By Brianna York
The thought of US Nationals conjures up many thoughts. Over the years, that simple phrase has meant the green shavings and bright lights at the end of the tunnel into Freedom Hall. To some people, it has meant working down horses under the beautiful, bright bowl of the sky in New Mexico. US Nationals makes you think of elation, tears of joy, the heartbreak of defeat, and comradery with your friends and family.
When the US National Show moved to Tulsa, it marked the end of the east-west rotation for the show each year. For those who connected the experience of US Nationals with Freedom Hall and Tingley Coliseum, there were many bittersweet years as the show found its footing in a new location. Many people believed that the show would not survive the change of venue and that it would be cheapened by this move to a new place that was so different from the traditional venues where the show had always been held.
To say that the move to Tulsa was hard would be an understatement. The facility was very different than the locations that the show had been held at before. It was a facility set up for stock breeds and for working horses. The growing pains during the first few years were tough to handle. However, Arabian folks are nothing if not resilient and passionate about what US Nationals stands for. Caring and generous trainers raised the funds for new décor for the new arena. Countless volunteers helped decorate the arena, prepare the grounds, and tried to create the same experience that everyone was used to enjoying during this critical show that closes out each show season.
There are still some issues with showing in Tulsa, such as rampant crime in some areas of the city, which spills over onto the fairgrounds, tough issues with the cost and availability of hay and feed, which was a major stumbling block this year for exhibitors, and the ongoing complaints about poor scheduling that needs to be addressed with a schedule rewrite. However, these issues were not enough to discourage Arabian horse lovers from coming to show at the most important event of the season to hunt for the elusive and special rose blankets that are offered to National Champions trotting through the green shavings.
2023 US National Champion AHPA Arabian Hunter Pleasure Futurity winner Diva SBA. Ridden and trained by Liz Bentley.
This year’s national show featured some of the highest-quality and most competitive classes that the show has ever seen. The incentive classes at the national show have become incredibly popular, and for good reason. Showcasing the young horses that are the future of this breed has not only been a great motivator for breeders and exhibitors to invest in the young horse classes, these classes have also added an entirely new kind of competitive event to the schedule, which focus on performance along with conformation.
One of the founders and Vice President of the Arabian Hunter Pleasure Association, Chelsea Wesson, reflects on the show, “The AHPA was thrilled to welcome one of our biggest groups yet for our two classes. Each class was full of beautiful horses, and the finals were tough! As we continue to grow year after year, we appreciate all of the support and positive comments we hear at the show.”
Some younger folks attending the show this year do not remember that, once upon a time, the owners of winners at nationals were interviewed in the stands when their horse received a title. Bringing back the owner/trainer interview has been a welcome change of pace as it has highlighted the people who are often behind the scenes and deserve thanks, as well as the commitment and passion of the owners and exhibitors who make this show so special.
The live feed provided by Richfield Video Productions was also utilized to help show the true experience of being at the show, offering those at home the chance to see the horses as they trotted from the warm-up arena into classes, as well as different unique views of the rail and the arena itself while classes were in session. It was easy to feel that you were right there in the stands alongside your friends, even if you could not make it to the show in person.
Longtime Arabian horse owner and exhibitor, Rachel Ginter, interviewing winners at the out gate.
In 2023, winners during evening sessions were able to ride out in the dark, haloed by a spotlight. This single change in the way that the winners of these classes were congratulated created a sense of drama and weight to these wins that has been missing from the show for a long time. It takes years of effort, heaps of skill, and not a small amount of talent to win a class at US Nationals. It was well past time that national winners received the send-off that they deserved as they trotted down the rail one last time, draped in roses.
Unanimous National Champion Half-Arabian English Pleasure, The Heiristocratt, and Joel Kiesner.
Gretchen McDaniel and her son Tye after winning the Half-Arabian Working Cow Horse Futurity class with Butter Betta Stop.
Also new in 2023, were the Ranch Challenge classes. These classes enjoyed a large number of entries despite being offered for the first time at a national show this year. Showcasing the many talents of the Arabian breed is important, and what better way to do so than to offer classes that demonstrate that Arabians can hold their own when asked to do real, traditional working horse activities? Sheila Varian and all the other breeders who have always stood by the Arabian as a working horse as well as a show horse would be very proud that the Ranch division has thrived and grown into a full-fledged and very competitive part of every breed show.
“I appreciate all the efforts to spotlight the working western horses. The Mustang Arena runs very smoothly, and the staff take excellent care of all the exhibitors.The new Ranch Horse Challenge classes were an exciting and fun addition.” – Gretchen McDaniel
The US National Show has always been the largest and most competitive show of the year. This is a show where history is made, and the names of the horses who win roses go down in history, year after year. While the US National Show might never again be conducted in Freedom Hall or Tingley Coliseum, the effort to make Tulsa feel like home has not been in vain. For many people, Tulsa has become the perfect place to show their horses, make memories, and make history.
Whether you watch the show each year at home or you attend and join the hundreds of exhibitors seeking to secure a place in the history books, the magic of US Nationals is alive and well. The US National Show continues to display the valor, beauty, and talent of the Arabian horse while also serving as a reminder to every Arabian lover out there that we are all part of a community of unparalleled commitment, talent, and generosity.