The Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show is a first-class show that has grown from 50 horses to nearly 2,400 steeds since its inception in 1955.
And Greg Knowles, owner of Arabian Expressions in northern Scottsdale, hasn’t missed a show since 1976.
Calling the show the “Hollywood of the Arabian horse world,” he said, “People become famous in Scottsdale because they compete at the highest level.”
The top owners, trainers and breeders from around the world compete for a chance at winning.
Knowles entered about 15 horses into this year’s show, which started on Feb. 14 and continues through Feb. 24 at WestWorld of Scottsdale.
At any given time, he has about 30 horses at Arabian Expressions, a two-and-a-half-acre farm Knowles purchased in 2008.
Horses are shipped to the farm from clients all over the world, and upon arrival, the horses are groomed, trained and prepped for the Arabian Horse Show.
When groomed, the horses are hand-rubbed everyday, and they’re kept under lights 16 hours a day during the winter months.
“That way the horses think it’s summer, and their coats want to stay warmer because of the long hours,” Knowles said.
As far as training goes, the horses work five days a week.
“All horses have a work list, so one might go on the treadmill or get turned out,” Knowles said. “One day a week they get turned to play free.”
At Arabian Expressions, which consists of a Tuscan-style courtyard, 20 stalls and a presentation arena, Knowles’ job is to show, buy and sell quality Arabian horses on behalf of his clients.
“It’s always constantly a turn-over,” Knowles said. “They stay for this season, then after the Scottsdale show, most of them go home, and then we go hunt and recruit like a college coach for the next group.”
Knowles opened Arabian Expressions in 1979, and since then, he’s cared for about 1,200 horses.
The biggest challenge, he said, is keeping the horses healthy, happy and prepared.
“We’re really trying to make them look like horses in the middle of winter, so even though it’s the desert, it’s cold, and we keep [all the horses] bundled,” he said. “Then the babies get sick, get rashes and funguses and colds and coughs … Babysitting these horses, keeping them healthy, is probably the biggest challenge.”
Originally from Gig Harbor, Washington, located southwest of Seattle, Knowles fell in love with horses in 1976 – the year he attended his first Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show.
“I fell in love with everything with the horses; I didn’t even know the difference between a boy and gelding,” he said, later explaining that a gelding is a horse that has been castrated.
Knowles would go on to work for free at a friend’s Arabian horse farm, cleaning stalls and walking horses. And just a few years later, he opened up his own business in 1979.
But he was far from ready.
“I was a joke, but I worked hard and hard and hard, and we’d come every year,” he said. “We’d load up our cars and we lived, ate and slept Scottsdale. Scottsdale was everything.”
Knowles was so dedicated to the show, he showed up a month early to help them set up.
In 1999, he eventually moved to Scottsdale, trekking down from Washington with a very important Arabian horse in tow: Magic Dream, a black-bay stallion.
“He was black and sexy and a real popular strain,” Knowles said. “He caught fire, and we didn’t mess it up.”
Magic Dream made Knowles’ career.
People from around the world, including the Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts and 49ers quarterback Steve Young, came to see the stallion and his offspring.
But when Magic Dream turned 16, Knowles didn’t know what to do with him. His career had plateaued.
Knowles ended up selling the horse to a man from South Africa.
The day Magic Dream left was one of the hardest days of Knowles’ life.
“The day we sold, a big semi came to pick him up, take him to quarantine. I started to walk him to the trail and just broke down,” Knowles said. “It took me about a year to put any other horse in the first stall.”
Magic Dream died last year, and while it was devastating for Knowles, he’ll always have the memory of seeing the stallion again five years after selling him.
“He looks over at me, he stops and walks right over to me. He hadn’t seen me in five years,” Knowles recalled. “That’s when I grabbed his face and hugged him. It was a big deal. I was pretty emotional about that horse.”
Throughout Knowles’ decades-long career, his most monumental year was, undoubtedly, the year 2000.
He made history winning four consecutive U.S. National Champion Yearling Fillies, from 2000 to 2003. He then won the Reserve Championship in 2004 – a feat that had never been accomplished in Arabian halter competition before or since.
“How it works is, you pick up the babies, get them ready, baby sit them and take care of them. You have about a year, and then you go show,” Knowles said.
He added, “No one’s ever done it with different horses. It’s like being the MVP of the Super Bowl five years in a row. It’d be like [Tom] Brady.”
Knowles is also a recognized auctioneer and judge.
He attended the Worldwide College of Auctioneering in 2002, later becoming a sought-after auctioneer.
And in 2018, he judged the 2018 U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Show in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
On Feb. 20, Knowles will cross another first off his list: auctioneering his first self-organized auction, the United Select Sale, at Cedar Ridge Scottsdale.
Knowles will auction off 30 horses and the embryo rights from legendary Arabian horse, Bint Bey Shah, which has offspring in seven countries.
Knowles estimates 500 to 700 people will attend the auction that he very intentionally planned to take place the week of the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show.
“There’s a great marketing opportunity because all the major players in the world come through,” he said. “So we decided to do a big, giant auction and spend a lot of money and try to make this thing work in a beautiful way and sell horses for everybody.”
Information about the United Select Sale: gregknowlesauctions.com