Monday February 21 2011
I set foot in a different world today, one I've visited before a few times, but always find fascinating. It brings together all kinds: horse loving kids, trainers, rich rich owners, the big famous barns and little family backyard horse, hard working grooms, the hopeful, the jaded, the bling, the costumes, the makeup... all hopes pinned on the hot blooded Arabian horse, the breed that is (according to arabianhorses.org) "the foundation stock of most light breeds".
The 56th annual Scottsdale Arabian Show is underway in Scottsdale Arizona. Since 1955, "it has grown from 50 horses to nearly 2400 horses bringing top owners, trainers and breeders from around the world." The show is mostly run by volunteers - about 600 of them from all over the country.
There's big prize money at stake - over $1 million in total over the 11 days. First place in the lowest level halter class gets $90; first place in the SSS Yearling Auction Colt/Filly class gets $39,603.38
Today I happened upon the semi-finals of the Scottsdale Signature Stallion Auction Championship Yearling Colts/Geldings - AOTH (Amateur Owner to Handle).
First they gathered outside the ring and came in one by one. There was at least one person with a big blown-up garbage bag that he shook to get the babies a bit worked up before they went in the arena. Accompanied by whoops and cheers from onlookers lining the fences, some of the babies zoomed around their handlers in circles; some bounced like bunnies in extended trots; all had their tails up over their backs and were having a good time.
It sounded like they were judged only on conformation and movement; while maybe they were supposed to somewhat behave, it seemed like nobody objected to anything else they did.
One by one, horses made their way around the arena, sort of trotting, or leaping or cantering or rearing or spinning or springing or prancing or some combination thereof - definitely marching to the beat of their own drummer, which was not necessarily the same beat as their handlers'. I enjoyed the naughty ones the most. One of them even got loose, oops!, before he was caught at the other end of the arena.
Then they were asked to walk around the arena (which was sort of walk, or trot or leap or canter or rear or spin or spring or prance or some combination thereof); then one by one they were called forward to stand up in front of the 5 judges.
I couldn't quite figure out the method some used to get their colts to stand certain ways. This is JUST MY OPINION, but I never have and never will like the grease smeared around their eyes and noses. It does not enhance their looks. Someone once told me it makes the eyes look bigger, but it really only makes them look like grease was smeared around their eyes and noses.
It must be like trimming manes of racehorses. Somebody decided once upon a time that short manes looked good (although maybe it's really because the jockeys didn't like long mane whipping them in the face), so that's what's always done. I think long manes look better, and I know my retired racehorse Stormy likes his long hippie mane.
With 19 colts in the ring, it took about 90 minutes to complete the class. By the time they were done, the babies were pretty tired. I felt their fatigue. The eyes of some were sleepily fluttering - then they'd spring to life and leap up, then they'd stand with a hind leg cocked - until once more when they had to do their high-headed stretched out pose as the judges walked around and studied them once more.
To me, it's kind of like jazz. I just don't understand it, but it's interesting. I look at each colt - one of these is going to be worth at least $40,000 in a few days for looking the prettiest - and think - how many miles could he carry me?
I'm sure most of the exhibitors might think endurance riding is interesting but they can't understand why I'd like to sit in a saddle (and sometimes suffer) for 50 or 100 miles. They'd probably look at a group of us and think, Who here could stay on my horse?
The top ten were called (each received a blue ribbon, and would receive $6718) and the others dismissed - it was rather anticlimactic. I thought they'd get to come in and trot around for us and show off again, but maybe that will be in the finals.
One or two of these colts is going to have quite the interesting adulated life ahead of him.
Slide show here: