All American Quarter Horse Congress: A show like no other

Amy McLean
for Tri-State Livestock News
Showmen and ladies warm up in a practice pen at the All American Quarter Horse Congress. Photo by Amy McLean

Columbus, OH, is home to the world’s largest horse show every year. In an atmostphere charged with energy, the All American Quarter Horse Congress is a three-week event that showcases the talents and uses of the American Quarter Horse. It attracts over 650,000 people from around the world as well as 250+ vendors. American Quarter Horses compete in Cutting, Reining, Roping, Western Pleasure, Western Riding, Working Hunter, Trail, Pleasure Driving, Equitation over Fences, Equitation on the Flat, Jumping, Horsemanship, Hunter Hack, Hunter under Saddle, Lounge Line, Showmanship, and Halter events. The show attracts more halter horses than any other show in the country.

The halter horses are judged according to their overall conformation compared to the ideal quarter horse. If you divide the horse into thirds from its head to the withers – part I, then from the withers to the top of the croup – part II, and then the length of hip – part III, theoretically, all three should be equal in length, which would mean the horse is balanced. Balance is also evaluated by comparing the length of the topline, defined as the area from the top of the shoulders to the top of the hip to the underline, the area under the elbow of the horse or the bottom of the heart girth to the flank. The underline should ideally be twice as long as the top line. Halter horses are also evaluated on their structural correctness, which relates to the column of bone or their skeletal system as well as the angle of their shoulder and hip in relation to the angle in the pasterns and hocks. Proper muscling is also important, and sex characteristics are considered on mares and stallions.

The halter division like all other divisions is divided into Open, Amateur and Youth classes. Open refers to exhibitors that train horses for a living. An amateur or youth (18 and under) could participate in this class but the trainers tend to have a distinct advantage since this is their profession. When the halter classes are showing in the Coliseum, there is a special buzz in the air with other trainers inspecting the classes and owners anxiously watching in the stands and instructing from the sidelines.

During the first weekend of halter, youth and collegiate judging teams can be seen peering over the rail and standing on the steps evaluating the horses in preparation for one of the season’s most competitive judging contests. The Annual Youth and Collegiate Horse Judging Contest is traditionally held on the second Wednesday of the show. Students from 20 states competed in the contest this year. The judging contest participants evaluate a class of four horses in eight performance classes, four halter classes, place the horses in order of ranking after their performance and then give oral reasons on various classes. Oral reasons consist of a two minute speech to explain why they placed the classes the way they did. They are scored out of 50 points on their placings and reasons in relation to the official judges. The idea is to train judges for the future.

The majority of the horses are in impeccable condition; a bystander’s reflection could almost be seen in their glossy coats. Fitting and preparing a halter horse for competition isn’t for the faint of heart. Halter horses have strict exercise regimes and diets.

Two special events called the Masters feature some of the upcoming young talent in both the pleasure and hunter under saddle divisions. The payout is good in these two classes but just as valuable is the prestige of winning the Masters. The sheer numbers in each class is amazing. Two arenas run continuously for three weeks. Some classes will have as many as five or six heats with 20+ horses in each heat competing for a semi-final and then a final, so over 100+ head of horses may be entered in one class. The over fence classes are also quite large and attract many top hunter trainers from all over the country.

Other popular and entertaining classes include Western Riding and Trail. Sure, a person may have to watch 20 entries before seeing one outstanding horse but it’s worth the wait. Lectures and demonstrations by some of the industry’s leading trainers give everyone the rare chance to learn from the best.

Vendors display wares from high dollar saddles to $6,000 custom-made jackets, from trendy clothes to custom-made jewelry. But it doesn’t stop there, the alluring smell from food vendors will stop the most disciplined of dieters. A step above fair food, Congress favorites include cinnamon rolls, bread bowl soup, sweet tea, Congress Coffees, and chicken stir fry.

If you are considering a horsey vacation, be sure to look into the All American Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus, OH. It runs from the first week through the last weekend of October. It traditionally begins with the cattle events and ends with the youth events. If you are in the market for a new horse you can purchase one at the Congress Super Sale the third Saturday of the show. And if you are looking to purchase man’s best friend then you don’t want to miss out on “puppy alley” a tent dedicated just to puppies of all breeds, shapes, and price tags. The airport in Columbus is very close to the Ohio Expo Grounds and finding a hotel is not hard. For more information about next year’s Congress, visit the Ohio Quarter Horse Association website, The All American Quarter Horse Congress a show like no other.