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Trotting Down Memory Lane

by Bob Funkhouser
The American Royal has had a long history of unique entertainment, just one of many elements that has made this such a special show. From big name concerts, to thousands of Future Farmers of America teenagers, to the One Armed Bandit specialty act, the Royal has never been your typical horse show. A decade ago was perhaps one of the grandest weeks in the storied history of this Kansas City icon. November 18-23, 1991 featured a host of world class horses, ponies, and equitation riders, but even more thrilling was the Monday night Concert For Champions which also doubled as the close of the Centennial Celebration of the American Saddlebred. And it was with great pride that this performance had more than just a little Missouri flavor.

You didn't have to be from "Missourha" to be totally overwhelmed by this presentation of Saddlebred history with the emphasis on the Show Me state. The Concert For Champions, produced by Bill Carrington and Marsha Shepherd, showcased a number of different breeds in the first act, followed by a Saddlebred presentation second to none in the second half. The Air Force Academy Cadet Chorale joined the Youth Symphony of Kansas City to play before a packed house. A salute to the Greenwell family started off the second act. Instrumental in the founding of the American Saddlebred Horse Association, the Hiram Greenwell family was a Missouri fixture and Carol, Billy, and Nathan Greenwell represented the family in center ring as three generations of the six that have been involved in the Saddle Horse business.

Next up was a spot that is still talked about today. Billed as the Legends of Missouri, eight trainers with more than 400 years of combined training experience filled the arena at the same time. These Missouri legends put on quite a horse show and the crowd loved every minute of it. Art Simmons, Charlie Judd, R.S. Palmer, Don Hulse, Dale Pugh, Bill Sutton, Sonny Sutton, and Sug Utz were honored for their lifetime commitments to the industry.

"Many people said we would never get that done," said Bill Carrington, referring to getting those eight highly competitive trainers in the ring together. "I called Art [Simmons] first and he said, Sure, I'll do it.' I told him the others I wanted in the ring with him and he still agreed. Then I called Charlie [Judd] and he said, ‘If Simmons is doing it, I'll do it.' It just continued from there.

"I'll never forget we had them exit the arena two by two, going down the center of the ring. Simmons and Judd were on gaited horses and they were such fierce competitors that they looked at each other and just started racking wide open as hard as they could go trying to beat each other to the gate. It was a classic moment," recalled Carrington.

From the legends of that day to the legends of the future, a group of junior exhibitors were the next to fill the ring. Lindsay Lavery, Bryant Beltle, Jennifer Simmons, and Emily Swanson rode with great class showing the large general public that the brilliance and high energy of the American Saddlebred could easily be handled by a hundred pound rider.

It was most fitting that the next section of the Concert For Champions be a tribute to the great Missouri stallion CH Will Shriver. As a video of Will played overhead, four of his stallion sons were led into the ring: CH Caramac, Callaway's Blue Norther, Callaway's Ghostwriter, and Show Me Too. As soon as these stallions made their way out of the ring, Redd Crabtree and another Will son, Will's Bulletin, burst into the arena. The flashy colored gelding put on quite an exhibition before Crabtree came to a stop along the rail where Callaway Hills owner Betty Weldon was seated and then tipped his hat to the lady who has meant so much to the Saddlebred industry, not only in Missouri, but all across the country.

The parade of Will Shriver champions didn't stop there. Tom Moore came riding in on Callaway's Blue Norther, followed by Callaway's Street Dancer, Callaway's A Dream Come True, Callaway's True Grit, and Callaway's Claudette.

Displaying the versatility of the American Saddlebred, the Calvacade of Stars featured 11-times world's champion CH Flash Gordon with Bob Mallet; multi-titled world's champion CH The Phoenix with Terri Chancellor; Western pleasure champion Janian's Midsummer Knight with Janet Thompson; Sally McClure Jackson and pleasure star Noel Noel; and Morgan Friedman Wolin with the three-year-old Reedann's Touchdown.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, the next act was and still is the only something like that had been done. All three of the current open world's grand champions were in the ring together. CH Callaway's New Look with Tom Stone, One For The Road with Randy Harper, and CH Roselawn's Secret Rhythm with Mike Barlow showed the Kansas City public the best that the American Saddlebred had to offer.

"It was one of those lifetime experiences that I will never forget," said Randy Harper. "We had so much fun. In fact, Tom and I bumped into each other as we were trying to line up and we just laughed. The opportunity to have three world's grand champions together at one time was just something we had to do. The audience received it so well. It was a privilege to be asked to do something like that.

" We were planning on showing him there anyway and went on to win the qualifier and the Three-Gaited Championship and riding him in the Symphony didn't hurt a bit. In fact, he was more relaxed when I showed him. I think sometimes those things are more of a mental challenge to the trainer than they are the horse. If you have an athlete like One For The Road was, they want to perform. They will do what you ask of them."

The Concert For Champions kicked off the week in a royal way and day after day, night after night there were an abundance of highlights. As always the various equitation finals played a major role in the American Royal schedule of events and 1991 was the last time the "Old Royal Arena" was used for the qualifying rounds of the finals. The building was torn down shortly after the show that year.

