Horse Show Illinois

It’s no secret that the Midwest Charity Horse Show (MCHS) is a big deal in the equestrian world.

The five-day event, which is one of the oldest continuously-held horse shows in Illinois, features more than 700 horses. The show draws exhibitors from at least 26 states and three countries.

It is also the largest annual event to take place at the Illinois State Fairgrounds Coliseum in Springfield. Additionally, the MCHS has been recognized as the National Honor Show by the United Professional Horsemen’s Association six times.

“There are so many world champions who show at our event,” says Judy Kjellander, president and show manager of the MCHS. “It’s a very top-tier show.”

The event is known for its philanthropic efforts as all proceeds are donated to a local charity. For three decades, the show has supported Camp COCO (Children’s Oncology Camp Organization), a camp sponsored by the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine for children with cancer and rare blood disorders, cancer survivors, and their siblings.

“The Midwest Charity Horse Show Association gifts now total more than $200,000 to ensure that until there is a cure, there will be camp,” says Sue Tin, special event coordinator for the Southern Illinois University Foundation.

A Trot Back Through Time

Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2016, the MCHS began in 1941, and by the 1950s, it had already achieved major success in both the equine industry and local community.

“In the 1950s, the show was a premier social event in Springfield,” Kjellander says. “There was a queen contest, parade and festivities at the mansion with the governor. The governor had his own box at the fairgrounds, and so did other state officials. It was the place to be.”

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The MCHS donated its proceeds to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield until 1987, when it began donating to Camp COCO. In the mid-1990s, the show was recognized as an official nonprofit organization by the Internal Revenue Service.

“The show has always acted like a charity, and it has always been very generous,” Kjellander says. “The documentation of how charitable the show has been for 50 years was so persuasive that the IRS gave us a retroactive nonprofit designation – all the way back to the show’s beginning date.”

Historically, the show’s charitable involvement has attracted top exhibitors like Elisabeth Goth, who primarily shows in the five- gaited, three-gaited and fine-harness divisions.

Goth has taken home several awards in the more than 10 years she has competed in the MCHS, and in 2015, she won both the ladies five-gaited class and the open five- gaited championship.

“I take philanthropy very seriously, so any time I’m able to be a part of doing something good in the world, it makes me that much happier,” she says. “The relationship between Camp COCO and the MCHS is important to the horse community.”

More Growth on the Horizon

Kjellander has big plans for the show’s 75th anniversary in June 2016, and says she’s working with a local social service agency as well as corporate sponsors, including restaurant chain Steak ‘n Shake, to plan a community day the show.

“The show may extend an additional day in 2016,” she says. “We want it to be a community-supported event – something that draws even more people out to the fairgrounds to enjoy the gorgeous weather, beautiful horses and vendors.”

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Ultimately, Kjellander expects the show will continue to grow and draw top talent as well as thousands of spectators.

“Midwest is special because it’s a very sophisticated show,” Kjellander says. “It attracts a lot of people who are interested not only in horses, but also in animal welfare and those who are less privileged.”


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