Why These Were the Top Shows in 2014

Teams from the top AQHA shows in 2014 weigh in on why exhibitors return to these hot-spot circuits year after year.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

“Summer Classic’s focus has always been ‘family friendly’ by having various social and special events scheduled during the week, like the Youth Champion of Champions," says Keri Croft, Oregon Quarter Horse Association executive secretary. (Credit: Journal) Scroll down to see the top five special events, all-Novice and Equestrian With Disabilities shows.

The customer comes first, right? Any show management team worth its salt will tell you that knowing the exhibitors’ wants and needs is priority numero uno. And generally speaking, what exhibitors want and need is more bang for their buck. 

Shows that landed a coveted spot in the list of top AQHA circuits in 2014 understand that logic. Show management teams like those with the Big A Circuit or the Oregon Summer Classic have a knack for morphing a horse show into a family vacation. The Iowa Show Circuit and Buckeye Classic implement innovative, exhibitor-friendly price structures, like single fees and free entries. The Oklahoma Redbud Spectacular, Empire State Fall Show and Dixie National bring decades of experience to the table to hone a competitive, fun environment. Then there’s the No. 1 circuit in 2014: The Arizona Sun Circuit has concocted a six-ingredient recipe to success, which brought in 16,130 entries for 11 sets of points, or 11 shows. 

The Journal rounded up reps from the top shows in 2014 and asked, What makes your event a success year after year? If you’ve ever been to one of these events, you just might exclaim, “YES! That’s why I love that show!” On the other hand, you just might be inspired to get up the gumption to try a new circuit in the next year. 

Arizona Sun Circuit in Scottsdale, Arizona 
Show director Doug Huls says six things make Sun Circuit successful each year:

  1. Location. West World in Scottsdale is nestled in an affluent community and surrounded by incredible restaurants and shopping.
  2. Facility. West World offers many arenas with superior footing and that are maintained to the highest standards.
  3. Weather. Scottsdale in January has some of the warmest weather in the nation.
  4. Sponsors. Sun Circuit has a great group of sponsors that support the show in every way imaginable. 
  5. Staff. The individuals who work the show have a passion for the event and to serve exhibitors.
  6. Exhibitors. The competitors make Sun Circuit succeed in all that it is. They promote the show better than any advertising campaign. 

Oklahoma Redbud Spectacular in Oklahoma City 
“I believe the Redbud Spectacular continues its success for many reasons,” says show coordinator Jackie Krshka. “The first is that the exhibitors recognize the passion we invest in the show. The Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association and myself have a lifelong relationship with the American Quarter Horse and AQHA. Our mission is to put on an event that is a credit to that. I am very mindful of every discipline and go to great efforts to provide quality ground and specialized judges specific to each discipline. Then to top all of that, we expend a tremendous amount of money in quality awards to honor the achievements of those competitors. We also offer social functions to engage members to enjoy one another in a non-competitive environment. There has to be an element of fun mingled with intense competition.” 

Oregon Summer Classic in Central Point, Oregon
“The Oregon Summer Classic is held in Central Point, Oregon, right on Interstate 5 – two hours from the beach and two hours from Crater Lake National Park,” notes Keri Croft, Oregon Quarter Horse Association executive secretary. “Summer Classic’s focus has always been ‘family friendly’ by having various social events scheduled during the week. Also built into the schedule is an “off day” for folks to take advantage of the fun and sight-seeing available in the beautiful Rogue River Valley – rafting, jet boat trips, family fun center, nearby water park, golfing, antique shopping or wine tasting. Along with more than $100,000 in prizes and money paid-out at the show, all-around saddles are awarded to the winners.” 