Judges Nelson Green, Jan Lukens, and Anne Speck marked the cards for the first of the big events, the UPHA Junior Challenge Cup Finals. The riders that made the cut came back on Wednesday night for phase II and following that round, Texas Elizabeth Andrus was crowned the national champion. Sue Roby greeted the outstanding young rider in the winner's circle. Reserve national honors belonged to Kristen Pettry who was instructed by Steve and Julia Joyce. Dana Perry, Sarah Cronan, Debbie Hubbuch, Rachael Lamb, Bryant Beltle, Kate Jensen, Amanda Arrick, and Amber Pool finished out the Top 10.

The UPHA Senior Challenge Cup Finals was a long and grueling process. Three sections of riders were worked on Thursday morning with the final cut being worked again on Thursday night. When work had been completed in phase II that evening three riders were asked back to the rail for additional work.

Adolph Zell, Kris Jensen, and Taja Setzer were asked to go one more time and even non-equitation trainers were railside witnessing this awesome display of horsemanship from three outstanding young people. When it was all said and done, DeLovely Farm's Taja Setzer, riding Magic Marauder, was crowned the UPHA Senior Challenge Cup National Champion at the age of 14, becoming the youngest rider in history to win the title. Having won the NHS Good Hands Finals the week before, this also gave her the second leg on the triple crown.

"Taja was an outstanding student who had a tremendous support system with her parents," said her instructor Lillian Shively. "They supported her in all the right ways, when she did well and when she didn't. Taja had a year or two that were hard and she had to struggle, but she didn't let it get her down. She always showed great sportsmanship and was a fun loving kid."

"Taja was a strong rider and she had a great horse," added trainer Todd Miles. "We've had a lot of good equitation horses but he [Magic Marauder] was the greatest. He was the Michael Jordan of equitation horses. That horse had so much natural ability, he never wore a chain, a strap, a boot, nothing. I don't mind telling you when we sent him to the clinic, I knew he wouldn't be back and I cried like a baby."

Reserve in that UPHA Senior Challenge Cup Finals went to Adolph Zell, an extremely poised and accomplished young man who rode with Premier Stables. Finishing in the Top 10 that year were Kris Jensen, Shana Lee Fox, Cathy Warner, Jill Brainard, Allison Beard, Mary Jane Glasscock, Emily Swanson, and Katharine Donan.

As grueling as the UPHA Senior Finals had been, the AHSA Medal was even tougher. Three splits rode in front of Kim Crumpler and Brent Jacobs on Saturday morning with the surviving finalists showing back Saturday afternoon. Following the phase II rail work all of the riders were asked to perform individual workouts again, however, with the conversation going on in center ring between the two judges it didn't look like it was over yet. It was a bitter cold afternoon in Kansas City as they two young riders pulled it all together to go one more time. Instructors, parents and spectators were screaming to the tops of their lungs as these two put it all on the line. Although there was a champion named, there were no losers on this afternoon. Adolph Zell had pulled it off, taking the AHSA Medal National Finals with a remarkable ride under the direction of Rob and Sarah Byers. Holding her head high, Taja Setzer rode out as the reserve national champion.

"Adolph was such a well rounded kid," said Rob Byers. "When he first came to us he had a horse that was nice, but he needed more. We found Whatta Wise Guy and knew it would be a challenge. We told his father that if you don't have the money to buy the type of horse he needs you've got to have the time. We worked on this project and went through all of the spinning and everything and Adolph just took it all in stride. Winning the Medal finals was just icing on the cake.

"To me he was such a refreshing rider. He came at a time when there were several good riders, but many of the girls looked alike. Then here comes Adolph bursting through the gate with this big-eyed horse. He was what a male rider should look like."

Finishing out the Top 10 in the Medal finals were Cathy Warner, Kris Jensen, Emily Swanson, Elizabeth Dieruf, Julie Anne Arnston, Jill Brainard, Courtenay Lancaster, and Nicole Bearman. Right up there with the Equitation National Finals at Kansas City is the UPHA Classic Finals. Seven Classic championships were held with $121,500 in prize money distributed. Ten entries competed in the fine harness section in which Sonny Sutton and You Betcha won the top prize for the James Orr family. In addition to going on to be a top show horse, You Betcha was also the dam of the 2001 Junior Three-Gaited 15.2 & Under World's Champion Winefest. Tom Moore drove Gaynor Shane's Decorative to the reserve title, followed by Tom Ferrebee and Albelarm Witchcraft in third for Mrs. Alan R. Robson.

Rick Wallen and World's Champion Decision's High Command took home the first place money of $5,640 in the UPHA Road Pony Classic Championship with a unanimous decision. Dr. Alan Raun and Bill Bailey stepped up to the reserve title. Decision's High Command would go on to become one of the greatest road ponies to ever show, in fact, he is still winning world's grand championships under the name of Hazard County.

