We Ask The Industry – What are Your Congress Do’s and Don’ts?
The Congress is well underway, and everyone who has shown or attended the show knows there is always a certain buzz and excitement in the air. Of course, most people will agree it is the toughest place to get your horse ready to win a big prize. But, it’s also a time to see friends, eat at the Sweet Shop, and watch some extremely high-end competition.
There are also some standard must do’s at the show, including eating the food, shopping, going to McDonald’s on the golf cart, viewing the stall decorations, and midnight rides, to name a few. Don’ts may include not hogging the longe line areas, losing your golf cart, or leaving your tack room unlocked.
For some, it is their favorite show of the year; for others, it is a time for no sleep, varying weather, and waiting in long lines to longe their horses and fight the crowds. We asked some exhibitors and trainers about their must do’s and don’ts at the Congress. Let’s find out what everyone had to say.
Carrie Warren – The Congress is one of the premier shows around the world. Competing and winning at this show is an honor, exciting, and we all love it. But, it does come with a wild ride. Do’s: 1. Get your sleep and take your vitamins and extra Vitamin C – the weather changes every day, and someone on the team always gets sick, so be ready. Plus, you’re off-schedule a bit with late-night rides and practices. Take care of yourself. 2. Learn from everyone around you. Watch good riders and horses and always be open to learning. 3. Eat the fair food on the strip at least once. Help those guys out and enjoy a little fattening food. 4. Be grateful to have a great horse and trainers and enjoy the experience. Cheer on your team and everyone else. Don’ts: 1. Go to Puppy Alley without thinking you will get something. Prepare and/or learn to walk away. 2. Longe where you are not supposed to. It is hard for the riders to practice patterns. 3. Be a bad sport. Do your best and respect the outcome. 4. Don’t go to the Green Wall too many times. Do: Have fun!
Ashley Hadlock – For me, Congress is enjoying the experience. Of course, we all go to hope to come home with one of those bronze trophies sitting on display in front of the Gilligan barn. While working towards that goal, treat yourself to shopping, enjoy the midnight Celeste rides and sleepless nights, and indulge in a Sweet Shop cinnamon roll while watching your favorite class of talented horses and fellow competitors. Do be proud of yourself and your horse, even if you didn’t make the split – celebrate the personal goals achieved. Do pack all seasons of clothes as you will experience every season. Do buy that Schneiders Congress jacket – be proud to have been at the Congress. Do get that backdrop photo with all of your support system. Most importantly – Don’t take any of it for granted. If you didn’t come home with that bronze trophy, don’t beat yourself up. Go home and learn from the experience to make next year even better. Congress will always be there.
Austin Gooding – My #1 Do: Stay in an RV on the grounds. So much nicer when having to ride in the middle of the night. And my #1 Don’t: Camp under the railroad tracks. Not the safest of places to be at night.
Meggen Morrow Baynes – Do: The Congress Bar Crawl on Sundays is a blast. Do it (if you are of age). It’s fun. Also, always get Beef Stew at the Sweet Shop at least once. Don’t: Steal people’s golf carts. That’s a terrible thing to do. Also, park your rig in the camping area with some respect for others. You aren’t the only one camping at the Congress or trying to navigate a big rig around.
Rachel Kolb – Don’t put so much pressure on this one show. Soak up the energy and excitement. But, don’t get in your head that it’s all or nothing – that you and your horse have to make your best performances of the year at this one show. That’s what it is – one show. We certainly work hard to get our best runs at the most significant shows, but it doesn’t always pan out that way. Keep the bigger picture in mind. For most of us, showing is a hobby. Don’t forget to enjoy your hobby. Do thank your parents, your spouse, your kids, your trainer, and whoever supports you to be here. It’s a significant effort for many more than just ourselves to get us to a show and be on our game. Many of us have learned from more than one teacher. Think about what you’ve learned from the people who have taught you.
Sarah Lebsock – Congress Do’s: Schmidt’s Cream Puff; nap often; hydrate and take lots of Vitamin C; take the time to watch an event you don’t do and know nothing about; Shopping, duh. Congress Don’ts: Don’t be that person on the longe line walking for two hours with your horse. Use the hot walkers. Don’t forget to be respectful in the warm-up pens, during night rides, and to the gate or office people. Don’t miss out on the demonstrations by the industry’s best. Don’t forget that this is just another horse show. Yes, it’s prominent and prestigious but do what you know how to do. Don’t forget to say thank you. Don’t forget to breathe and enjoy the ride.
Katie Grossnickle – My Congress Do’s are to get as much sleep as possible. Try to eat at a couple of nice restaurants around Columbus. Be sure to ask people from the area. There are so many options. Don’ts: I would try not to get caught up in the “omg, I’m at the Congress” hoopla. Yes, it’s Congress and a big deal, but prep your horse like you always do. Practice like you always do, don’t watch others, and try to change your ride. Have fun.
