By Annika Tomlin

Horses are Bob Avila’s life.

His parents, Don and Pat, owned and showed horses during his childhood in Northern California, and he followed their career path. In Temecula, California, he founded Avila Training Stables, which helped breed and sell horses. 

Last year, Avila and his wife, Dana, sold their California ranch and moved to a similar property in North Scottsdale, where they have 15 horses they are training and preparing to sell. 

The winner of notable prizes like the American Quarter Horse Association Professional Horseman Award, Avila will share his 47 years of knowledge as a clinician at the Arizona Sun Circuit Quarter Horse Show from Saturday, February 29, to Sunday, March 8, at WestWorld of Scottsdale. He has attended the event for more than 25 years. 

“I would go from arena to arena to see my friends and see what horses they have,” Avila says. “It’s a lot of fun.”

During the show, riders from around the world will compete to win prizes in events like roping, show mounting, ranch riding and haltering, when horses are led. Show director Doug Huls, who is Avila’s longtime friend, says he expects to award 35 saddles, 12 buckles, 180 trophies and cash. Sun Circuit had nearly 30,000 class entries in 2019.

“There are people who show from all around the world and there are people who just come to watch,” Avila says. “It’s such big energy there that people come to it looking for a lot of different things.”

Admission and parking are free for the family-friendly event. Folks come to buy and sell horses as well as part of the 15th annual Hershberger Performance Horse Sale at 4 p.m. Friday, February 28. The preview starts at noon with roping and cow horse. 

Consignments are open and limited to 100 head of top-quality cow horses, cutters, rope horses, ranch riders, reiners and ranch versatility horses. Visit hershbergerhorses.com for details. 

Marking 47 years

The Arizona Quarter Horse Association, which is based in 85085, has hosted this event since 1973. It is the largest American Quarter Horse Association circuit in the Western United States, and Avila will be inducted into the group’s hall of fame later this year. 

“There’s quality in every event you watch there,” he says about Sun Circuit. “Every event has high-quality work. It’s just a good thing to go to and people wait all year long to go.”

Huls has been show director since 2011. He parlayed his knowledge as an exhibitor into his position. 

“Since Huls took over (as show director), he has brought it to a whole new stage. He’s brought it to where it needs to be,” Avila says. “The vendors he has, the sponsors he has. It’s a great deal. He’s done a wonderful job on it.”

Like Avila, Huls is passionate about horses.

“It’s life fulfilling to be involved with a horse,” says Huls, who is also the CEO of the Arizona Quarter Horse Association. 

Avila particularly enjoyed working cow horse (when horses work a single cow around an arena with specific maneuvers), roping, cutting (when a horse and rider work to demonstrate the horse’s athleticism and ability to handle cattle) and reining before he switched to training. 

Having the show at WestWorld is a “true joy for exhibitors,” Huls says. WestWorld has room for 1,800 stalls, and visitors can see everything the Valley has to offer.

“WestWorld is fabulous. (My wife and I) go to shows there all year long,” Avila adds. “It’s such a well-run facility, well taken care of. It’s right there where all the hotels and restaurants are.”

Besides the horse events, the Sun Circuit showcases vendors who sell art, jewelry, clothing and saddles. The vendor booths sold out this year. 

Riders who want to improve their skills can participate in free clinics. Avila, who has won World’s Best Horseman twice, will be one of the clinicians the day before the Sun Circuit show starts. 

“I try to come up with something new and different and this year it will be, ‘How well trained is your horse?’” Avila says.

Avila will ask the participants to rank their horses from “very complicated to very uncomplicated.” The questions also include: “Does your horse stand still when you get on it? Can you open and shut a gate on it?” Avila says. “A lot of things are going to be so simple people won’t even realize ‘til I bring them up.”

Other clinics include: Laurel Walker Denton on Developing Trust in Ranch Riding, Robin and Jenny Frid on Showmanship, and Allyn Mann on Adequan.

The competitions are the pinnacle of the event. The judges must qualify under American Quarter Horse Association regulations, as well as the National Reining Horse, National Reined Cow Horse and National Cutting Horse associations. The judges include Debra Jones Wright, Bill Enk, Chele McGauly, Mark Russell and Peter Morgan. 

“They have good judges and they have a good facility,” says Avila.

This nine-day event is for anyone passionate about horses. 

“I can’t picture my life without horses,” Avila says. “If people have never been around them, they’re missing something.”

Arizona Sub Circuit Quarter Horse Show & Versatility Ranch Horse Show, WestWorld of Scottsdale, 623.869.8037, suncircuit.com, 16601 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale, various times Saturday, February 29, to Sunday, March 8, free admission and parking.

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