Ask anyone to describe the All American Quarter Horse Congress and you will probably get an answer like “indescribable, spectacular, overwhelming, or unparalleled”. The show seems to have a heartbeat of its own and an undeniable group of loyal followers. Year after year, thousands of exhibitors, spectators, horses, and trainers travel to Columbus, Ohio to experience their own version of the Congress. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Congress is how its almost contagious energy draws in a diverse myriad of individuals from across the nation. Novice riders and top Quarter Horse exhibitors alike are attracted to the show in attempt to experience a certain piece of the legendary event. In fact, the Quarter Horse Congress is responsible for bringing 650,000 people to Columbus each year, creating a $409 million-dollar economic impact for central Ohio.
Indisputably, the Congress is a tremendous and prestigious event. This may leave many wondering how a show with over 25,000 entries is conceptualized. The now world-renowned Quarter Horse Congress, owned by the Ohio Quarter Horse Association, actually has extremely humble beginnings. In May of 1966, the Ohio Quarter Horse Association had a balance of $3,500 which had been already allocated towards a new typewriter for the small association. However, past OQHA president Blair Folck had other ideas for the small treasury balance. Folck had just returned from the Charolais Cattle Congress and had glowing reports about the success of this event. He related the stronger success of the state-run event compared to nationally organized events and proposed that a similar concept could be applied to the Quarter Horse industry. Furthermore, Folck believed that OQHA could be a forerunner to hosting such an event. Although the prosect sounded appealing to the board, the directors raised legitimate concern about the financial position of the association.
A six-month deliberation ensued during which a specially appointed exploratory committee evaluated the feasibility of hosting this type of show. In January 1967, the board finally agreed to the terms of proceeding with the show. If ten thousand dollars could be raised before May 1st, the association would proceed with the show. Blair Folck and OQHA President Dr. W.P. “Pete” Drake began campaigning the show and asking for support from individuals and corporate entities. After months of dedicated work by the OQHA directors, over ten thousand dollars in contracts were signed and preparations proceeded for the event. The first All American Quarter Horse Congress was held November 3-5 at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus, Ohio. The cost to enter the show was $20 for the three-day event or $15 for the weekend. Due to the financial constraints of the association, directors were required to cover their own expenses during the show including lodging, admission, and travel.
The careful management by OQHA allowed the first Congress to be a large success with over five thousand attendees. Revolutionary aspects of the event included commercial exhibits, stallion avenue, and educational lecture opportunities. Additionally, the first show had a net profit of $15,000. The following year, the Ohio Quarter Horse Association crowned Kim Serbin as the first Congress Queen in a new Congress Queen’s Contest Pageant. The purpose of the Congress Queen was to act as a spokesperson and representative for the rapidly growing event. Over the succeeding decades, the show continued to flourish and the paperwork eventually outgrew the home office of OQHA President Dr. Drake. The association then acquired their own office space and executive secretary. In October 1996, the American Quarter Horse Association recognized the event as the largest single-breed show in the world and honored it with an AQHA historical marker. The now 14-day event attracted 425,000 people, awarded $1.4 million in prizes, and hosted 7,000 horses. A Quarter Horse Sale and Youth Judging Competition had also been added to the show’s attraction. By 2014, the show boasted 17,000 entries during a 21-day event. The following year, the show continued to enjoy increasing popularity of new and repeat exhibitors. The 2015 Congress lasted 25 days and managed 21,000 entries. In 2020, the rippling effect of the pandemic forced Congress officials to cancel the show. However, the event returned with resiliency in 2021. It seems that the Quarter Horse Congress has a long history of overcoming challenges and growing through adversity!
Congress 2022 was no exception to the powerful success of this event. Exhibitors, trainers, breeders, family, and spectators once again traveled to Columbus, Ohio to experience the 55th All American Quarter Horse Congress. During the show, several popular and diverse events are hosted. These events include the Congress Ranch Horse Sale, the Congress Super Sale, a Collegiate/Youth judging contest, the prestigious National Youth Activities Team Tournament (NYATT), and the Congress Freestyle Reining. This year, more than fifty horses were sold at the Congress Ranch Horse Sale, producing a total of $368, 350.00. At the Congress Super Sale, 153 horses were offered with a total sale price of $1,155,950.00. The total sale price exceeded the 2021 total by over $20,000. As the largest Collegiate and Youth Judging Contest, the Judging Event brought dozens of teams of college students, FFA Members, 4-H competitors, and Quarter Horse Exhibitors to the event. As always, the Freestyle Reining Event was a tremendous attraction, causing a sold-out crowd in the Congress Coliseum.
