In its 49th year, the growth and development of the All American Quarter Horse Congress is nothing short of astounding. Billed as the largest single-breed horse show in the world, the Congress began in 1967 as a three-day horse show at the Ohio State Fairgrounds, and has since transformed into a 25-day show and exposition at what is now the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus. The event attracts some 21,000 entries from across the U.S. and the world, awarding more than $3 million in cash and prizes, including trucks, trailers, trophy saddles, sterling silver buckles and Don Bell bronze trophies.
Growing By Leaps and Bounds
The Congress, which is the brainchild of the Ohio Quarter Horse Association, has grown so significantly that in 2015, a new 1,000-stall barn was built to help stable the more than 6,500 horses featured during the show. Highlights of the show include cutting, reining and roping contests, PBR bull riding, futurities, and a trade show, which features more than 200 vendors selling everything from riding gear and Western wear to tractors and horse trailers.
The Congress is known for its ‘staples,’ and futurities have been added over the years in events such as Barrels and Poles, Cutting, Reining, Hunter Under Saddle, Western Pleasure, and Halter. The Congress also hosts a Puppy Alley, a Super Sale of more than 200 registered Quarter Horses, the North American Model Horse Show and four ticketed events including professional bull riding, freestyle reining, and the two-year-old Master’s presented by the Equine Chronicle.
“We’ve tried to grow where there’s interest in events, like the trails and Western riding, and we’ve tried to grow events by what the industry is participating in,” says Chris Cecil Darnell, first vice president of the Ohio Quarter Horse Association Board of Directors. Darnell’s family has been involved with the Congress for some 40 years and first showed at the Congress in the 1970s.
The Congress attracts more than 650,000 attendees each year – many of whom represent the industry’s youth organizations. Darnell says the Congress is very much youth oriented, and hosts the largest intercollegiate and junior horse judging contest with more than 60 teams of college students, 4-H, FFA and Quarter Horse Youth members.
“We added novice division classes. The Congress was the first show to split the novice category into two age groups – 13 and under and 14 to 18 – because we had such growth in those classes,” Darnell says. “It’s been the philosophy of all the forefathers of the Ohio Quarter Horse Association to cater to the youth because we want them to be lifelong supporters of the industry … It’s good for longevity.”
Boosting the Bottom Line
Experience Columbus, the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, works with the Ohio Quarter Horse Association to promote the Congress not only to outside visitors, but to central Ohio residents as well.
“We work very closely with their team and our local media partners to let them know about all of the activities going on at the Quarter Horse Congress,” says Megumi Robinson, associate director, public relations for Experience Columbus. “It’s a lot of fun to go out and watch the competitions and walk through the expo, so we want to make sure residents have the opportunity to hear about everything that is happening.”
The Ohio State University estimates the economic impact of the Congress on the region is more than $200 million – with much of that contributing to the travel and tourism industry.
“When attendees come to Columbus, they are staying in our hotels; they are dining in our restaurants; they are shopping. If they have a free afternoon or two, they might go and explore the downtown or some of our attractions, such as the zoo. We certainly know when the Congress is in the city because it makes such a big impact,” Robinson says.
Experience Columbus also hosts the Queen’s Day, during which the current and former Congress Queens explore the city’s attractions, such as Ohio Stadium – another example of the collaborative effort to make the Congress the premier event in the region.
Darnell believes the Congress’ success can be attributed to its diverse offerings.
“The Congress is a destination. It has a lot to offer horse people – there are great classes and large purses. There’s lots of shopping. There’s a [horse] sale. There’s reining and cutting,” she says. “The Congress is a premier event, and we have something for everyone – from the novice to the professional. That’s what keeps people coming back – to see the best of the best.”