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Big Changes In Store For Cow Palace Grand National Horse Show

There is a reason many of the West Coast barns remain faithful participants at the Cow Palace Grand National Rodeo, Horse and Stock Show. It’s a blast!

Despite the fact that for the Saddlebred contingent, showing at the Cow Palace is not the easiest of tasks, those that choose to come and show have such a good time that the minor hassles seem worth it. Security is high on the stock show’s priority list which means that like Louisville, you need a pass to go here and a pass to go there and then you need another pass to go over there and another to come back to where you started.

You may share the small warm up area with a six horse hitch of Percherons or a variety of breeds competing in the side saddle class. You may not know exactly when your class is going to go into the ring and there may be a very long wait between Saddlebred or Hackney or Roadster classes but you’ll get there eventually. The horse show staff is overwhelmed with work trying to coordinate this enormous show that encompasses Quarter Horses, Grand Prix show jumping and Saddle Horses, so help from them is not especially forthcoming. But because the laid back atmosphere and great camaraderie among exhibitors just can't be beat, everyone just seems to grin and bear it.

It seems that many horse shows today need only present one or two small obstacles to the horse show crowd and they quickly mark it off their lists for the future. At Cow Palace, the obstacles just seem to be taken in stride and the show continues to host a loyal group of exhibitors.

Why? Because the Cow Palace arena, packed to the rafters with the rodeo crowd, offers perhaps one of the coolest places in the country to show a horse. It’s an atmosphere like no other. Those barns that come year after year to participate in the Saddle Horse division are loyal supporters of the Cow Palace Grand National Horse Show and work to make it as much fun as possible. Royalee Cleveland and Kim Matoza, have both been coming to the Cow Palace for years and in the spirit of celebrating a horse show like no other, provided an awesome hospitality room completely decorated for Halloween and full of a large assortment of food and drink that never seemed to run out.

Janine Hill, in recognition of the many birthdays that took place either during the show or shortly before or after, provided two enormous cakes to share with the horse show group who sang "Happy Birthday" in their inimitable style.

Susan Valley Chen, another such long-time supporter of the show with Diamond Hills, seized the opportunity to introduce the Saddlebred breed to the multitude of visitors at the show and set up an informational booth with plenty of literature touting our most versatile of breeds.

Bob Nugent, CEO of Jack In The Box Restaurants and customer of Rockridge Farm, sponsored every Saddlebred, Hackney and Roadster class at the horse show, a large financial undertaking.

Every barn that came set up their tack rooms in grand style as usual, and seemed to enjoy the host of curious visitors who wanted to pet the horses or ask questions. With plenty of time in-between classes, it seemed that everyone wanted to just "hang out" and enjoy the atmosphere, talk to the visitors or other exhibitors, or shop in the enormous vendor hall which hosted a variety of exhibits.

Each day, when the lights go down, a laser light show heralds the beginning of the rodeo and is spectacular. Just like at a rock concert when it's finally time for the main act to take the stage, the screaming and cheering of the crowd reaches a fever pitch and it seems that the roof is going to come off the building.

While some classes are held before or after the rodeo, and therefore show in front of much smaller crowds, this year there were more Saddlebred classes scheduled during the rodeo performances than ever before including the Five-Gaited and Three-Gaited Championships. Those champions that were fortunate enough to take victory passes in classes that performed during the rodeo were cheered on by an unbelievably enthusiastic rodeo crowd that seemed to truly appreciate the grace and beauty of the Saddlebreds and Hackneys and the speed and power of the roadsters.

Imagine the thrill of taking a victory pass under the spotlight in a darkened arena while a popular country or pop music chart topping hit is playing at full volume and the crowd is cheering so loud that you can't hear a word the announcer says.

Several prominent Saddlebred barns came to Cow Palace to support the Saddlebred show for the 60th anniversary including Rockridge Farm, Diamond Hills, Scripps Miramar, Dixon Stables, Deardorff Stable, Woodhaven, Rich Swiger Stables, J. Bennett Stables, Seaview Farm, Rainwater Saddlebreds and Seamair Farm.

Rockridge Farm came away with two of the three grand championship titles and both belonged to fifteen-year-old Julie DeVault. DeVault showed nerves of steel as she put The Full Monty through all five of his gaits in front of the afternoon rodeo crowd. When the sporty gelding was named the Five-Gaited Grand Champion amidst very good company including Michele Macfarlane and CCV Casey's Final Countdown and Julia Martin riding Callaway's Arbitrator, DeVault was ecstatic.

Met by an equally excited Bill Tomin in the winner's circle, DeVault was presented with a cooler and one of the gorgeous Cow Palace championship belt buckles that were given to all of the championship winners.

Callaway's Arbitrator turned in a powerful performance with Julia Martin to take the reserve grand championship title in the five-entry class under the direction of Dixon Stables.

Monday's Three-Gaited Stake had to be even more nerve-wracking for DeVault. In front of an even bigger and rowdier rodeo crowd and riding her mom Patti DeVault's high-stepping black mare She's My Desire for the first time, DeVault faced a proven group including many time walk-trot grand champion Periempress and Marie Peyman and multi-titled amateur champion Like Sunshine with Susan Chen. Jennifer Dixon and Chaka Zulu turned on the heat as well for owner Katie Jarve.

Merrill Murray awarded another cooler and buckle to DeVault and She's My Desire and accompanied by the roar of the crowd, DeVault took her second grand championship victory pass of the weekend. Open winner Periempress and Marie Peyman claimed the reserve tricolor for Woodhaven.

The Fine Harness Championship belonged to the big-going Delay, with Joel Aguilar driving for Scripps Miramar. Finishing a great season with yet another grand championship title to his credit, Delay was just one of several winners for owner Michele Macfarlane. No Jacket Required, usually headed to the winner's circle in the amateur division with owner Sally Spalding, was reserve with Michael Craghead driving.

In addition to the three open stakes, numerous champions were crowned during the 60th annual event. Next year, there will be no Grand National Rodeo, Horse and Stock Show at Cow Palace. With the PBR World Championships in Las Vegas competing for rodeo participants with the Cow Palace rodeo, discussions are underway to change the dates for 2006 to April. That change may result in the Saddlebred exhibitors having to choose between showing at Cow Palace or showing at the Monterey Springfest, one of California's season openers. Hopefully, the events won't be scheduled for the same weekend and those that want to can show at both shows.

Cow Palace may not be the biggest California Saddle Horse, Hackney and Roadster showcase during the season but it serves as a season finale for many and a unique way to end the season on a high note. May it's grand tradition continue.

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