It was only a matter of time before western pleasure owners, exhibitors and trainers organized a centerpiece prize-money event for their division. They envisioned one a decade ago, as they watched the Arabian English Performance Association set up a schedule of futurity classes for both purebreds and Half-Arabians that has been widely acclaimed in the industry; it has been so successful that as time went on, it grew to include a maturity event for amateurs as well. So why, wondered observers, wasn’t there one for western horses too?
The truth is probably that Real Life happened. The time was just never quite right. Not only was the uncertain economy problematic, but also a prize-money system of that magnitude takes a lot of planning and organization, not to mention financial support, as it gets on its feet. The right team had to be available to do it. So, it became one of those things that was always, hopefully, “coming soon.”
It may be said that “soon” started on Wednesday night of the 2014 U.S. Nationals. That is when the western pleasure community flexed its muscles and outdid itself in a pro-am calcutta fundraiser for the Arabian Horsemen’s Distress Fund. In an over-the-top evening of exciting competition, they rang the till at more than $200,000, and it was a heady feeling.
Michele Reser, of Setting Sun Stables, who was there that night, couldn’t help thinking, “Western pleasure people really are a big family—we can do this.”
Several others, both professionals and amateurs, were thinking the same thing. Within days, the Arabian Western Pleasure Association was born.
AWPA: How It Works
The first classes took place at the U.S. Nationals in 2016. Payouts for the Purebred class were over $100,000 and the Half-Arab class had over $50,000 in payouts. The goal is to continuing growing and add on more sponsors. In 2017 DePaolo Equine’s own Jacqui Reed spearheaded the sponsorship committee and brought in an extraordinary amount of quality items for prizes.
Traditionally, the prize money in a futurity such as this is funded by auctions of stallion services. AWPA’s first one was scheduled for 2016, held online through the Arabian Horse Times. Stallions whose services are available there must have been nominated to the program by December 31 of the prior year they wish to be nominated.
To jumpstart the bank account, however, the organization started by auctioning four services to top stallions at the Arabian Horse Times Readers’ Choice Awards Dinner in Scottsdale this year. Breedings to 2014 U.S. National Champion Zefyr, 2014 U.S. National Reserve Champion Onyx A, and top sires Sundance Kid V and Khadraj NA sold for a total of $21,500.
“Because we wanted to have the first classes in 2016, we’re also going to need donations for the first five years,” Michele Reser notes. “We all get tired of going to the same well, but if you want to get money out, you have to put money in.” After that, the prize money will be underwritten by the annual stallion service auction and the nomination fees of stallions and mares.
The first step for sire owners is to nominate their stallions to the program. Participation in the futurity classes at U.S. Nationals will be open to all foals by nominated stallions, but after five years, when there are 4 year olds foaled from breedings sold at the auction, the system alters slightly. Owners whose foals do not come from auction breedings may nominate the mares they breed to AWPA stallions and the foal from that year will be eligible to show in the futurity. However, there will be an extra incentive for mare owners to buy their breedings at the service auction: a percentage of additional prize money will be available for their entries in the classes.
“We want to see the money going back to the amateurs and the breeders,” explains Michele Reser. “The goal is to encourage people to breed to our stallions—and to add excitement and importance to the classes. We want to help stallion owners and also get people excited about seeing the horses in the ring. These are amazing animals.”
Part of the mission, she says, is to direct attention to the skill it takes to train and show western pleasure horses; it is easy to appreciate the supercharged performances of the English horses, while the western competition is more subtle. But it requires no less talent from the horses and riders, she points out, and as the audience becomes more involved, it can better understand the class’s finer points.
In the beginning, the AWPA classes will be open to professionals only, but as the program grows, the group hopes to add amateur events as well.
Even with the experience of the AEPA to help smooth the way, setting up and administering the AWPA is a big job. The first step has been the assembly of a Board of Directors, featuring a mix of trainers and amateurs: Rob Bick, Dave Daugherty, Rebecca Fulkerson, Josh Quintus, Michele Reser, Dana Romijn, and Barbara Sink.
“I’m very excited to be a part of it,” says Rebecca Fulkerson, an opinion echoed by others. A participant in the calcutta at the Nationals in 2014, she still remembers the exhilaration everyone felt as the evening went on. “Promoting the western horses is something that has been needed for a long time. We want to get people excited about it and excited about breeding again. The chance to go into a class with that much excitement and that much prize money is something that the western field deserves.”