The Mane Event
Close to 1,800 Arabian horses ride into Tulsa for the Arabian Horse Association’s largest and most prestigious event in the industry.
The Arabian horse is the oldest domesticated purebred dating back over 4,000 years to the Middle East. Once considered sacred by Islamic prophet Mohammed, Arabians were bred for war and highly valued as a commodity.
Arabians are known for their refinement, beauty, intelligence, and stamina. Not only are they considered one of the most beautiful and recognizable breeds in the world with a distinct dish face, big eyes, and high tail carriage, but Arabians make up most of the endurance racing horses worldwide. But it’s not just their physical attributes and impressive championship track record in the arena that sets them apart from the rest.
“Arabians have an innate ability to bond with humans as a result of centuries of breeding,” says Glenn Petty, who’s been executive vice president of the Arabian Horse Association (AHA) for the last 11 years. “They’re a horse that was courageous in battle and yet gentle enough to share the family tent.”
Kris Davis, vice president of AHA’s local affiliate Green Country Arabian Horse Association (GCAHA), agrees with Petty and has experienced this unique bond firsthand.
“Over my life, I’ve worked with a lot of different horses. Arabians love people more than any other breed,” says Davis, who was first introduced to the breed when she joined the GCAHA at age 17. “I worked for a lady who had Arabian horses. She said to me, ‘You’ll never want to own anything else.’” Being a lover of all breeds, Davis didn’t believe her until she started working with them and then later owned an Arabian of her own.
“My horse is quirky and has lots of personality, but would rather spend an hour or two a day working for me than out in the pasture playing with playmates,” says Davis. “That’s just who they are. They love to work for their owner.”
Their personality isn’t the only quality that makes them a loveable breed. It’s also their versatility. “I’m never bored with them because there’re so many things I can do,” says Davis, whose Arabians have not only been show horses but ridden on trail rides and parades, as well as worked the grounds checking the fence line. “They’re an all-around horse, and I love that.”
There’s no arguing there are many reasons Arabians are a show favorite of owners, trainers, and even Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton, who’s been breeding Arabians for decades. In 2014 Newton brought his colt to Tulsa to compete in the U.S. National Arabian & Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show.
While the AHA can’t guarantee Newton will attend this year, they promise close to 1,800 of these majestic creatures, both purebred and half-breed, will ride into Tulsa Expo Square Oct. 18-26 for AHA’s largest and most prestigious event in the industry. The nine-day event is free to the public and guaranteed to thrill all ages, whether you’re a horse lover or just curious to see this breed in all its glory.
Spectators can sit ringside and witness the versatility of Arabians as they take center stage. Riders compete and show their beloved horses in a multitude of events including halter, reining, sidesaddle, English hunter, working cow, cutting, and so much more. But you don’t have to be a horse lover or Arabian enthusiast to enjoy the show.
“One of the most popular events for spectators is the Arabian native costume,” says Petty. The pounding of hooves and traditional Arabian music collide in a rhythm that can transport you to another time and culture. Riders and their horses dress in colorful, ornamental flowing fabrics in the Bedouin fashion.
Petty recalls the time he sat with friends from Egypt, watching and enjoying the colorful costumes and cheers of the crowd. His friends started pointing at costumes, saying they were from various countries like Turkey, Qatar, and other Arab nations. “They pointed to one horse and said, ‘That costume is from Saudi Arabia and is a version of a wedding dress.’ I had never thought about it that way,” he says.
“When Arabians went to war, they wore bright-colored garb to represent their tribe as they galloped across the sand,” says Davis. “Arabians are natural showoffs, especially with horses at this level.” And these show horses are no different in the level of pride they exhibit for their owners. “When I used to show Native Costume, the more the crowd cheered, the higher my Arabian’s feet went, and the more I could feel him poke his chest out and love what he was doing.”
Native Costume isn’t the only class filled with music and excitement. Some of the popular performance classes include Western Pleasure and Working Western — both of which have roots in the Old West. In both classes, judges look for a calm, obedient demeanor, and horses that can cover ground adequately. In Working Western Cattle classes, spectators experience an added thrill watching riders and their Arabians work a cow around the arena.
