After five days at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus, Ohio, I am laying on my couch with a nasty sinus infection and a big hole in my bank account. After all of the money spent on things I didn’t need, the voice lost from yelling so hard for friends and the weight gained from eating cinnamon roles, bourbon chicken and roast beef sundaes, I’ve started to think about why I really love the Congress so much.
1. The Congress Bubble – With everything going on in the world and all of my passions overextended, it’s wonderful to escape from it all and only worry about what draw my friends are in the youth and sweepstakes. When my biggest problem at the moment is what color gator boots to buy from Lagrange, life is good.
2. The Memories – Pulling in to the Congress, the parking lot, barns and Coliseum look just the same as they did all of the years we hauled my trusty youth horse, Zippos Three Dee, or “Onyx,” there from Pennsylvania in the middle of the night. Those were the best days of my life, hands down, and each year when I return I’m reminded of the “on-top-of-the-world” feeling that I had then. I remember my trainer, Ginny Bowman, making the experience all about Onyx and me, putting on my splint boots “just right” and waking me up at 2 a.m. to trudge through the rain to the warm-up pen. I remember all of pictures we took with my friends and family after the announced the Top Ten, and the pride I’d feel buying my Top Ten coat. Even more, it was the late nights running around on golf carts until all hours of the night, trying to find trouble because we couldn’t get into the Corral, that made the trip even more exciting.
3. The Shopping – I save up all year to be able to buy what I want, and some of what I need, at the Congress. Nowhere else in Pennsylvania or Ohio can you spend so much money in one place on your horses. With every product imaginable, I am always able to make that dream Congress purchase. One year it was a Dale Chavez pleasure saddle, another year a Dale Martin barrel saddle, and the list goes on.
4. The Food – While eating at the Congress can be a financial venture in itself, it’s important to indulge at least once while you’re there to get the full effect. The bourbon chicken, apple dumplings, cinnamon roles and roast beef sundaes are just a few of the fair-food delicacies. While it is impossible to eat anything without spending at least $6.50, one bite into the bourbon chicken and you won’t regret a thing.
5. The Reunion – Being plopped down out here in the middle of Southeastern Ohio, I miss my Pennsylvanian barrel racing family like nothing else. While we may see each other at one or two shows that I drive home for, rarely do we get to spend an entire five days together like we do at the Congress. We spend our time shopping because we know exactly one another’s tastes, and we talk each other into spending the money we shouldn’t. We have time to talk about everything we used to talk about, and in the end, the goodbyes are always impossible.
6. The First Barrel – The money barrel at the Congress is the hardest to make of any pen I’ve ever, ever seen, and the split second a horse nails it perfectly, the rush of adrenaline even someone sitting in the stands feels is like no other. Nailing that first barrel at the Congress sets many horses up to have a perfect second barrel, so that in the end, they get a straight line to the hard-to-perfect Congress third barrel. The cloverleaf at the Congress separates the men from the boys, so to speak, and many great horses can never seem to clock there.