ICYMI – We Ask the Industry: What is Your Favorite Congress Win?
Originally Published October 2018
The All American Quarter Horse Congress is in full swing, and we thought it was a good time to ask some top Congress competitors about their favorite win at the show.
With the Congress being the largest single-breed show in the world, a win at this show will stand out for a lifetime and be a story that can be shared for years to come.
For some exhibitors, it was their first-ever win in Columbus. For others, it was a unanimous win under all four judges. Some competitors said they were excited because they won a bronze trophy in their favorite class, and one competitor mentioned it was her favorite win because it was riding a homebred and raised horse.
Read these priceless stories below. Do you have a memorable Congress win? Please share it with us.
Kamiah McGrath – My most memorable win in a class at the Congress hasn’t necessarily been a class but rather a year. In 2012, which was my last year in the 11 and under, I won the Horsemanship, Western Pleasure, Trail, and was also Reserve in the Showmanship. At the time, it was hard to realize what just happened because, after the Horsemanship win, I didn’t even have time for it to sink in because I had to get ready for the Western Pleasure. The only thing I was thinking about was practicing for my next class. After all this excitement from my friends and family, I thought, wow, this day couldn’t get any better, but then the incredible happened. I was named the 11 and under All-Around Champion as well as the Youth 18 and under All-Around Champion. This was a year that I will never forget, and I’m forever thankful for the horse that made all of this happen. Jake will forever be my once-in-a-lifetime horse, and I could not thank him enough for everything he has given me. The reason for this successful year at the Congress was because of him.
Whitney Vicars – I feel it’s such an honor, privilege, and blessing to succeed at such a prestigious show that it’s so special anytime it happens. But, I guess I would have to say the most memorable would be my very first Congress Champion back in 2007 aboard Im Shy But Deluxe (aka Travis) in the 15-18 Horsemanship. I will never forget that moment in the Coliseum hearing our names announced as Congress Champions. I had been attending and showing at Congress since I was 7 or 8 years old. I had placed in the top ten several times, but never had I ever won it until that horsemanship class my final year of youth. It was exceptional because it was a moment my parents and I had dreamt of my entire youth career.
Johnna Letchworth-Clark – October 22, 2013 – This was the first time I had won a horsemanship class at the Congress after many years of trying. I had either been first or second in every other class except horsemanship. Two things that made it so special was that I had won it with Izzy A Jack Bar. I had owned Isaiah for about seven years at this point, and all the time and effort had finally paid off. Also, this win was during my time at the University of South Carolina riding for the equestrian team. I had fallen in love with the horsemanship during my time at school. I was so lucky to have my coaches allow me to miss classes and practices, and then winning a trophy made it all worth it. Sharing this win with my family and friends made it truly special. Go Gamecocks.
Meghan Tierney – My most memorable Congress win would have to be winning the Three-Year-Old Non-Pro Hunter Under Saddle with my mare in 2016. I won the Limited Division two days prior and felt a tremendous amount of pressure, but I knew I had that win under my belt to boost my confidence as well. What made this an unforgettable win was the fact that I won it unanimously. Winning the Congress in any form is incredible, but winning it under all four judges is even greater.
Natalia DeVencenty – Winning the 15-18 Horsemanship at the Congress last year is my most memorable Congress win for many reasons. The first being that it was my first big win in my favorite class. The second being the fact that I wasn’t even there for the awards ceremony. I jumped off Chex after the rail work and ran to the other arena to show my other horse in the Three-Year-Old Non-Pro Western Pleasure. We were lined up in the pleasure pen when they started to call the horsemanship placings. I remember my trainer, Kelly McDowall pointing to the microphone and telling me to listen. I listened as they announced that I had won the horsemanship. Once I finally got out of the pleasure pen, I ran back over to the horsemanship arena to find Chex surrounded by his fans, giving him tons of love and treats. Lastly, I didn’t know that one of my closest friends, Klay McDowall, had been named reserve in that same horsemanship class. It had been our goal for years, to be first and second in the horsemanship at either the world show or the Congress, and for it to happen at our last Congress as youth together was very special. Because I missed the awards, I made Klay get back on and do a co-victory lap with me in the warm-up arena. So, between winning my favorite class, missing the awards completely, and being at the top of the class with Klay, it’s needless to say, it will probably be one of my most memorable wins.
