Alaska AQHA Show Scene

In the Land of the Midnight Sun, AQHA show duties could include bear chasing.

By Christine Hamilton
The American Quarter Horse Journal
May 8, 2013

The "Don't Feed the Bears" sign at the entrance to the William Clark Chamberlin Equestrian Center in Anchorage, Alaska.

The sign at the entrance to the William Clark Chamberlin Equestrian Center in Anchorage, Alaska, home to two of the ASQHA-AQHA summer shows. (Journal photo) View more photos from Christine's trip to the ASQHA show in the slide show below.

When the Journal popped in at the Alaska State Quarter Horse Association’s Southcentral Experience No. 2 Circuit last July at the William Clark Chamberlin Equestrian Center in Anchorage, the first question we asked was what was different about showing American Quarter Horses in the Land of the Midnight Sun?

Almost everyone’s first response was something involving bears.

Janie Ekvall, a Washington-based trainer and show manager for many ASQHA shows, mentioned that her management duties have included jumping into a golf cart to chase away a black bear.

It turns out that Alaskan horses are often not too worried about black bears wandering by – Janie once found one of her horses licking noses with one – but they high-tail it from grizzlies. And that’s a good thing.

That’s not all that’s different. For one thing, the ASQHA show season doesn’t even begin until June, and it’s only eight weeks and four circuits long.

But riders make the most of a show season crammed into a short Alaskan summer, where near 24-hour daylight produces lush alpine wilderness and giant garden veggies. Imagine riding where, even when the show goes long, you never run out of daylight.

The Alaskans pack two all-Novice shows and several single- and double-judged shows into two circuits in Fairbanks and two in Anchorage.

“There aren’t many trainers up here, so a lot of people showing are doing things on their own,” pointed out Kristine Herrin, ASQHA board member and active exhibitor. ASQHA brings in top clinicians every summer for the locals to take advantage of, often using their show-hired AQHA judges.

For 2013, ASQHA is sponsoring two clinics with 2008 AQHA Professional’s Choice Horsewoman of the Year Carla Wennberg and one with 2012 AQHA Professional’s Choice Horseman of the Year Charlie Cole.

The overall American Quarter Horse population in the state is small (just 1,459 in 2012) and an average 81 AQHA entries at each show.

But it’s typical for those horses to be shown in every class, with riders wanting to get the most out of their showing experience.

In addition, you might see spots. When local open shows began to drop western classes, ASQHA began offering a full slate of open all-breed classes to welcome more horses, making the affiliate’s shows bigger than the stats suggest.

“Our all-breed classes have been huge,” said longtime exhibitor and breeder Connie Seekins of Fairbanks. Her husband, Ralph, is an AQHA national director from Alaska. “It’s really helped us put on shows because you can only get so many sponsors. It’s bringing people into Quarter Horses, too.”

ASQHA also fosters connections with local 4-H groups and youth and offers a mentoring program for new exhibitors of all ages. The affiliate makes it a priority to help newcomers to horses and/or AQHA and the do-it-yourself horseperson.

When ASQHA riders make it down to the lower 48, they don’t do too badly. Recent Alaskans coming south include Danielle Long, former youth world champion and current equestrian team member at Auburn University, and Shannon Brindle, who competed at the 2012 SmartPak AQHA West Novice Championship Show on her home-trained horse.

The feeling at the pine-covered show grounds at the edge of the Chugach Mountains was pure camaraderie: a welcoming group of friends spending the weekend camping out, cooking out and having fun showing their horses.

“For us, we’re pretty proud of what we’re doing, and we’re doing good,” Kristine said. “We’re making things work.”

As if right on cue, the show announcer’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker with a public safety announcement: “Attention on the grounds. A black bear has wandered through the dressage arena. While it has not yet reached the trail pen, we wanted to give you a heads up.”

The show went on, with everyone in view smiling and laughing a little. Nothing upsets the fun of a horse show in Alaska, not even unexpected trail obstacles.

2013 ASQHA Show Schedule:

June 7-9 – Southcentral Experience Circuit No. 1 (June 7 All Novice Show) – Anchorage

June 28-30 – Midnight Sun Family Medicine Circuit (June 28 All Novice Show) – Fairbanks

July 12-14 – Southcentral Experience Circuit No. 2 – Anchorage

August 2-4 – Seekins Ford Lincoln Fair Circuit – Fairbanks

For a calendar of upcoming AQHA shows across the globe, visit www.aqha.com/showschedule.