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Congress Dos and Don’ts

The All American Quarter Horse Congress can be a tricky show to navigate; for seasoned veterans and newbies alike. From the endless shopping options to the late-night riding and everything else in-between, the wonder and amazement that is the Congress can get a little overwhelming if not handled correctly. The energetic atmosphere and constant “go, go, go” mentality can be staggering, so it is vital to have an idea of your Congress checklist before heading to Ohio. And as important as it is to know what to do, it may be just as crucial to know what to avoid during your stay in Columbus.

We talked with experienced Congress veterans about their must “dos” and definite “don’ts” while at the show. Here are their tips and tricks to making the most of your time at the world’s largest single-breed horse show.

DO check out the vendors and shop till you drop

This is a major must-do for both exhibitors and visitors. The shopping at the Congress is unparalleled to any other horse show. Whether you need a saddle, a new jacket, or everyday supplies, there are many options at your disposal.

Also, be sure to try as many food vendors as possible during your stay in Columbus. A seasoned Congress veteran, Lauren Champlin, says, “Make sure you have chicken and dumplings from the Sweet Shop and a beer at the green wall bar. It’s epic.”

The Congress is known for its legendary food, and there are many options available. And if you become tired of the “fast” food, Champlin suggests, “I always purchase my VIP membership to the restaurant at the Congress. It’s a lifesaver when you get tired of the vendor food.”

DO attend a special event

The Congress offers many special events that are wonderful to participate in. A few of the fan favorites are the Professional Bull Riding (PBR), the Congress Masters Western Pleasure and Hunter Under Saddle, and the NRHA Freestyle Reining. These unique attractions bring in a multitude of spectators each year.

Free lectures and demonstrations are also offered throughout the show. These are held by knowledgeable, professional horsemen and women from across the country. Lectures and demonstrations are very informative and worth attending.

DO stay healthy

Every year, the dreaded “Congress Crud” makes countless exhibitors fall ill. This is an exhibitor’s worst nightmare at such a massive show. To perform to the best of your ability, you must keep yourself in good health. Multiple Congress Champion, Natasha Blanchard suggests. “A major do for the Congress is to make sure you pack warm clothes and medicine.”

Taking every precaution possible may not prevent the “crud” for sure, but it gives exhibitors a fighting chance. The key is to pack smart and be ready for whatever situation arises.

DO take time to decompress

Whether you need a power nap in a gravity chair or to take a walk, you must make time to relax. The Congress is a very crowded, high energy show. To be successful and enjoy your experience, you must be in your best frame of mind. Take a walk, a power nap, or even sit back and watch some Netflix. Veteran Congress exhibitor, Ashley Dunbar-Clock advises, “Always take advantage of any sleep you can get, even if it’s a 20-minute nap.”

Sleep often becomes a distant memory for exhibitors due to the middle of the night riding and early mornings. Take advantage of any sleep time you can get. Relaxing is key to being mentally prepared, physically energized, and at the top of your game.

DON’T put too much pressure on yourself or your horse

The Congress is an exhilarating show to attend and is very “hyped” up each year. Remember that at the end of the day, it is just another horse show. If you put hours of dedication in the saddle, you have prepared yourself for the show pen. Natasha Blanchard says, “Do not get mad at your horse, remember you are both a team. Spoil your horse no matter the outcome of the class.”

It is easier said than done, but try your best to enjoy the experience and not become engulfed in the stress. And as always, spoil your horse with lots of treats.

DON’T be late

New York Times bestselling author Eric Jerome Dickey once said, “Early is on time. On-time is late. And late is unacceptable.”

The same type of mentality applies to the Congress. Whether you are running late to a class or just running late to the show itself, being behind schedule is a preventable challenge. Plan out as much as possible before the show, and each day you are there. This strategic thinking will help you find a good camping spot, prepare for your classes, and aid you when unexpected situations arise.

DON’T leave important items unattended

Just like at any significant event with thousands of people, you do not want to leave valuable items unattended. Keep your trailer doors locked, walk with a “buddy” at night, and follow necessary safety precautions. Having a mental checklist of your items is essential, as well. Sometimes accidents or “mix-ups” happen.

Ashley Dunbar-Clock comments, “Don’t leave your golf cart unlocked as it could accidentally get driven away…knowing from experience.”

Whether it be a golf cart, your phone, etc., be aware of your items and the surroundings.

DON’T forget to be grateful

Attending the All American Quarter Horse Congress is a dream of equestrians from around the world. It is a privilege just to be at the show, let alone walk up to the start cone and actually participate. Do not forget to thank your family, trainer, supportive friends and Congress staff for helping you reach this point in your showing career. Most importantly, thank your horse for being your teammate. Through the highs and lows, remember the importance of gratitude.

About the Author: Cat Guenther is a devout equestrian and a freshman at Michigan State University. She has been riding horses for almost ten years and has loved every minute of it. Cat started and runs her successful show clothing business, Behind the Bit Show Clothing. She loves to show the all-around classes with her beloved horse, Zippos Kat Man Do, aka Teddy. Her favorite classes are horsemanship, showmanship, and trail. She is currently on a Pre-Veterinary track and also hopes to study business.