They’re back: Arabian horse show worth millions returns to OKC

By: Molly M. Fleming

The Journal Record


OKLAHOMA CITY – A horse show that’s been in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the last 15 years is returning to State Fair Park.


The Arabian Horse Association’s Youth National Arabian & Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show and Shopping Expo starts Saturday at State Fair Park. It runs until July 30.


“The driving force for getting us to return is the vast amount of improvements that they’ve put into the facility,” said Julian McPeak, marketing director for the AHA.


In the last 12 years, the city has invested about $135 million into State Fair Park. In 2004, voters approved an increase in the hotel and motel tax, which funded improvements to the park’s horse barns and the State Fair Arena. In 2009, another $60 million in improvements was approved as part of the MAPS 3 sales tax initiative.


McPeak said the AHA needs thousands of climate-controlled stalls, warmup space, and multiple rings.


“When we ask for bids, we’re pretty deliberate,” she said.


The organization has a three-year contract with State Fair Park. Vice President of Marketing Scott Munz said five other major horse shows have signed multiple-year contracts with the center because of the improvements. For example, he said, the American Quarter Horse Association usually has a three-year deal with its venue; however, it signed on for 10 years.


This is the second show the AHA will host in Oklahoma. The Arabian & Half-Arabian U.S. National Championship Horse Show has been held in Tulsa since 2013, and the contract was extended to 2022.


The youth show that is coming to Oklahoma City generated an estimated $4.9 million in direct economic impact in Albuquerque, according to Visit Albuquerque.


Young people and their families will start arriving Thursday because the youth clinic starts on Friday. McPeak said the organization is expecting about 800 horses for the show, and with the typical four people coming with each horse, that would be about 3,200 people. But since it’s a youth show, additional family members sometimes attend as well. In Albuquerque, about 5,000 people attended the eight-day event.


The show is working with nine host hotels, mainly in the south and west corridors. There are eight hotels listed as preferred places. Visit Albuquerque Communications Specialist Brenna Moore said the show generated about 3,300 hotel room nights.


But visitors are doing more than sleeping in their hotel beds while visiting, McPeak said. She said most participants visit restaurants frequently. They also shop at home improvement stores so they can build their stall setup.


“They create, in front of the stalls, a sitting and living area,” she said. “Some people bring all that with them. A lot will go buy lumber, plants, and wood chips.”


Midtown-Tulsa Lowe’s Home Improvement Store Manager Jason McCaleb said he can tell when the Arabian show is in town because there are more spurs and cowboy hats in the store. The midtown Lowe’s is down the street from Tulsa Expo Square. He said via email he sees a lot of customers buying outside plants for their stall booths.


Oklahoma Arabian Horse Club President Sandy Paschall was volunteering Wednesday at State Fair Park in preparation for the show. She said visitors have already asked where they can find a fabric store and the best places to eat, and they are looking especially for restaurants indigenous to Oklahoma City.


“(AHA) is just so impressed with our facilities,” she said. “They’re just so happy with them. My daughter and I travel a lot showing horses, and we tell everyone how great our facility is.”


When the AHA State Fair Park contract is up, Expo New Mexico is going to try and get the show back, said Erin Thompson, deputy manager.


“We are currently conducting a master plan study relating to the feasibility of a new arena with increased capacity and enhanced amenities,” she said via email. “Additionally, the manager authorized the investment of $300,000 into climate-controlled equestrian facilities on our north end with those improvements to be complete before our 2016 state fair.”


Expo New Mexico General Manager Dan Mourning was quoted in Albuquerque media as calling Oklahoma City’s facilities unbelievably state of the art. He said Expo New Mexico does not have the glitz and the wow factor that comes with $100 million in investment.


But Thompson said the center is working on it.


“Expo New Mexico has updated and upgraded Tingley Coliseum in recent years as well,” she said. “When you factor in our beautiful weather, we believe we are well-suited to compete to host the national youth show again in future years.”