Brister Shum – Dos: Go off your diet and have a cinnamon roll at the Sweet Shop. Tell the gate people, announcers, and office staff, “Thanks.” They work so hard. Shop in Congress Hall. The vendors support our industry, so I support them…and American Express. Make reservations at Lindys in German Village. Watch the freestyle reining. Nap when you can. Late-night practices are a given. Don’ts: Drive your golf cart too fast and crash. I broke my nose one year speeding in Gilligan (I know, I know). Get too caught up in the pressure of showing. Enjoy the moment. Leave your truck unlocked…anywhere. My biggest “don’t”….Don’t Miss It. This is my 27th consecutive Congress, and I can’t wait! #StillTheOne
Leigh Berryhill – Do’s: Amp up your vitamins at least a month ahead. Vitamin C is a must. If staying in a hotel, get your reservations the year before. Pack for EVERY SEASON. I mean, EVERY season….Get new tennis shoes–lots of walking. Book your braiding and banding way in advance. When entering, triple-check it is correct. Don’t: Overdo your horse. Start preparing at home. It is easy to get into the – “I need to do more work on my horse, or I need to change everything about my horse or my riding”….it’s too late if you didn’t do your homework. Don’t count on that just because they give you an estimated time. Keep checking your arena. Don’t leave anything out that has value. Enjoy the experience, and I mean the Congress is an experience.
Anne Shafer – First of all, don’t get sick. Stock up on meds before you go, and take SMZ’s at least one week ahead of time. And try to sleep when you can. For the Do’s – have your people prepared on their patterns ahead of time. The arenas are always crowded, so they will never get to practice a pattern all by themselves. And if you have a client going for the first time, take them around to all of the warm-up arenas and show pens, so they are not overwhelmed when figuring out where to go. But most of all, have fun. It is the Congress.
Scott Reinartz – Don’t go to Puppy alley, lol… Do plan your day, so you get some rest. Enjoy the entire Congress and watch some classes. It is the best of the best. Walk through the barns and see the stall setups. Enjoy the experience and celebrate your wins regardless if you win or not. Don’t overthink your goes. It’s just another horse show.
Julian Harris – Pack clothes for all seasons. Eat when you can because you won’t have time when you are hungry. Give yourself enough time to rest because that can get away from you. Don’t forget to enjoy the Congress; it’s the world’s only show of its kind. Bring vitamins and stay hydrated. It’s easy to get sick. Stay strong, friends.
Dale LaPlace – Do understand that respecting your trainer’s schedule and call time for practice is more important than anything else in your life, the world, and the universe (I think you get the point) at that moment. DO NOT BE LATE. Please don’t make the ring steward call your name more than once when they need you in the holding pen. Instead, please pay attention to what they’re announcing. You know your name and number and have ears. If you think you may be unable to hear them, ask a friend, barn mate, family member, or anyone willing to help (in advance) to stand within earshot and flag you down the second you’re called. Do plan the precise time you need to be at the warmup pen. Only you and your trainer know your specific process before showtime and how long it takes. If you need a minute to prep ringside, give yourself time. You’ll be grateful in the long run. Don’t begin prepping in the warmup ring excessively early for your class. You will get bored, hungry, hot, or cold depending on the weather and frazzled (trust). Navigating this traffic is worse than taking an Uber in midtown Manhattan during peak rush hour. And more importantly, unless you are the first class of the day, it’s disrespectful to take up space in the ring from those whose draw is only a few out. Be prepared daily to dress for temperatures ranging from 90 to 40 degrees.
Travis Born – Do’s – Take care of yourself. It’s a long show so sleep when you can and eat the best you can. This job is hard enough. We don’t need to make it harder by not caring for ourselves. Do’s – Be kind. We’re all tired, and we’re all stressed, so be courteous to others. It’ll keep it more fun for everyone. Don’t – Don’t over prep. Again it’s a long show. It’s all about peaking at the right time.
Adrienne Dickerson – Dos – Over pack…you can’t ever have enough assortment of clothing from tanks to heavy sweaters. Crockpot – plan out crock pot meals – tissues and Cold Meds – Always good to keep on hand. Don’t: Stress – it’s just a horse show.
Emily Ambrose – Do’s: Take every chance you can to hang out with your long-distance friends, even if it’s only for a passing moment. There are some people I only get to see once a year at the Congress, and we don’t always have time to go to dinner or even sit down. So we join each other by standing in the longe line area, running errands, cleaning stalls, braiding or banding, and setting up displays which give us time together. Don’t: This is as cliche as it comes, but don’t take a moment in the pen for granted. Showmanship in the Celeste is my favorite, but I’ll be sitting in the crowd this year instead of being set up at the starting cone. Take a deep breath, and when you smile toward the judges, do so with gratitude.
Kassidy Lammers – I would say my most significant “Do’s” for Congress are to enjoy the food on the midway (especially the mini donuts and the wood-fired pizza!) and watch all the classes that you can. It’s so much fun to experience it as a spectator and exhibitor, and it’s always fun to support friends while they show. As far as “Don’ts” go, I’d have to say don’t be attached to your sleep schedule and don’t take the experience for granted. Congress is so special, and you will want to be sure you remember every moment. Whether it’s your first Congress, your 20th, or your last, the feeling of just being there never gets old, there’s nothing else like it. My favorite memories from my youth career are Congress midnight rides with my friends. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
Emma Garcia – Don’t forget hand warmers, space heaters, and every possible clothing option because we all know Congress weather is unpredictable. Do bring cough drops/cold and flu medicine. You’ll need it when you inevitably get the Congress crud. Do get cheesecake on a stick. Don’t stress. Treat it as just another horse show. Do have fun. I haven’t been able to show the Congress since 2018 because of college and grad school. I used to dread the Congress because the weather was miserable, you run on no sleep, and my horses always freshened up once we got into the outdoor warmup pens, but with such a long hiatus from the Congress, I miss it. The atmosphere, the excitement, and the overall experience. Don’t take it for granted.
What are your Do’s and Don’ts when you go to the Congress? Did our industry experts miss any? Let us know in the comments.