Time to shine those shoes, clip that facial hair and grease up those rippling muscles - the 57th annual Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show and Shopping Expo has begun.
About 250,000 people are expected to attend the 10-day event, running through Feb. 26 at WestWorld of Scottsdale. With nearly 2,400 Arabian and half-Arabian horses registered for 640 competition classes, it is the largest show of its kind in the world, according to show officials. Owners and trainers will be competing for more than $1 million in prize money and the coveted title of Scottsdale Champion.
"I would probably fall off my horse and cry if I won," said Makenzie Gleave of Mesa.
Gleave, 21, will be showing her horse, Ranger. Last year, they placed in the top 10 for "hunter pleasure," a competition in which the horse must give the appearance of being a pleasure to ride while moving with forward momentum.
This will be Gleave's fifth time showing at Scottsdale. She knows exactly how much effort is needed to be successful.
She has been preparing for the show since U.S. Arabian Horse Nationals ended in late October, grooming and training Ranger every day.
"You have to put work into the coat every day if you want it to look nice," Gleave said.
Before hauling out to the show, Ranger must have his coat clipped and washed. Tack and saddle pads must be cleaned. Everything must be loaded into the trailer, and most show fees must be paid. Besides training and care expenses, Gleave has dished about $700 in fees, with more to come.
"It's a big deal to me because I have to pay my own way. I'm working hard just to feed myself," she said. Gleave is a working student at an Arabian breeding facility and goes to school at Arizona State University.
So why go through all that trouble?
The show draws the largest crowd of any Arabian horse show and attracts the top horses from around the world, no pre-qualifiers or invitations necessary.
"Being a Scottsdale Champion means as much as being a National Champion," Gleave said. "If you win (at Scottsdale) then you are at the top of your game."
On the days she is showing, Gleave prepares Ranger for the ring herself, instead of having a hired groom do it. After, she takes a minute to be by herself. Before competing, she and Ranger do a light warm-up, and then she walks Ranger around the arena, talking to him in an attempt to calm both their nerves.
Confidence and effort go a long way in the show ring, Gleave said. Nerves must be tucked away.
"When you're in the ring with approximately 20 horses, you have to do everything you can to stand out."
Outside the ring, horse and non-horse enthusiasts can enjoy educational seminars, barn tours, auctions, art exhibits, shopping and dining. More than 300 vendors will selling art, jewelry, clothing, tack and more. Kids can enjoy an ice cream social and painting free pottery ponies on Saturday morning.
Popular "classes," or competitions, to watch are "Freestyle Liberty," where horses are set free in the ring to music, "Gambler's Choice," where horses are timed as they jump different obstacles worth points, and "Native Costume," where horses and riders gallop around the arena dressed in traditional desert regalia. Freestyle Liberty and Native Costume classes will be held throughout the week; the Gambler's Choice class is 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25.
Championship classes go on each weekend of the show. Evening admission is free on Feb. 24.
Gleave says she has high hopes for this year's show.
"I don't want to curse myself, but I am hoping for at least top 10."
The show is hosted by the nonprofit Arabian Horse Association of Arizona. Show officials say the show has raised millions of dollars to support charities, including Cox Charities, March of Dimes, Horsemen's Distress Fund and the Phoenix Crisis Nursery.
Angela Piazza is a senior studying journalism at Arizona State University. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org