Kansas City, Mo. Two years after nearly losing its saddle horse show because of complaints about conditions at its arena, The American Royal has attracted a national championship horse show to this year's event.
On Tuesday, the American Royal announced that it is joining with the United Professional Horsemen's Assn. to create a national championship show to run Nov. 19-23.
The association told the Royal after the 2000 saddlebred horse show that its members were so disgusted with third-rate conditions at the show that they might pull out of the Royal.
Members were appeased last year, however, when the Royal installed more stall space and changed the schedule to allow more time to prepare the arenas between the rodeo and the horse show.
"The improvements we made last year are basic, and the American Royal can go on repeating that," said Sarah Rowland, horse shows chairwoman. "But this partnership raises the bar. No longer will we just be satisfactory; we'll be excellent."
Chuck Herbert, past president of the horsemen's association, said that members were satisfied with the improvements and that they wanted to continue to be part of the 103-year-old American Royal.
"We're confident in this partnership," he said. "If the American Royal fails, we all fail."
At a contract signing Tuesday, Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks said the three-year contract and the resulting national horse show would benefit the area.
"The Royal is something the community looks forward to, and this certainly will be a complement to that," he said. "This will bring more economic growth and development to the city."
Although the Royal always has been a significant horse show, Rowland said, in the past few years it has become more of a regional than a national event. A partnership with the association should change that, she said.
"We have the tradition, but they bring the national constituency," she said. "We want to change the focus so it's more of a national competition. It's always been nice to win at the Royal, but now it will represent an added achievement."
Local horsemen's association member Robert Stezovsky, who with his wife, Rachalle, manages the city-owned R&R Stables in Swope Park, said the national show would be a boon for the Kansas City horse community.
"There have been some problems in the past, but people only want to see the Royal improve," he said. "There's so much tradition, this is so big, that when you say American Royal, people know what you're talking about."