Brian Isbell – The most memorable Congress win for me was in 2002 when I won the Two-Year-Old Hunter Under Saddle with Allocate Your Assets. This win meant so much to me because Kevin and I bought Al as a yearling, and even though we had sold him to Katherine Tobin earlier that year, he was my once-in-a-lifetime horse. A close second was in 1996 when Kevin won the Novice Amateur Pleasure on Investors Style. While I didn’t personally show to this win, it was extra special for me because Kevin just started riding in March that year, then he went on to win the Congress on a three-year-old in October. While I cherish every single Congress trophy I’ve ever won, there’s something extraordinary about seeing the one you love to win the Congress.
Ellexxah Maxwell – My most memorable Congress win was in 2014 when I won the 12-14 Showmanship. It was almost 20 years apart from when my mom earned her showmanship title at the Congress. Sharing that accomplishment with her was cool.
Joetta Bell – Probably when I showed Harley in the versatility. I think it was the most fun I’ve had showing at the Congress ever. We had a runoff for the win in the poles. Harley thought he was going so fast, and for him, he was. He was so special to show, and he loved all the attention during the class. The quick changing and quick practice time. He was seriously the perfect versatility horse because he could do each class so well, except for the pole bending. Jason (Martin) and I practiced the poles a lot before the Congress, and he eventually got pretty good. It was an honor to ride Harley D Zip.
Kathy Tobin (pictured left) – My biggest win was showing a home-raised and bred Allocate Your Assets 3-Year-Old, Blameitinthe Alcohol. I got him from Jim Searles, having watched him from being a few hours old and grow up at the barn. Then, we won the Three-Year-Old Non-Pro Hunter Under Saddle Futurity at Congress. Nothing beats that feeling of being involved from start to a big win. Priceless.
Sarah Elder Chabot – I have two, and they both focus on the same great couple. At the Congress in 2013, Karen (Mundy) had other clients showing in the Celeste while my hunter hack class was in the Coliseum. She told me that Don would help in the hunter hack coach and that he had been her “eye” for a long time. So, Don went down with me early to the arena as I was anxious and nervous. He did all of my warmups with me, and then Karen showed up as I was going into the arena. I won the class that year. In 2015, we returned the Congress, but unfortunately, without Don. He had passed away in December of 2014. By the stroke of luck and I think a guiding spirit of Don, Calvin, and I rode to win the same class again. Karen and I left in tears as we knew Don would always be my “hunter hack coach.”
Bailey Anderson – My most memorable Congress win has to be winning the Youth 15-18 Showmanship in 2013 with Teddy (Zippos Kat Man Do). I had just won the Novice Youth Trail, which was my first Congress Championship. The trail was a new event for me, whereas the showmanship I had been doing since day one and had always been close to winning but not quite there yet. I think part of why this win was so emotional was because Teddy was a new partner for me. I got Teddy in June after we unexpectedly had to put my all-around horse down. It was an emotional roller coaster.
On top of that, I had a new partner to try and learn as quick as possible to get ready for that year’s Youth World and Congress. I remember having a flood of emotion as they called our name as that year’s 15-18 Showmanship Congress Champions and then walking out of the show pen to see my trainer, Terry Cross, crying. He then wrapped me up in a big bear hug. We had both worked hard to make the best of some not so fun circumstances, and it was paying off.
