20 years ago, young horse enthusiast Taryl O’Shea sought out to volunteer at the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show. She had moved from Canada to Scottsdale on New Year’s Day and had seen signs promoting the show. “I left a message at the listed number and did not hear back, so I went out to WestWorld, walked into the old A-frame office building on the grounds and was signed up as a ribbon presenter.” Taryl’s dedication to the volunteer position, and strong work ethic garnered her the position of volunteer organizer the following year. O’Shea’s official position with the AHAA began in 1998. Currently serving as the Executive Director, the 10-day Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show & Shopping Expo is the largest Arabian horse show in the world with over 300,000 people entering the gates, and the organization is responsible for over $1,000,000 in charitable giving to local and national organizations. Since 2011, she has also been producing the Scottsdale Polo Championships, the largest Polo event in North America.
When asked what people might be surprised to know about her, Taryl replied, “I think it’s my aptitude for adventure. This last summer I went on a glacier trekking expedition. We were flown in by helicopter and rappelled to the base camp. It was a wild and fantastic adventure!” Taryl’s thrill seeking nature led her to compete in three-day Eventing and Hunter Jumper competitions for years. She chuckled as she realized that her sense of adventure had likely attributed to her ability to successfully navigate her current position in life.
When entering the AHAA offices in the Scottsdale Airpark for our interview, I couldn’t help but notice the fantastic photo of Taryl on horseback in what she recalls as the highlight of her equestrian life. In 2013, Celebrity Slide organizer, Phyllis LaMalfa invited Taryl to ride in the increasingly popular event at the Scottsdale Arabian horse show. The Celebrity Slide is a “for fun and for profit” event that pairs up well-known non reining personalities with the top reining trainers in the industry. The celebrities are auctioned in a Calcutta that awards 65% of the proceeds to the buyer of the winning team. “I had full intent on practicing every day and being fully prepared for the event,” recalls Taryl. “I felt so bad for trainer, Nathan Kent. He didn’t know me from Adam. He must have wondered what he had done to be paired with the ‘dud.’ I was the lowest selling ‘celebrity’ in the Calcutta, and I overheard a group of the pro’s wondering who the ‘office girl’ was that Nathan got stuck with.”
Taryl’s schedule had been so filled with show management, that she had not even had time to try on her chaps prior to the ride. “I couldn’t get them on! It took two people to help me pry the zippers together and 3 people to hurl me on my horse, Kermit (Kharamat). I couldn’t move! I kept telling myself, ‘just don’t fall off!’” On top of all that, Taryl and Kermit were drawn as the first in the order of go. First draw is generally the kiss of death in reining competitions. As expressed in the photo on the facing page, she not only stayed on, she nailed it! In the end, Taryl and Kermit held the lead score until the final horse competed. Nathan, Kermit and their ‘office girl’ shined as the Reserve Champion Celebrity Sliders.
Taryl’s executive director seat for the AHAA is only one of many of her responsibilities. In addition to the Scottsdale Polo Championships, she also manages the Arabian Breeders World Cup show in Las Vegas and later this year, will manage the Australian Nationals for her first time. Asking Taryl if it was hard for her to juggle all the major events, she replied, “Thankfully, I love what I do in my work, because there is currently very little free time outside of the workplace.” She is known for her ability to clearly communicate and navigate the ‘big picture’ to the board members of each of the organizations she serves. She communicates with exhibitors, breeders, horse enthusiasts and committees, and carefully constructs their thoughts, ideas and efforts and presents them in a way that allows for careful consideration and execution. “My job is to communicate what the board of directors vote on and decide, whether I agree with their decisions or not. I love to help people with different personalities see the big picture and get along with one another.”
O’Shea’s most excellent adventure began over 20 years ago. She had not imagined that her first steps on this path as a volunteer ribbon presenter would lead her to this dream equestrian lifestyle. “My job is to help people learn about, love and own Arabian horses. I am lucky because I am positioned in organizations that produce world-class competitions that also take advantage of tremendous opportunities to share every aspect of the Arabian horse lifestyle.