Passion and pedigree: The Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show celebrates 62 years

Passion and pedigree: The Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show celebrates 62 years

By Sondra Barr

Show horses often are regarded as intriguing, gentle and stunning animals.

But according to Taryl O’Shea, executive director the Arabian Horse Association of Arizona, a non-profit organization that promotes educational activities, trail rides and competitions to endorse Arabian horses and their breeders, Arabian horses are the world’s finest.

She’s a lifelong horse lover and rider, and says they’re the only breed she’d ever own.

“They’re famous because Arabians are the oldest dated breed,” O’Shea says. “They’re the most beautiful breed with the dish face, big eyes and high tail. They’re known as works of art, but they’re also regarded as the smartest and friendliest of the breeds.”

They’ll be on display at the 62nd annual Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show this month at WestWorld in the Airpark.

During the show, more than 2,400 Arabian horses from across the globe engage in the pageantry of showmanship along with breeders and riders of all ages. They passionately compete for the world’s most prestigious distinctions at the most high-profile competition of its kind, O’Shea says.

“On any given day, guests will enjoy a variety of competitions,” O’Shea says.

Among the most highly anticipated she says, is the Arabian and Half Arabian Mounted Native Costume class, in which riders and horses dress in traditional desert regalia and gallop around the area.

Other competitions include dressage, reining, driving, and English and western pleasure. Another highly popular event is the Arabian freestyle liberty class, in which the horses run free in the arena without saddles.

The most exciting addition to this year’s show, O’Shea says, is the black-tie auction on Feb. 24.

“We’re featuring some of the most high-end horses available in the world, and we’re very excited about it,” says O’Shea.

What has evolved into a prestigious and profitable competition boasts humble roots. According to O’Shea, a group of Scottsdale’s early citizenry launched the show back in 1955.

“Most people recognize the names from the street signs around town,” she says. “The Chaunceys, the McCormicks … they were all well known, wealthy people breeding Arabian horses,” she shares.

It was fellow founder Ann McCormick who lent her Scottsdale acreage, dubbed Paradise Park, to host the event for two decades. The show is sanctioned by the United States Equestrian Federation and the Arabian Horse Association, and has built a reputation as the Super Bowl of the Arabian world.

The show now is at WestWorld, an ideal venue for equestrian events with its generous show rings. Accessible parking for guests and exhibitors and comfortable stabling have contributed to the show’s continued popularity and esteem.

While the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show is highly revered across equine circles, for Scottsdale, the event has become a signature cultural and community draw. From locals who just want to sample a taste to celebrity breeders and enthusiasts, more than 300,000 people attend annually.

The show adds about $57 million to the Airpark-area economy. The impact to merchants, including eateries, resorts, hotels and shops, is powerful, O’Shea says.

Aside from earning distinct titles, competitors are awarded more than $2.5 million. During its more than three decades, the show has raised more than $20 million for charitable causes.

“We rely heavily on volunteers each year, so many of the beneficiary charities step up to help,” O’Shea says.

This year, the AHAA has chosen March of Dimes, Scottsdale Community College and its equine sciences program, and Arizona State University and its Western equestrian team as beneficiaries.

The 62nd Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show

Where: WestWorld, 16601 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale
When: Feb. 16-26
More info: scottsdaleshow.com