Emma Edwards – My most memorable Congress was last year, 2017. With a hectic college schedule and just the logistics of flying to Columbus, we finally managed to squeeze in 24 hours. I was so thankful that during that small window of time, I was able to show my favorite class, Western Riding, with my horse, This Is Why Im Here. Walking into the pen, I remember thinking that this was my very last youth class ever, yet, it was only my second Congress, and my goal was top 10. I remember my trainer, Nancy Renfro, just telling me to go out there and have fun, and I did. I walked out of the arena, knowing I had a good ride and reflecting on how much fun I did have and what a good boy Jack had been. When they posted the scores, I was ecstatic, not believing that we had won the class, but receiving the trophy, and the ribbon placed around Jack’s neck made me realize we had done it. It was honestly one of my best days ever, and I couldn’t have done it without my four-legged partner Jack and the best horse trainer.
Carey Nowacek – My most memorable Congress win was in 2010. I won the Horsemanship and won the All-Around also. Every Congress before that one, I always had a huge support group with me; my mom, my barn family, friends. But that year it was just Brad and I and a few other barn members. My mom had never missed a Congress, and in 2010, she was not able to come. Between school and team stuff, I think I was only there three nights. It was such a whirlwind but a whirlwind I will never forget. Brad and I had worked so hard that entire year, and winning the All-Around at the Congress was a goal he and I both had for so long. It was a Congress I will never forget. I’m excited to be showing at the Congress this year for the first time since 2010.
Shelby Ratliff – One of my most memorable wins was in 2014 when I bought Willy. Two days before the Amateur Hunter Under Saddle, Jason calls me to tell me that my dad decided to surprise me with a new horse, and I should fly in to show. I got a flight the day before, rode Willy for the first time that night, and went in and won the next day. It was only my second time riding Willy, and I only had the goal of placing so, winning was pretty special. It just shows how special of a horse he is…probably why he’s the #favorite.
Kaleena Katz Weakly – Well, I have several that stand out and mean the world to me, but I’ll go with my very first win in 2002 when I won the Senior Western Riding with Sonnys Count Te Zip. It was my first year as an amateur, and I’ll never forget it. The class started in the early evening, and my draw was early. That year, the Senior Western Riding was huge so, the class ran until nearly midnight. My back number was 1220 that year, and I was so excited to make the top 10 callbacks. As they called out the placings, the anticipation was killing me because I was still sitting there. That was also the first year Josh and I were dating, and he was sitting there with me and told me to look at the clock as they were calling out the final two placings…the clock read 12:20 am. I’ll never forget that one.
Farley McLendon – It was in the Three-Year-Old Limited with Sleep Alilbit Longer. We had three firsts and a second. We were also Reserve in the Open Three-Year-Old that year, too. Winning was something I’d only ever dreamed of.
Andrea Kail – My most memorable Congress wins were in 1998 when LT and I won every class we went in: 12-14 Showmanship, Western Pleasure, Horsemanship, Trail and Western Riding, 12-14 All-Around and the 18 & Under All-Around. Jason Martin also won the Sr Trail on him. That was amazing because we had missed the year before because he had hyperextended his hock at the Youth World in ’97. We weren’t sure if he was even going to come back from that injury so to go back and win like that made it very special.
Livvie Van Lanen – My very first time showing the western riding was at the Congress. It was my first Congress with Highpoint, and I had just started western riding with Stevie a month prior. I ended up reserve in the western riding and won the horsemanship. It was a great Congress.
Ashley Hadlock – Last year, I finally achieved a long-time goal of mine…winning the Congress. I was fortunate to be named the winner in my favorite class, showmanship at halter. I feel the Amateur Showmanship is one of the toughest classes. As I looked around and saw my fellow exhibitors in the finals, I felt as though any had the potential to win. I had been third several years prior with an old horse but had never been higher than that. When I bought my current horse, Touched N Moonlite (Regis), he had never done the class. Ryan Cottingim gets so much credit helping me make Regis into the showmanship horse he is today. It means a lot that we were able to make a Congress Champion. When I finally realized I was indeed the winner, I was ecstatic with happy tears. It is something I will never take for granted or forget.
What is your favorite win at the Congress? Let us know.