Call Me Mitch and Phillip Ralls won the Smart Boons Fence Challenge at the Sun Circuit • Photo by Jeff Kirkbride

Cow Horses Shine at Arizona Sun Circuit

When the Arizona Sun Circuit debuted on its March dates last year, the show was the largest it had ever been. Now that record has been smashed once again. The 2018 Sun Circuit celebrated its 45th anniversary March 3-11 by surpassing last year’s numbers by 10 percent.

Over 19,000 class entries encompassed everything from jumping to roping and included a range of exhibitors from Level 1 to World Champions. In addition to American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) classes, the show hosted National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA) and National Reining Horse Association classes, Versatility Ranch Horse, and All-Breed and Color Breed classes. The expansive WestWorld facilities in Scottsdale easily accommodated the increased numbers, with classes running in as many as eight arenas a day, and an additional half-dozen pens available for warm-up.

“It’s really exciting to see how much it has grown the last couple of years,” said Doug Huls, show director and Arizona Quarter Horse Association (AzQHA) CEO. “People really like the show schedule. It’s very workable. I think that they also appreciate the number and quality of our awards.”

Prizes, awards and give-aways were distributed across all levels. A total of 34 saddles were awarded in reining, roping, cow horse, trail, pleasure, over fences, Versatility Ranch Horse and to All-Around Champions. Rod Patrick ostrich boots were awarded to nine High Point champions. Other prizes included buckles, trophies and cash. 

The Sun Circuit is not only about fun and prizes – a great deal of effort and planning goes into the logistics to make it run smoothly. The AzQHA is determined to keep Sun Circuit and the Arizona Fall Championship on the leading edge of show technology. To that end, a new software system was in use for scribing, tabulating and transmitting data. Scribes carried tablets which communicated with the announcer and show office. Gate people could verify entries and add or scratch easily. The system enabled quick tabulation and results announcements to help move the schedule along.

“Overall, it was a good first step. I think it worked well in many ways,” Hulls said. “We had a few glitches at the end and there were some things that we had to reconfigure. We are working hard to refine the system so that we can deliver a great experience to exhibitors.”

The Smart Boons Fence Challenge is always a crowd-pleasing spectacle of equine athleticism. Smart Boons’ (Peptoboonsmal x Smart Little Easter x Smart Little Lena) owners, Eric and Wendy Dunn, added $20,000 to the pot, and 100 percent of the entry fees were added back. Twenty of the top cow horses in the nation and their riders put on a fantastic show for the enthusiastic crowd.

Scores were held to the end, so the excitement continued to build. Corey Cushing was Emcee for the evening, interviewing each breathless rider after their performance. After several heart-thumping runs, Phillip Ralls loped in on flashy roan stallion Call Me Mitch (Metallic Cat x Miss Hickory Hill x Doc’s Hickory), owned by Estelle Roitblat. The pair dominated their cow, diving into the stops and turning with ease. It was clear they were going to be tough to beat. The crowd also cheered wildly for B.J. Avila, who was fast and fearless on Dera Cat (Smooth As A Cat x Dera Dually x Dual Pep), owned by Rainlynn LLC.

Cushing turned over his microphone and hopped aboard Sonita Lena Rey (Dual Rey x Sonita Lena Chick x Smart Chic Olena), owned by Sheri and Stuart Jamieson. They too turned in an exciting performance. When all 20 exhibitors returns to the arena for scores and awards, Cushing’s run scored a 151, settling them into 3rd place for a check worth $3,825. Avila marked a 153, winning a check for $5,100. And it was Ralls and ‘Mitch’ who edged out the pack with a 154, winning them a check for $6,375 and a beautiful custom Preston Williams Hardware trophy buckle. The pair combined that score with points earned in cutting, steer stopping and cow horse to claim the Golden Cowboy Award and an additional $2,250.

Rogers Heaven Sent Ranch sponsored the Junior and Senior Bridle Spectaculars again this year, which combine scores from the cutting and cow horse. $2,500 was added to both divisions, with $1,250 going to the champion. The Junior Spectacular went to Dotted Lights (CD Lights x Shine Ann x Shining Spark) with Tucker Clark aboard, while Smoking Red Pepper (Smokeelan x A Red Belle Pepper x Mister Dual Pep) and Shadd Parkinson had the highest total score in the Senior. The Amateurs had their own Spectaculars, too. Lindsey James received the highest combined score in cutting and cow horse to win $500, and Becky Stockett racked up points in the cutting and boxing to win $500.

The Arizona Sun Circuit is scheduled to return March 2-10, 2019.