The Big A Circuit in Conyers, Georgia
“The Georgia Quarter Horse Association focuses on many elements in trying to put together a first-class horse show,” says Lisa Lee, GQHA executive secretary. “Obviously, we are fortunate to have a premier facility in the Georgia International Horse Park, featuring 16 arenas, including the 1996 Olympic Gran Prix Arena. Secondly, our yearly goal for the Big A is to create a show environment that is the most entertaining and enjoyable, while providing a high level of national competition that is rewarded from top to bottom with great numbers and prizes. Thirdly, GQHA provides top-notch show management from Mark Harrell Horse Shows, trail by Tim Kimura and jumping by Robert Barton. We have come to realize that the Big A provides a vacation opportunity for many with our access to Atlanta and surrounding amenities. So whether you’re looking for great numbers, great parties, great prizes or just a great time – the Big A is the show!” 

Iowa Show Circuit in Des Moines, Iowa 
“The Iowa Show Circuit can attribute its success to flexibility and low cost. As a true one-fee show (other than bedding), there are absolutely no other costs at all at our show, and that low cost, along with exhibitors knowing they won’t incur other costs at the show is important,” says Kris Moorman, Iowa Show Circuit committee member and marketing manager. “Our growth means that we have had to make major changes to our show from the schedule to the way we use our facility. Flexibility is crucial for any show that wants to grow – we must work with the exhibitors to have a successful show that fits their needs.”

Dixie National in Jackson, Mississippi 
“Since 1965, the success behind Mississippi State Quarter Horse Association’s Dixie National Quarter Horse Show can be found in the hearts of the volunteers who help promote and organize the show,” says MQHA President Tom McBeath. “Their passion for the show is based on the love of the industry itself that is dedicated to the quality and promotion of the American Quarter Horse. They are all what in today’s tech-savvy, social-media-crazed society would call #AQHAProud.

“Times have changed a lot since 1965. People were different. Society was different. Social media was as foreign then as Jim Crowe laws are today. There is one thing that hasn’t changed, though. Dixie National Quarter Horse Show volunteers were #AQHAProud back when the hashtag was just the number sign.”

Silver Dollar Circuit in Las Vegas 
Show producer Jan Bruner says, “A number of equally important factors contribute to the success of the Silver Dollar Circuit!

  1. Our terrific staff was largely responsible for our success – they are truly a ‘dream team.’
  2. AQHA leveling has provided opportunities and growth – some of the best horses in the country are here, but you don’t have to be at that tier to compete because of leveling.   
  3. The exhibitor is the focus and our philosophical approach is to find a way to say, ‘Yes.’
  4. The South Point facility and hotel is a great way to experience Las Vegas as a destination-style resort, with 500,000 square feet of equestrian center.
  5. Our sponsors are fabulous!
  6. In the words of AQHA Professional Horseman Chad Evans:  ‘Horse showing and Las Vegas – what’s not to love?’ ”

Empire State Quarter Horse Association Fall Show in Syracuse, New York 
"Known as a tough, fast-paced Quarter Horse show for 55 years, the ESQHA Fall Show in Syracuse, New York, showcases top competitors from across the country,” says Susan Grafton, ESQHA Fall Show co-chairman. “Competing for prize money, points and awards, exhibitors and horses gain valuable experience showing in large classes in a big coliseum in front of top judges. For some, the ESQHA Fall Show represents a regional grand finale event for the show season, and for many, it is a major stop on the way to the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the AQHA World Championship Show.”

Buckeye Western Horse Association Quarter Horse Show, aka the Buckeye Classic, in Sunbury, Ohio 
“We strive to make Quarter Horse shows more accessible for the average family by lowering the cost through our free entry program,” says Justin Billings, show manager. “From giving away $55,000 in free entries last year alone, to our new AQHA exhibitor saddle giveaway, to the friendly faces at our hospitality tent, every detail of the Buckeye Classic is geared toward creating the type of show we’d like to attend ourselves. Showing should be fun and we want our exhibitors to see how much they are appreciated for choosing our event. Their support is what keeps us going and is how we define our success.”

All told, AQHA saw 963,525 total show entries in 2014, including special events, up from 934,433 in 2013 and 942,643 in 2012. See more statistics in the 2014 AQHA Annual Report.

Top 5 AQHA circuits in 2014

Top 5 AQHA special events in 2014

Top 5 AQHA all-Level 1 (Novice) shows in 2014

Top 5 AQHA equestrians with disabilities shows in 2014