The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: What Exactly Makes the Congress so Special?
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
Admit it; you didn’t just read it, you sang it. For most, the line may bring up happy thoughts of Christmas lights, Santa, snow, and presents, but to many equestrians, the familiar tune ushers in ideas of the Celeste arena, Congress Hall, trophies, and of course – American Quarter Horses galore.
The All American Quarter Horse Congress is a must-hit show for many competitors and spectators in the industry. All year long, riders compete with the goal of showing, being called back, placing, or even winning at one of the most prestigious shows in the world. Thousands of people walk through the doors of Congress Hall as if they are a child on Christmas morning, eager to open their presents.
There is no doubt that the show offers a unique experience that holds a special place in so many exhibitors’ hearts. In the days leading up to this month-long period of non-stop horse show festivity, we asked the industry: What makes the Congress so special?
Ellexxah Maxwell – I think that the Congress is a unique show because it brings together so many disciplines, such as cutting, roping, reining, the hunter events, all-around, and speed events. Even the mounted shooting as well. The show also brings together people who don’t show for one of the best trade shows our industry has to offer. I honestly think it is unique because there is something for everyone. For many horse families, it is a tradition; my family has been going for thirty-five years. This will be my nineteenth, and it is still just as special as the first.
Lynne Puthoff – Congress. To so many horse people, it means something different than to non-horse people. We’re not talking about the government here! It means October, ever-changing Ohio weather, seeing friends from all over the country (and sometimes outside the country). It means hard work, long hours, sleeping whenever and wherever you can, prepping long before the actual show, and maybe some shopping. There will be significant ups and downs. It’s a little bit of a circus with all kinds of food and a horse show! It will push you, test you, drive you, and sometimes it will even try to break you. It is not for the faint of heart to be a trainer, an assistant, an exhibitor, or for that matter, the horse. But most of us couldn’t have October without the Congress. You will learn and grow and strive for more with a good ride, a callback, a top fifteen, or maybe even a win. It is the All American Quarter Horse Congress.
Bailey Anderson – To me, there is no other show like the Congress. It’s the one show, out of all the others, that I look forward to the most each year. To start, no other show can compete with its size. Not only are the entries at the Congress huge, but the size of the facility and how to spread out everything is make the show feel more pristine than others. Some may compare the Congress to the world shows, but to me, they are still so different. The class sizes are larger, and all age divisions are represented. It is also a massive social event. The show, shopping, and Puppy Alley bring in so many people from the general public. My mom and I always make sure never to leave the grounds on Saturday for lunch because it’s so hard to find parking when you come back due to all of the visitors. Plus, why would you ever leave for food when you have so many great options for food on the grounds itself? Lastly, one of my favorite parts of going to the Congress is being able to see my trainer, Terry Cross, with his family. He is from Ohio originally, and his brother, sister, and mom are always around the stalls. I feel like they’ve become a huge part of my Congress experience too. Not to mention, Congress has been very good to me. I’ve shown there almost every year since my last year of 11 & U classes. I have come home with many trophies, thanks to my great family, horses, and trainers.
Jim Becker – It’s the history of it, and how it has managed to stay so big for over fifty years. I have been to every one of them. I saw Two Eyed Jack there, and Impressive as a yearling. I got to meet Howard Pitzer and Clyde Kennedy. I guess I was lucky that my dad was friends with a lot of famous horsemen and that the Congress brought them all together.
