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ICYMI – Food, Numbers and Underwear: Exhibitors Share their Congress Traditions and Superstitions

Originally published October 2016

Some people claim that they aren’t superstitious, or that tradition doesn’t mean that much to them. But during certain times of the year (or during certain events), these people join their superstitious and tradition-loving counterparts and relish in them both.

For example, I would be willing to bet that whether or not you consider yourself superstitious, you always pick up a penny or avoid walking under a ladder.

And I’d also be willing to bet that you follow the tradition of always have turkey on Thanksgiving.

With Halloween and the holiday season upon us, GoHorseShow wanted to find out what superstitions and traditions AQHA exhibitors have when it comes to the largest single-breed horse show in the world: The All ABarbieEvans_KathrynBunting_Congressmerican Quarter Horse Congress. After all, the Congress is both an event and a time of year, so it certainly qualifies for when even the least superstitious and tradition loathing folks can find some comfort in what becomes the “norm.”


AQHA Professional Horsewoman Barbie Evans (pictured right) of Elizabeth, Colorado, has been attending the Congress for nearly 30 years.  For many years, Barbie’s first day in Ohio has had one unbroken tradition.

“We always go to Home Depot first,” she said. “And then we go to Fitch’s Big Boy, which is probably the only meal we will eat off the fairgrounds for the rest of the time we are there.”

Evans also shared that The Sweet Shop is a morning ritual in her barn, a tradition that seems to be a trend among many Congress attendees.

martzAmateur exhibitor Chelsea Martz, an Ohio native, said, “I always look forward to getting a cinnamon bun one morning from The Sweet Shop. Even though Sweet Shop cinnamon buns are always delicious, I maintain they taste best on cold Congress mornings!”

Another Congress tradition for many involves a famous fast-food chain and golf carts.

“We always make sure to drive the golf cart to McDonald’s at least once,” Martz said (pictured left).  “Because there is nothing better than driving a golf cart through a drive-through!”

While many folks we talked to have food traditions involving a particular vendor or restaurant, AQHA Professional Horseman Ryan Cottingim (pictured right) of Spring Hill, Tennessee, has a Congress food tradition all his own.

Ryan cottingim“I seriously don’t even do this at home,” he chuckled, “or at any other horse show. But at the Congress, every morning for breakfast, I make myself toast with peanut butter, a drizzle of honey, and banana. I honestly don’t know if I do this for physical, mental, or whatever reasons, but I started this at least ten years ago, and it has just always stuck.”

Congress is undoubtedly a mental marathon, and one of the secrets is to try (keyword: try) to keep it like any other show. But sometimes it helps to do things a little differently to help ease the stress.

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Missy Thyfault, of Shelby, Ohio, said, “A Congress tradition that my clients started is to dress their dogs in Halloween costumes and have an annual contest to pick a winner.  The dogs look somewhat humiliated, but it is good for a little stress relief.”

megFor Amateur Meg DePalma-Whelan (pictured left), of Evans, Georgia, her stress relief tradition focuses on easing some stress in the show pen.

“I like to keep my routine like any other show,” she told us. “But one tradition I have is I always analyze my splits.  I like to know who is going to be in the pen with me.  Everyone has their styles of riding and showing, and knowing who I will be showing with helps me to plan my path. It’s always the first thing I go looking for when I get there.”

While most traditions are focused on creating a positive experience, one tradition that is synonymous with the Congress that is not so positive is the “Congress crud.”

However, AQHA Professional Horseman Jason English of Madison, Georgia, has created a tradition of his own to ward off this unwelcome illness in an attempt to turn the negative into a positive.

“Every year, we start building up on Vitamin C and immune-boosting supplements about two weeks before the show,” he said. “We continue it through the show and back home.  We’ve done this about ten years now and have only gotten sick once or twice.”

Hey, now, even for the tradition-phobic, this may be a tradition worth adopting!


Mallory Congress 20169While traditions are things that we consciously do for one reason or another (even if the only reason is comfort in consistency), superstitions are things we do or believe to try and control the outcome of a situation. defines superstition as: “a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence, proceeding, or the like.”

While we were secretly hoping to find someone who believed in a Congress ghost of some sort (no luck), it did become quite clear that there is no shortage of superstitions at the Congress.

(Disclaimer: Most of the people we interviewed claim to be “non-superstitious.”)

missy“I am not a superstitious person,” said Thyfault (pictured right). “But I like to only show in my saddle at the Congress.  I also carry a glass chocolate chip in my purse everywhere I go that Ann Myers gave me the year I won the Congress. That’s as superstitious as I get.”

For some trainers, sitting in the same seat at the Congress is the basis for their superstition.

Lynne Puthoff, of Puthoff Performance Horses in West Milton, Ohio, said, “There is one certain place in the Celeste where we like to sit.”

Evans also prefers a specific seating arrangement, although hers gets a little more specific. “Even though I’m not superstitious, I like to pick a seat with the seat back number being three, seven, or eleven, and I continue to sit in that same seat if we are doing well,” she said. “If we aren’t, I’ll move.”

The power of nupaigembers has long been documented as a basis for superstition, and amateur Cathrin Gutmann of Austria also “believes” in the power of eleven. “I try not to get too superstitious about things,” she said. “But I do always look at my number to see if they add up to eleven or have eleven in it, as eleven is my lucky number.”

Paige Wacker, a youth exhibitor from Hutchinson, Minnesota, also has an equipment superstition. “I am very superstitious,” she said. “My old horse Willie (Javah Mon) had to be retired after the Congress last year, and he and my current horse Frog (Ima Moxie Man) wear the same tail extension. I haven’t washed it since then to keep that same luck and always have a little piece of Willie with me.”

The idea of having both lucky and unlucky colors is also popular when it comes to superstitions. Charlie Cole, of Highpoint Performance Horses, for example, refuses to show in red. “I don’t even really ever wear red,” he chuckled. “I like blue.”JasonMartin_ElisASleepin_tongue

Speaking of blue, Cottingim shared that he, um, likes blue too, only he wears it a little more discreetly. “I’d like to say that I am very superstitious across the board,” Cottingim laughed, “But I will say that I do have some very specific, lucky… let’s just say undergarments. They all have some blue element to them, and I will always wear a pair on show days at the Congress.”

Jason Martin, also of Highpoint Performance Horses (who says he is not superstitious, but that is up for debate), also has a show day superstition, although it doesn’t involve underwear or blue…

“I always have a bologna sandwich from the German place, Schmidt’s, by the Celeste before an important class,” he said.  “I also have a pair of socks that I have won the Congress while wearing them three times now.”

Funny story…Charlie Cole shared with us how disappointed he was before the Senior Western Riding this year when Martin ventured off for his bologna sandwich. “I thought, well, that sucks. He’s going to beat me now.”

Sure enough, Martin took home the Congress bronze by one point on Elis A Sleepin. (pictured right)

Dasi_Congress-Champion_©CourtseyTrainer, Jadasa “Dasi” Jablonowski of Germany, also has a superstition about a particular pair of socks she wears for important classes.

“They have holes in them, but I still wear them,” she chuckled.

Dasi (pictured left) shared the socks have been on her feet when she won the European Championships, the German Championships, and the Congress this year (her first Congress championship).

And then there are the old, tried and true superstitions that some, like AQHA Professional Horsewoman, Kellie Hinely of Chino Hills, California sticks by, “Never put your hat on the bed!” she said.

(I think we all adhere to that one, no matter what!)

What Congress or World Show traditions or superstitions do you have?  Let us know!

Photos © Impulse Photography, Dasi, GoHorseShow, Chelsea Turner