“The horse faces the cow and shows how it can run the cow back and forth on one end of the arena and then chase the cow down the long side in full gallop,” says Davis. The rider and horse have to turn the cow toward the center of the ring and contain the cow in a tight circle to demonstrate they have control over its direction. “It’s exciting to watch because the movements of the cattle are unpredictable and almost everything is done at a high rate of speed,” he says.
Audiences also delight in the Driving classes where riders sit in a small carriage harnessed to their horses as they ride around the ring. The English Pleasure class, a more casual style of English riding, features riders in long coats and top hats as their horses canter around the ring.
Davis describes this class as an early American or English ride to the park when it was a friendly competition of who had the prettiest, highest stepping horse. Judges look for animated horses with a brilliant high-stepping stride that draws the eye and makes people wow. Although some may think this class encourages artificial devices around their feet to achieve this effect, that’s not necessarily true.
“When you watch an Arabian trot in a field, they have what is known as ‘the float,’” says Davis. “When they are excited or showing off, they look like their feet are not touching the ground. The English Pleasure brings that into a class.”
Qualifying for nationals is no small feat, and one way the GCAHA helps members get to nationals is by putting on shows where their members have the opportunity to place.
“Besides the Class A shows we put on, we do two one-day Working Western shows that allow members to go to nationals,” says Davis. “These are warm-up shows for our members because they get to show in the same facility as nationals.”
Davis encourages anyone interested in Arabians or curious about their club to stop by their booth for more information.
“It’s important to have active members to support what we’re doing, so these Arabian shows don’t go away,” says Davis. The public can support the showing of Arabians by stopping by their online auction. Attendees can stop by the GCAHA booth to pick up a flyer with a list of items and the web address for the auction.
“We have beautiful Arabian paintings and costumes for sale, and a limited edition Korbel champagne set,” says Davis. All funds brought in help offset the cost of the GCAHA shows, which help local members compete on the national level.
Both Petty and Davis are excited about the local talent in Tulsa who have qualified for nationals and agree that Eddie Ralston, a regional trainer for the last couple of decades, and his clients, are competitors to watch.
“Eddie is a primary supporter of GCAHA and will ride several horses in the Working classes,” says Davis. Meg Lucas, who has placed in champion or reserve for years is also expected to compete in the Trail Class. Riders in the Western Class to look for are Kelly Harmon, Kathie Hart, Cecily Smith, and Barb McCalip.
Over $750,000 in prize money will be awarded to amateurs and professional adults. “Our awards room, located with our commercial exhibitors, is spectacular and a must-see,” says Petty. While roaming the exhibits, you can get a bite to eat or visit the many vendors who travel to Tulsa from all over the United States showcasing horse souvenirs, toys for the kids as well as hats, saddles, clothing, art, and more.
If the competitions aren’t exciting enough, the public is invited to tour the stables, which are open to the public. “Some of the stable setups are really exotic and nicely decorated,” says Petty. “The front stalls are like houses with nice seating areas, bars, and couches.” As you wander the grounds, you can even visit the farriers and see a horse shod.
Children get an added treat through the Total Arabian Interactive Learning (T.A.I.L.) tour. Led by an AHA representative, children tour backstage to learn about the history of Arabians, visit different barns, and meet the horses and participants of the show. “They get a one-on-one experience and introduction to the breed,” says Davis. While these T.A.I.L. tours are free to the public, you need to make a reservation to attend.
Held in Tulsa the past 11 years, last year the U.S. Nationals attracted owners, riders, and trainers from 45 states and provinces with 1,772 horses filling approximately 3,750 stalls.
Petty says when they first came to Tulsa people grumbled because it wasn’t Las Vegas. But over the years they saw Tulsa had a lot to offer in the way of quality hotels, restaurants, museums, and entertainment. Besides, with an event so large, not every venue could accommodate them.
“Tulsa has almost 4,000 stalls, three indoor competition rings in different buildings, and 13 indoor schooling rings,” says Petty.
But it’s not just the venue, city amenities, and Tulsa’s central location that keeps the U.S. Nationals coming back year after year. “We’ve had a great relationship with Expo Square and Mark Andrus, Ray Hoyt and Visit Tulsa, the mayor’s office, city council members, and county commissioners,” says Petty. “It’s like coming to a family reunion once a year.”
U.S. National Arabian & Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show
4000 E. 15th St. | Tulsa
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