"I saw him at the Illinois State Fair and just had to have him," recalled Rick Wallen. "He had the looks, drove off his hocks and was just everything I thought a road pony should be. I was going to buy him for Mike Schallock, but he hesitated and there were several people in line so I went ahead and bought him myself. He actually ended up winning more in prize money for the few years I had him than I paid for him.

"I had had the name Hazard County saved for just the right road pony. When I was in Iowa and used to go to Kentucky for Harrodsburg and Lawrenceburg and those shows we would drive through Hazard County and I always thought that would be a great name for a road pony. Everybody in my barn drove him, he was such a delight."

Always a highly competitive section, the UPHA Park Pleasure Classic produced a history making winner. An amateur won the title for the first time as Morgan Wolin rode Reedann's Touchdown to the title. Joe Elam and Harlem Express rode away with reserve honors, followed by Liz Kinney and Popcorn Stitch in third.

Pony numbers were strong as 10 competed for the UPHA Hackney Pony Classic Championship. And for the second consecutive year Mr. Hawkeye won the title. The stallion son of Tijuana Tribute was driven by Gib Marcucci for Sharon Lewis. Reserve to Mr. Hawkeye was the Seamair Farm entry, Heartland Classic, driven by Greg Carstens. Heartland Classic has gone on to several world and national titles as well.

John Conatser made the winning ride in the UPHA Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited Classic Championship. He presented New Estate's Am-A-Gem. Mark Hulse was right there with the reserve winner Jean Margaret.

Pony Vista's Tzazz was called out as the winner of the UPHA Harness Pony Classic Championship with Mike Dumas presenting for Mr. and Mrs. David Diemer. Larry Bacon showed Art Birtcher's Mr. Amigo to the reserve title, just ahead of Randy Harper and Priceless Flair.

The finale in the UPHA Classic Championships was the 15-horse Five-Gaited Classic. Sweeping the Triple Crown (Lexington, Louisville and Kansas City) was none other than the multi-titled world's champion The Homecoming Hero. Merrill Murray was again riding the giant gelding for Mr. and Mrs. Robert Storm. As did most of the classics grand champions that year he went on to great success winning juvenile and ladies world's titles. His closest competition in that event came from The Fizz Whiz with Ron Hulse riding for Mr. and Mrs. Louis Lyda. Third in the large class went to Equity Too, the colt who made such an outstanding show at the Illinois State Fair that year. He was ridden by Frank McConnell for Mr. and Mrs. David Howard.

Royal spectators were also treated to the official retirement ceremony for one of the top gaited horses of that era, CH The Phoenix. Ridden by Terri Chancellor the grand gelding entertained as he always did, head high in the air and always looking to cover ground. Following the ceremony a great party was held in the aisleway of the main barn, hosted by the Chancellor family and DeLovely Farm.

"He was one of my all-time favorites," said trainer Todd Miles. "He was the gamest, yet one of the most trainable I have ever been around. We were fortunate to get him later in his career and age certainly helped him settle into things.

"The biggest thing with him was to get him to relax. We did most of our work in a jog cart and when we did ride him it was always with his show bridle. He never wore a snaffle bridle to ride him. The canter was the thing we had to work on the most. John Conatser told me he would lose his mouth after you cantered him the first way of the ring so we did a lot of work on that and he finally learned to relax cantering and it helped his other gaits.

"The Phoenix reminded me a lot of Wild Eyed and Wicked," Miles continued. Both horses are really high headed, lots of speed, not tons of motion but certainly enough. What separated him was he could go through a pack of horses and never drop and ear. I don't care how bright they are, most horses when surrounded by a group of others will turn their ears: not The Phoenix. And what made it work with Terri [Chancellor] was that she devoted herself to being able to ride him. She would ride lesson horses three or four times a week without a girth to get her balance and strength to be able to stay up with him."

Besides all of the specialty classes and retirements there was also a strong regular class schedule. Manager Marion Vande Wall had Nelson Green, Billy Greenwell, and Jim Koller judging the performance division. The open championships were extremely competitive including the Five-Gaited Championship which was won by Santana Lass with Redd Crabtree riding for Mary Gaylord. Reserve grand champion honors went to Unattached with Tom Moore in the irons for Milward Dedman, followed by Todd Miles aboard Satan's Seductress and Bill Sutton aboard the bay stallion Periaptor.

World's Grand Champion One For The Road brought down the house with a unanimous decision in the Three-Gaited Championship for Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Wheeler. Tom Moore and Todd Miles were again second and third with Moore riding Perfect Prowler and Miles riding Epcot Center. The "super horse" CH Roselawn's Secret Rhythm also had the crowd screaming as he captured the Fine Harness Grand Championship with Mike Barlow driving for Dr. Helen Neave. They started the week in the Concert For Champions and then marched right through the open and championship. John Champagne presented The Crimson Flame for Dot Gaddis to take reserve grand champion honors, while Barry Yount and CH Recall were third.

These were just a few of the highlights from one of the most memorable American Royals in recent history. As we head into the 2001 edition we can only hope that the competition is on the same level and that the Classics Grand Champions go on to be as productive as the class of 1991.

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