AZCHA Changing the Sport of Cutting
At the Costume Bridless cutting event hosted by the Arizona Cutting Horse Association (AZCHA), you might just get lucky enough to see Donald Trump on the back of a cutting horse. Or even Captain America. Okay, not the real Donald Trump or the real Captain America, but you will see some passionate cutters dressed in costume, as if it were Halloween. But this event occurs six months from October, so one might wonder why these cutters are dressing in costume to participate in a bridless event.
“It’s to raise money for local charities,” says Dawn Chapman, president of AZCHA. “Last year’s event raised $15,000 for a local charity and we anticipate raising the same amount this year.” The proceeds for the event, which will take place on Saturday, April 8, will go to Horses Help, a local non-profit that uses horses to help with the development of independence and self-esteem for youth with disabilities. “It’s an amazing cause that really gets the community involved. And people have a lot of fun!”
And “fun” is the key word that was mentioned many times by members and participants of AZCHA. The organization focuses on the community that is built through the sport of cutting. “We try to nurture new segments of the cutting population, like youth and the lower-level rider who may be intimidated by participating in the larger events,” explains show secretary, Lindsey Mills. In April, AZCHA will host its Novice Challenge, which is geared specifically to that lower-level rider. “We have a really proven formula and excellent schedule with this event, along with an outstanding sponsor base,” says Mills. The Novice Challenge is held once a year on the closing Sunday of the four-day event in which any rider on any horse can compete.
“We get huge herds for that,” explains Chapman. “It’s great because it gives a beginner rider a chance to try their hand at cutting, which usually leads to people wanting to buy a horse and begin their lifetime passion. They don’t feel the pressure that they might feel at one of the bigger shows.” (AZCHA has six larger shows in October, November, January, two in February, and April.) “Those six shows are usually really big, so this is a great way to get people in without them feeling nervous or intimidated to participate.”
One key aspect of AZCHA event is the Rerun Riot. This segment is sponsored by Jerry and Parri Longworth of Roo-Hide Saddlery, in which the winner of each class receives a brand new saddle. This coming event will mark the seventh anniversary of this event.
Chapman has a personal motto that she has held dear to hear for the over two decades in which she has been a part of AZCHA. “If you can show and be successful in Arizona, you can be competitive anywhere.” She holds true to this and states that the basic fact that many of the NCHA top standings at the world level are from Arizona. “Fully one third of the top 15 NCHA riders from last year in the 2k, 15k, 35k, and even the 50 Amateur are from the west coast. And that’s because of our weekend shows.”
“It really starts with the trainers,” says Chapman. “Our trainers are more weighted in the Amateur and Non-Pro rather than the big aged events. So the question is how do you get your clients to get on board and go to shows? Well, that starts with the trainers asking the question, what’s your goal?”
Chapman further indicated that Arizona is on the forefront of rearranging the general schedule format for two arenas for its events allowing competitors in the novice and amateur classes to participate earlier in the day, generally no later than 4 or 5 pm. “In a lot of the bigger events, riders in these classes in other states sort of feel neglected, since they often don’t get to ride until much later in the evening. At our events, they can compete during the day and still get home in time to have dinner with their families or join the rest of their barn for a BBQ at the RV area.” This attention to timeframe has helped to increase the number of entries into the AZCHA events, which then helps the trainers increase their clientele base. Chapman spoke of one trainer who relocated to Arizona two years ago and now brings as many as 25 horses to each event. “Arizona has been paving the way in cutting and this is illustrated by the phenomenal increase in our numbers, both in participation and in the people who hire the trainers,” she points out. It is not uncommon for our trainers to bring anywhere from 20 to 45 horses to the show. That, Dawn said, is a measure of the success of the AzCHA program.
Cutting is an old sport, considering, and AZCHA has been around since 1951, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t with the times. The AZCHA website, www.azcha.com, has a live webfeed in both of its arenas, which costs the organization about $5000 a year to run. “But it’s an advertising tool that pays for itself,” says Chapman. In January, the organization did a live webcast of its show, which generated approximately 25,000 email logins from four different countries. “That’s really impressive for a local show like ours,” she points out. These numbers help generate interest in advertising.
Chapman also has a suggestion for other affiliates. “If affiliates would just get together and be creative and offer shows where people can win a saddle, for example, I guarantee they would see an increase in numbers. You’ve just got to get people in the door and into the sport. Everyone’s got to be able to start somewhere.”