friend or competitor’s horse is doing extremely well, people are going to cheer,” Spinning says.

Scottsdale Arizona Sun Circuit Quarter Horse Show

WHEN: Various times Saturday, March 5, to Sunday, March 13. 

WHERE: WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale 

COST: Free admission and parking


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