Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show

Dashing steeds and riders will be the order of the day at the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show. 

Erin Naas was born obsessed with horses.

From the time she could walk or talk, Naas and her mom attended Mommy and Me riding lessons in her home state of California. 

“I would ride sassy, little bad ponies and she would trot along next to us leading me,” said Naas with a laugh. “That’s how I started and I’ve ridden ever since.”

A supermodel and actress, Naas has shown horses and competed throughout her years in Los Angeles and North Scottsdale, where she currently resides. Her love is Arabian horses.

Horse owners like Naas will show their Arabians at the 65th annual Arabian Horse Show from Thursday, Feb. 13, to Sunday, Feb. 23, at WestWorld of Scottsdale.  

The show brings to WestWorld more than 2,400 Arabian horses, all of whom will vie for the title of Scottsdale Champion, with more than $3 million in prize money handed out.

The horse show is a rite of passage for Taryl O’Shea, who is in her 22nd year as the executive director of the Arabian Horse Association of Arizona, which hosts the event. Last year’s edition drew 302,600 patrons, generating $98 million in economic impact, according to O’Shea. 

O’Shea believes the 2020 version of the event, which features more than 350 booths full of unique items, ranging from saddles to gifts, artwork and trinkets, is a can’t-miss attraction for horse enthusiasts of all ages. 

“It’s just a really big versatile horse show people love to come and just see all the things these horses can do,” O’Shea said. “Arabian horses are the oldest known breed of domesticated horse in the world and a lot of other breeds are derived from them. So, you’ve got collectors who appreciate the history, the beauty and the versatility of the breed.

“So, this horse has a magnetic appeal to many cultures and many people because of the story it tells throughout the ages.” 

O’Shea delved into a brief history of the breed and its path to the Wild West, tracing back to a surplus of horses owned by the Polish government sold to several families in the area. 

“It’s a long story, but basically Arabians are a breed that hails from the desert,” she said. “And so, when the horses were brought here, they acclimated to Scottsdale and the desert very well. It was kind of a no-brainer for these other families to start buying and importing these horses.” 

Fast forward a century, and this relationship is still going strong, with the annual horse show being the main outlet to showcase the breed. 

O’Shea said she expects high rollers from as far away as Australia and the Middle East to jet-set to Scottsdale Airport, where their various private jets will be parked during their stay in the desert. 

The event is for everyone. General admission tickets are $10, with $7 admission for seniors and military, and no cost for children under the age of 12. 

There will be a host of free activities to entertain younger patrons, such as ice cream socials, ceramic horse painting, art contests, barn tours and, of course, opportunities to meet Arabian horses. 

Naas acquired her first Arabian when she was 10. It was a riding horse. At 17, she bought a mare with the money she made from modeling around the world. Naas has modeled for Victoria’s Secret, Maxim and Sports Illustrated, and starred in commercials for Pepsi. She appeared on Howie Mandel’s “Deal or No Deal.”

Naas loves the beauty of Arabian horses, whom she keeps on a sprawling ranch in Scottsdale with her husband, Jay Grdina.

“I love the history of the breed,” Naas said. “I love the relationship they develop with their owner or caretaker. They are very personal horses. When you develop a bond with an Arabian, it’s different than any other horse. I just fell in love with the mystery and the mystique around them.”

Naas studied the pedigrees, the history and how the breed has evolved. Her reading material of choice as a child was Arabian Horse World Magazine. A breeder bequeathed Naas her entire magazine collection from the ’50s onward. 

“They were like giant manuals just filled with all of the breeds,” Naas said. “I learned what to look for and what made a great Arabian. I started reading those when I was probably 7.”

Naas said the Scottsdale show is special because there are multiple arenas with different disciplines simultaneously vying for titles. The vendors are just as striking. 

“They have anything you can think of like amazing clothing and beautiful coats,” Naas said. “Then there’s beautiful tack horse equipment and supplies.

“It’s really a horse-lover’s dream. The horses are set free in the arena to music and the audience goes crazy for their favorite horse. In the Liberty class, the horses are electrifying, and their tails are flagging and their nostrils are flaring. It’s definitely an exciting breed.

“Arabians really draw in people who have maybe never been around horses or aren’t familiar with horses. They don’t just stand there with their heads down. They are alert and excitable, yet also kind and manageable. It’s really a unique breed with a fire in them.”