One of the most anticipated events of the show is the National Youth Activities Team Tournament (NYATT). The Quarter Horse Congress proudly hosts the largest NYATT competition in the world which brings state and national teams from the United States and Canada. During the NYATT day, affiliate-sponsored teams compete in various events to earn points towards individual and team awards. Team California was represented by the 2022 Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Association NYATT Team. The team was led by PCQHA Youth Advisor Kellie Hinely and was comprised of six talented youth riders. Team California included Cassandre Ehrle, Taylor Hinely, Archer Klenow, Liv Winter, Jenna Berghorst, and Callie Hogg. In the Hunt Seat Equitation, Liv Winter placed 4th with A Diggin Hot Time and Cassandre Ehrle placed 11th with Daddy Doesnt Know. Jenna Berghorst captured a 4th place prize in the Hunter Under Saddle with Al Be Seeing Ya while Archer placed 13th in the NYATT Western Pleasure with Invitation to Smoke. Between their respective events, each team member cheered their teammates as they competed for coveted spots in NYATT events. At the end of the day, the PCQHA team attended the Awards Ceremony to accept their NYATT buckles. Great job and Congratulations to the PCQHA team on their NYATT performance!
Many other California exhibitors also competed in the regular Congress and NSBA events throughout the show. California resident and Amateur Select exhibitor Jo Ann Niffenegger had an impressive congress with her talented horses. She was Reserve Champion Amateur Select Working Hunter and Champion Amateur Select Hunt Seat Equitation with Real Good Reason. Jo Ann and Real Good Reason also won the Amateur Select All Around Saddle!
California exhibitor Bonnie Sheren also had a great Congress. Ross Roark showed Hez Blazin Trouble to a Congress Championship in Open Performance Halter Geldings. Following up on the win in the Open division, Bonnie was awarded the Amateur Performance Halter Geldings Congress Championship with “Parker”. Hez Blazin Trouble also finished as Reserve Champion in Level 3 Senior Western Riding with Jason Martin. My Dad Is The Best, also owned by Bonnie, was Congress Champion in Level 3 Junior Trail with Charlie Cole. Bonnie also won Level 2 Amateur Select Western Riding with multiple World and Congress Champion Heza Radical Zip with a score of 238.
For the second consecutive year, Kyla Jackson and Cadillac In Black took home the Congress Championship in 15-18 Youth Showmanship. Taylor Hinely and Dreamingforjacks were third place in Level 1 14-18 Trail. Dan Fox led Solair to a Congress Championship in Amateur Aged Geldings and also claimed the overall Grand Champion Amateur Gelding Award. At her first Congress, Alessandra Ehrle and A Certain Sundi claimed a third place in the Level 1 Amateur Showmanship. VS Code of Gold and Brittany Morgan was awarded third place in the Super Sires 4&5 Year Old Non Pro Trail Stakes. Stockton resident Mary Beck Spalding and Pretty Dang Good also rode into third place in the 2 Year Old Non Pro Limited Hunter Under Saddle Stakes.
Charlotte Green and Mechanic Parkin Only loped into a Congress Championship in Level 1 Amateur Trail. Charlotte and “Nicky” were also third in the 4&5 Year Old Non Pro Trail Stakes. These wins was especially meaningful for Charlotte since she was Reserve Congress Champion in 12-14 Youth Trail with Nicky’s mother Central Park West in 2011. Charlotte comments, “It was really special winning the trail because we bred, raised, and have trained Nicky. She’s a very special animal and has so much personality and will always be with us. She reminds us so much of her dam who was my youth horse and also a great trail horse. It feels like we’ve kept it in the family!”
Johnathan Mueller was named Congress Champion in Limited 2 Year Old Mares and third place in 2 Year Old Open Mares with Stryka Pose for Kathryn Devries. Stryka Pose was also Reserve Congress Champion in Youth 2 Year Old Mares with Kylie Grace Mitchell. In the 2 Year Old Open Western Pleasure Stakes, Blake Britton rode Eazy Money Martini to a third place finish for Cynthia Carden of San Juan Capistrano, CA.
Keith Miller was Congress Champion in Maturity Open Hunter Under Saddle Stakes and Senior Hunter Under Saddle with Im Willy Good Today for Erin Shapiro Boatright. Erin also captured Congress Championships in Maturity Non Pro Hunter Under Saddle Stakes and Maturity Limited Non Pro Hunter Under Saddle Stakes with her talented gelding. Also in the Hunter Under Saddle, Stacy Huls rode Made In The South to a third Place Finish in Junior Hunter Under Saddle for Kayla and Matt Budine.
Overall, California exhibitors had a strong presence at the 2022 Quarter Horse Congress. Many of these competitors got to taste the sweet magic that seems to surround the Congress. Each time a beautiful neck ribbon was wrapped around the champion’s neck, a new trophy saddle was awarded, or an iconic bronze trophy was handed to its deserving new owner, a little more of this magic seemed to hang over the Ohio Expo Center. The intriguing smell of Congress food looming in the air, the magnitude of Congress hall, the irresistible attraction of puppy alley, and honoring of the world’s best horse and rider teams all seem to remind Congress attendees why the event is Still The One. Despite its humble beginnings, the All American Quarter Horse Congress has become a renowned event that lures thousands of individuals each year. The Congress seems to have even a heartbeat of its own that produces an indescribable energy running through the chilly grounds of the Ohio Expo.
Congratulations to each exhibitor at the 2022 All American Quarter Horse Congress!
By Cassandre Ehrle