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A New Chapter For Oklahoma Centennial

by Bob Funkhouser

What started as a one-year celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Oklahoma Land Run, the Oklahoma Centennial Horse Show just completed year 22 with a new look and a new feel. The show, originally started by local Saddlebred exhibitor Marion Story, has gone through several peaks and valleys over its two-decade plus history and for the past couple years it has struggled to survive. The resilience of its committee members and loyal supporters ensured that 2009 was not the last year for this celebration of the American Saddlebred and Morgan Horse. It was back on and some of the regular barns who missed this year’s event missed a most enjoyable four days of showing.

In an effort to cut costs so there could be a 2010 show, the decision was made to hold the show in what is the spacious warm up ring in the main barn of the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds facility which is quite simply the best overall equine facility in the entire country. In fact, many people have said they know it would never happen but they wish the Saddlebred World’s Championship Horse Show would be held there as the Morgan Grand National World Championship Horse Show is. Some had questioned if the move to the warm up ring would work but it didn’t take long for that question to be answered with a resounding YES!

The main barn’s warm up ring turned show ring is as big or bigger than most show rings across the country so it was more than suitable to show in and the footing was excellent. Vendors were placed on one side of the ring/stabling area and the horses were housed along the other side and extended to the far end of that aisle. The result was a close-knit, festive feeling in which no one missed a minute’s action.

"Last year I didn’t see but a handful of classes because I was running back and forth across the street from the stabling area to the show arena," said Oklahoma City Morgan trainer Rhonda Collins who came to the show in full force. "With this set up we could see everything going on and it wasn’t near as hectic getting horses in and out of the ring."

Those comments were echoed time and time again. "We absolutely loved it," said Arizona trainer Michelle McVey who made her first appearance at the Centennial. "We could get horses ready and if there was something we wanted to see in the ring all we had to do was stick our heads out, watch the class and never leave our stabling area. It couldn’t have been any better in that regards. We thoroughly enjoyed being here."

Bleachers were set up at the end of the ring opposite the entry/exit gate and small risers were set up all along the stable side of the ring to make "box seats" for exhibitors who placed their tack room chairs there. Again, this made for a much strong spectator event as exhibitors and their families did not have to venture back and forth, everything was right there. At most shows the trainers and exhibitors go up to the ring to watch the classes they are interested in and then return to their stabling area for extended periods of time leaving several classes with not so many people ringside. At this show everyone was ringside all of the time.

"I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback," said first year manager Nancy Braesicke who along with secretary Kelly McFaul had very little time to put the show together. "This reminded me of a lot of the shows we all grew up with and the set up gave it a great family atmosphere."

"I liked the whole show. It was relaxing," added Texas trainer Milo Jones. "For what it was this was the perfect way to do it. The closeness of it all was great. It made for a fun community."

Patty Kent was brought in to officiate this year’s show and she judged the Morgan, Saddlebred and Shetland classes. Shetlands were new to the schedule this year giving the show even more flavor. The Morgan contingent carried the show as far as numbers and while the Saddlebred classes needed more horses, there were certainly enough stars on hand to entertain the appreciative audience. It was great to see the Morgan and Saddlebred spectators cheering one another.

Joining Kent on the official family were photographer Howie Schatzberg; announcer Mark Farrar; ringmaster Pepper Hitchcock who is new to the Saddlebred/Morgan world and did a great job; paddock master Dewey Bass who kept a good flow going; and USEF Steward Josie Forbes. Show chairperson Karen Cunningham worked tirelessly to make sure this would be a go and her officials did a great job making it a first-rate event.

"The feedback on the show was amazingly positive," said Cunningham. "I know there was some apprehension regarding moving the show ring to the super barn area, but once they go there, everyone loved it. It was truly an intimate showing atmosphere. The other comment I heard was how nice it was to have everything under one roof and the warm up ring was quiet and easy to get to.

"The Progressive Party was the best! The food was awesome and everyone stayed for hours. ‘Best party ever’ were the comments I heard from so many people. Our numbers were down and we were anticipating that, but I hope that the barns that did not attend this year will ask the ones that did about the show and will put us on their calendar for next year. We had a great time thanks to everyone sharing their time and energy with us."

In the Saddlebred competition, the Amateur Five-Gaited Championship was probably the best class of the weekend. The bay powerhouse known as Callaway’s Kit Carson did five gaits to perfection to earn the tricolor for owner/rider Maguire Hall and the hometown Cross Creek Stables who had several winning ribbons hanging from the curtain. Randy Cates was assisted by Keith Harger for the week. Another mare known for her charge, Callaway’s Ariel was the reserve grand champion for Colorado exhibitor Stacey Kipper. There was a good group of challengers still behind these two making it one of the deepest.

Also a rockem’ sockem’ class was the Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited Championship where three talented young ladies went head to head: qualifying winner Claire Talley aboard the Randy Cates trained Indigo Joe; qualifying reserve champion Catalyst’s Blonde Ambition in her debut with Katie Cunningham; and Texas challenger Madeira’s Taste Of Reality who was third in the junior exhibitor qualifier but had won the open class with Milo Jones aboard. In the second round Sara Bratcher was slick at all her gears with Madeira’s Taste Of Reality to deliver a tricolor ride. This one had everybody cheering.

More Saddlebreds were certainly needed but there was plenty of talent to admire. Leading the parade of champions presented by Mike Roberts and Zach Duffy, Gayle Lampe and multi-World’s Champion CH Callaway’s Born To Win knocked off the winter’s dust with two more victory passes. He’s like a wind-up toy that never runs down. Dave Hysaw had the dark brown mare Mango Tango on top twice with athletic performances, the last being the Five-Gaited Championship.

Oklahoma City resident Coe London led the way from the Jack Magill Stables with Amateur Three-Gaited Grand Champion Mega Star making two star-studded performances. Magill made several trips to the winner’s circle with the likes of Ya-Ya, CH Tax Man, Matrix, I’m Fabtabulous, and CH My Grande. The Texas based training operation appears to be ready for a good year.

With all the cheering going on you would have thought it was October when Adam Lewis and Ring Girl were called out as the Morgan Park Saddle Grand Champions under the direction of Rhonda Collins. All of his barnmates were railside to share the joy of that tricolor ride.

The cheers also went up when Roadshow Steppin Out and Jamie Willard made their second victory pass of the week as the Morgan Amateur English Pleasure Grand Champions. Willard and her family - both parents and children - had a Texas sized week in Oklahoma City with titles from several divisions.

There was strong competition in most all of the Morgan Hunter Pleasure classes and a good many of those titles returned home with trainer Kelley Kraegel Varner and her clients. The well-filled Ladies Hunter Pleasure class was won by Varner riding Castleridge Cambio Corsa for Stone Pine Farm. She also claimed both the grand champion (Briar Oaks Uptown Girl) and reserve grand champion (EN Excess NKS) in the Amateur Hunter Pleasure Championship.

Oklahoma welcomed the Shetland ponies this year and although it was a small turnout - pardon the pun - there were a couple of nice ponies representing the division with a promise of more for next year.

This truly is a show that needs to get more people behind it. The management works hard to make it happen and it’s a great place to work and show horses. It also doesn’t get any better when it comes to convenience as the airport, lots of hotels and restaurants, the show grounds and the famous Bricktown area downtown are all within a few miles of each other. On top of that, the enthusiasm created by the hometown NBA playoff bound Oklahoma City Thunder had the entire city buzzing. It was a good weekend all around!

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