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  Photo: American Quarter Horse Journal 
The 2008 Senior World Champion cutting horse works a cow at an American Quarter Horse Association event at State Fair Park in Oklahoma City.

When I was a teenager hanging out on a quarter horse ranch, country singer Chris LeDoux was something of a rodeo cult icon. Radio stations weren’t playing his music, but real cowboys knew most of his songs by heart. That loyalty developed because LeDoux sang for and about real cowboys – no rhinestones allowed.

When a song about a rodeo cowboy wanting to get out of bull riding and into – well, anything else – includes a line like, “With his feet on my belly/Standing in place/That dirty old bull/Blew snot in my face,” you can pretty well assume the songwriter has eaten his share of arena dirt. LeDoux rode bareback broncs, winning the 1976 national title. Until then, he mostly recorded and produced his own records, selling them out of the back of his pickup truck on the rodeo circuit.

Thirty years ago, if you wanted to see a cowboy rope a calf or ride an angry, bucking, spinning, 2,000-pound bull, you went to a rodeo. If you wanted to watch riders on silver-adorned saddles loping around an arena or side-stepping through gates, you went to a horse show. These days, the lines are blurred.

So saddle up, buckaroo. Here’s a sampling of the competitive Western events held in Oklahoma.

Grand National & World Championship Morgan Horse Show, Oklahoma City

There are shows and championships defined by discipline, such as cutting or reining, that are open to any breed. Then there are shows, like the Grand National & World Championship Morgan Horse Show, that pit horses of the same breed against one another in a variety of disciplines. The Morgan is one of the oldest American breeds. All Morgans trace their ancestry to a single stallion, Figure, who was later known by the name of his most famous owner, Justin Morgan. Their athleticism and versatility made them popular in the Civil War and as Pony Express mounts. This championship show is all about Morgan versatility, and there’s something for every interest, from carriage driving to western pleasure.

AQHA World Championship Quarter Horse Show, Oklahoma City

The American Quarter Horse is the quintessential cowboy breed and the most popular breed in the United States. The Quarter Horse gets its name from its sprinting speed, traditionally being faster than any other breed in distances of one-quarter mile or less. The Quarter Horse’s compact body (“short coupled” in equestrian parlance) combined with its speed make the Quarter Horse a talented athlete suited to the nimble maneuvers required to work cattle. The 17-day AQHA World Championship Quarter Horse Show is the granddaddy of all Quarter Horse shows and draws participants and spectators from around the world.  

Oklahoma's Western heritage means that our culture is indelibly connected to the horse.

Tulsa Holiday Winter Circuit, Tulsa

The Tulsa Holiday Winter Circuit is an after-Christmas-over-New-Year show at the Tulsa Fairgrounds is really six shows in one spread over seven days. It’s an Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association event that includes just about every Quarter Horse skill except racing. There are reining classes, halter, showmanship, you name it. But the show has rodeo-style events, too, including the world’s richest calf roping event, which has a $100,000 purse. There are speed event classes, such as pole bending and barrel racing, and the show even has English classes, including hunter under saddle. The Tulsa Fairgrounds has heated stalls and two heated arenas, so it’s a comfortable winter show.

Pinto World Championship Horse Show, Tulsa

The Pinto is a diverse breed of horse, typically characterized with a Tobiano coat, which is white with large flowing spots of color, or an Overo coat, which is colored and features white spots or markings.  Make your way to the famous Pinto World Championship Horse Show in Tulsa to see a wide variety of these majestic animals in four types of competition: stock, hunter, pleasure and saddle.  This 13-day horse show brings together the most skilled Pintos in the world along with their incredibly talented handlers for an exciting competition.  As an added bonus, a large equestrian trade show is held in conjunction with the Pinto World Championship Horse Show.

Green Country Arabian Classic, Tulsa

The beautiful and skilled Arabian horse, originally bred to perform in the brutal conditions of the Arabian desert, is put on display each year at the Green Country Arabian Classic in Tulsa.  This annual 4-day horse show celebrates the strong, compact breed by showcasing its wide range of abilities.  A variety of classes are shown, from performance and Western classes to jumping and dressage.  Areas of competition include reined cowhorse, working cowhorse, Arabian sport horse in hand, Arabian hunter hack and Arabian Western pleasure, among others.