Brent Maxwell – The Congress has what I call an ‘it’ factor. No one can seem to identify what ‘it’ is, but it continues to draw people from all over the world. It’s like a large family reunion, and the Super Bowl of horse shows all coming together. Many dream of getting to show at the Congress, let alone getting to win the coveted Congress trophy – the most coveted prize in the horse industry, in my opinion, because anyone can compete against the best horses in the industry without having to qualify. The massive trade show and special events only add to the energy of the Congress. From the early days when I was in 4-H, I always dreamt of showing Quarter Horses and going to the Congress. I got to see all of the famous horses from The American Quarter Horse Association Journal, and the trainers who showed them. I was in awe of the trucks, trailers, saddles, show clothing, and equipment. Even now that I’ve been blessed to compete and win the coveted bronze trophy, I’m still in awe of the talent of the horses and the trainers who ride them. The trucks, trailers, saddles, and show clothing always amaze me in an ever-changing industry. Along the way, I’ve met so many wonderful people. Some I see year-round, and some I see only at the Congress. Nonetheless, I always look forward to seeing them at the Congress. I get excited for Congress every year. I think many share the excitement and anticipation, and that’s what makes Congress so unique.
Chad Piper– For me, the Congress is an excellent opportunity for riders to showcase all that they’ve worked hard for all year long. For many, the Congress closes out the show season, and achieving personal best rides is what this horse show is all about. The Quarter Horse Congress truly has something for everyone: great shopping, food, clinics, and demonstrations, special events, and getting to watch some of the best horses in the country. It is an all-inclusive experience. This show is all put together and expertly run by the incredible Ohio Quarter Horse Association. It is their countless hours of hard work and dedication that make it all possible.
Tara Buckley – I think what makes the Congress so special is the fact that it is an amazing tradition. No other show is quite like it. On a personal note, part of what makes the Congress so unique is that my grandparents, as well as my parents, have been showing there since the sixties! Now it is extra special for me to watch my daughter show there. There is nothing quite like the Congress.
Jennifer Leckey – I think it’s a special show because it’s so prestigious to win, but there is an opportunity for someone that even just does it by themselves at home to come in and compete. I think that a lot of people don’t feel that way about a lot of other big horse shows, like the ones we qualify for. I think the size of it makes people feel like it’s okay to come and play because they’re one in a bunch, not one in twenty. It’s also a great horse show because people don’t have to go and horse show to go to it. There are so many other things that draw people, so many things to see and shop for. You can come and visit family and friends there, and I think that’s cool about it too. I’ve gotten to judge it, which is an opportunity I am so blessed to have had and see it on a different level. I’ve been able to see it from behind the scenes, behind the curtains, and it amazes me. I’ve gotten to know a lot of the people who run it and have come to respect how they put on such a big horse show and keep it running smoothly. It’s a year-round process to make it happen; The Ohio Quarter Horse Association is way ahead of the game.
Anglea Fox – The Congress is special for many reasons. It has so much history, it is so prestigious, and the competition is fierce. It’s one of the shows we work towards being successful at all year long. I love the late-night riding, horses walking around with coolers, tired trainers that rally just when they need to, and the big celebrations that come with a huge win. It’s one of my favorite shows of the year.
Clark Bradley – I think, for starters, it is that when it first started fifty-two years ago, it was so unusual in that it was not only a horse show but a demonstration with Stallion Avenue and the sale. The first one was so special, it had many entries, a lot of classes, really, really big crowds, and it has just spread from there. The show has gotten bigger and bigger over the years, but even when it first started, everyone felt like ‘Oh, this is a show that we need to go to.’ It’s different than every other show, with the commercial exhibits, all of the new and different classes that they continue to add, many of which have a lot of money. It’s a prestigious thing to do, going to The Congress. I’ve had people over the years who didn’t show all year long, but they wanted to show at The Congress. Even if they didn’t have a big shot of winning something, they just wanted to show there. It’s the place to be.
Fifty-two years strong, the Quarter Horse Congress never fails to draw a large crowd for the duration of the show. Experienced veterans and newcomers alike can undoubtedly expect a unique, fun, and often inexplicably exceptional experience from this show each year. So, while many non-horse people will wait around for December, those of us lucky enough to attend the Congress will enjoy our own ‘most wonderful time of the year’ in Columbus each October. It’s the holiday season of the Quarter Horse world, so merry Congress to all, and to all a good show.