The All-Arounder’s Guide to the Quarter Horse Congress

While some associate the month of October with pumpkin spice lattes, leaves changing colors, and trick-or-treating, in the Quarter Horse world the thing we associate the month of October with is competing at the largest single-breed horse show in the world. 

Chances are even if you haven’t competed at—or attended—the All American Quarter Horse Congress, you’ve heard of it. It’s a month-long show that has some of the largest classes in the world. It’s typical to see 150 people in the working order for ONE CLASS. Riders spend the whole year preparing for that chance to be the last one standing in the arena. 

I’ve spent many Octobers in Columbus, Ohio, attending the Congress. The first time I stepped foot on the fairgrounds was in 2003—and I’ve been going back ever since. Sometimes I’ve had a horse to show, other times I was the support system for my barn, making sure horses and riders were ready for competition. Regardless on if I was in the show pen or behind the scenes, I always came home with memories that’ll be with me for the rest of my life. (Like the time I won the Congress—read about that here.)

Here are some of my favorite things about the Quarter Horse Congress.

1. Seeing riders accomplish their goals. 

I think it’s safe to say everybody competing at the Congress dreams of hearing their named announced as the winner, but some of the most meaningful accomplishments happen outside of the arena. In my years of competing, my goals have consisted of everything, from getting my green horse through a pattern successfully to trying to place in the class that was most challenging for my horse and I. (Which took five years to accomplish.)

2. The lecture and demonstration series.

Showing is only one part of the Congress. It’s also a great way to learn more about different events and watch demonstrations from some of the top trainers in the world, or sit in on lectures with veterinarians about important health-care information. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone.

3. The donut cart.

When you’re three weeks into the show—and on day 15 of waking up at 3 a.m. to get your horse rode in the show arena before the first class of the day, seeing the donut and coffee golf cart drive your way can make your morning (or afternoon, depending on how long you’ve been up).

4. When the weather behaves.

Yup, this might sound like a silly one, but when you’re limited to where you can ride or longe for a month straight, you appreciate sunny days and dry outdoor arenas. Dry outdoor arenas also means you’re not stuck waiting in a two-hour line to longe in the Cooper Arena. (Trust me… I’ve been there.) It also means you’re not having to get creative about how you’re going to get from your barn to the show arena without getting your show clothes wet and muddy. (Also been there.) 

5. The shopping. 

Congress Hall is a magical place! Whether you’re in the market for a new horse trailer, shopping for new tack, or looking for the newest Western apparel, there’s tons of options to choose from. 

6. The show outfits. 

While my personal go-to these days is a black button-down shirt (or a shirt from CR RanchWear) with a scarf, I love seeing all the creativity that goes into each show outfit. In the showmanship and horsemanship you see lots of clean, symmetrical lines, while the Western riding and trail is all about the fringe.

7. The stall fronts.

When you’re at a show for a month, you need to make your stalls feel a little bit like home. Head over to the Gilligan Barn to see some of the most extravagant barn displays. From working waterfalls to kitchens and fireplaces, these stalls look like an episode of MTV Cribs.

8. The Sweet Shop.

You can’t go to the Congress and not visit the Sweet Shop for one of their world famous cinnamon rolls! They’re the go-to place when it comes to food. Whether it’s an early morning or a late night, The Sweet Shop has you covered. 

9. The freestyle reining.

If you haven’t seen a freestyle reining before, the Congress is a great place to watch it for the first time. But be sure to get your tickets early! This event is known for selling out. 

10. The horses.

We saved the best for last! The horses are—of course—the best part of the Congress. Some of my favorite times at the Congress didn’t involve showing my own horse, but watching all of the other talented horses (and riders!) compete. 

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