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'70s Show Kids Reunion

An AQHA '70s Show-Kids Reunion reminds folk why showing Quarter Horses as a youth means so much.

By Christine Hamilton
The American Quarter Horse Journal
February 16, 2012

AQHYA youth waiting to show at the 2012 AQHA Arizona Sun Country Circuit in Scottsdale, Arizona.

AQHA youth wait for youth showmanship at the 2012 Arizona Sun Country Circuit; scroll down for Sun Circuit slide show. (Journal photo)

Nobody knows exactly who started it, but it got rolling on Facebook.

Longtime exhibitor Laurel Walker Denton of Skull Valley, Arizona, had “become a clearinghouse” for old show photos, because she handles the Arizona Quarter Horse Association affiliate magazine. The images kept taking her down memory lane, especially through her youth years in the 1970s.

About a year ago, “I started thinking wouldn’t it be nice to get all those people together?” she said.

And then former youth exhibitor Debbie Pinney Challman of Deerfield, Illinois, posted on her Facebook page that she sure would like to find her old AQHA horse show friends, wherever they might be. Laurel came across the post; she hadn’t connected with Debbie for years and they picked up their old friendship online.

Meanwhile, Tony Zimmerman of Fallbrook, California, heard that the old Libertyville Saddle Shop back in Libertyville, Illinois, was closing its doors December 2011. Tony remembered good times as a youth, showing in one-day shows in the arena behind the shop. He posted about the shop closing on his Facebook page.

“A bunch of us started talking to each other, and then connected with the Arizona people,” Tony said. “We all chimed in at that time, saying we ought to get together.”

“I don’t know who did it, or came up with it, but we set up a new Facebook page for the '70s Show Kids,” Laurel said. “For anybody and anyone who had showed in the '70s; that’s how it started. And now we have 345 members, all over the country.”

They had become friends showing locally and hauling nationally for high-point titles, and then had lost track after those youth showing years, because of work, family, time or money. Of course, the first thing everyone thought – from Illinois to California and Arizona – was that they needed to get together, somewhere.

The 2012 Sun Country Circuit in Scottsdale, Arizona, was a perfect fit. Many of them – like Laurel – still showed and would already be there, and it would be easy for others to fly in.

On February 4, the last night of the show, the reunion gathered in the vendor tent – approximately 80 people from coast-to-coast. Some hadn’t seen each other in decades.

“I believe we had six past presidents of the Arizona Quarter Horse Association, including AQHA Past Presidents Bill Englund and Rick Johns,” Laurel said. “That group of people hasn’t been together in years and years. They each had kids who showed.”

Laurel gathered up all the photos people sent her and put them into a slide show that played all evening. Classic Video burned CDs of it that the group could sell, with all proceeds going to the Arizona Quarter Horse Youth Association scholarship fund. The free steak dinner was open to everyone at the show; the Sun Circuit donated the meat with others chipping in for the sides and dessert. 

The American Quarter Horse Journal shipped in a stock of vintage 1970s Journals to hand out, and set up a booth to capture video stories (watch for the stories in an upcoming issue of the magazine). They laughed about stories from accidentally leaving horses behind trying to get home in time for school and moms thinking certain judges were awfully handsome, to “christening” the announcer’s booth when rain prevented a dash to the show grounds bathroom.

It was a fitting cap on an upbeat Sun Circuit: Mark Harrell Horse Shows reported more than 15,000 AQHA entries, all divisions combined, and more than 21,000 entries including affiliate classes. The perfect weather for the entire show probably contributed to the good attendance, although there were “lots of new faces,” too.

“We became friends back in the days when shows were one-day shows and there were no stalls on the grounds, everybody hauled in,” Tony recalled. “And the horses were used all day long, the same horse in the halter, hunter under saddle, reining, pleasure. You might show eight classes a day… it was a lot different.”

But Facebook showed them that those AQHA-generated friendships had remained the same.

“It was quite a crowd back then, and some of us are still here and some of us are gone,” Tony added.

“It was one of the nicest nights of my life,” Laurel said.