Best in Show – The All American Quarter Horse Congress

October 10th, 2017 3:41 PM | No Comments

by Barbara Aitken Jenkins

Photos by Shane Rux Photography

[originally published in the August 2017 issue of Show Horse Today]

congress 2016 The All American Quarter Horse Congress, the largest single breed horse show in the world, receives the 2017 Show Horse Today Reader’s Choice Award for the AQHA Best Show!

Congress’ humble beginnings originated in 1967 with a pipe dream and a group of hard working Ohio Quarter Horse Association horsemen and women desiring to make a difference in the quarter horse industry. The Congress was designed to feature great Quarter Horses, educational learning opportunities and be a trade center for all equine needs.  Fast-forwarding 51 years, today the Congress is simply, the standard.


Since the first annual event, the Congress has called the Ohio Expo Center, in Columbus, home. Each October as the Ohio weather shifts from summer to fall, the Congress ignites a spark in horse enthusiasts from across the world.  Aptly titled “the largest single breed horse show in the world,” the Congress welcomes 650,000 exhibitors, spectators and trade vendors alike, creating a 100% horse centered community across the grounds.

Due to the growing number of exhibitors, especially reiners, the Congress added two days to the beginning of the show. OQHA President, Chris Darnell stated, “We had phenomenal growth in our ancillary classes and we want our exhibitors to feel comfortable while they show.” She added, “With the addition of the Adequan barn (built in 2015), the reining industry has embraced the Congress.”

 This year’s event begins October 3 (two days earlier than last year), and runs through October 29, accommodating the growing number of exhibitors. 

In addition to a wide array of AQHA approved classes, the Congress features point/money earning classes with the National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA), National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), and the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA).

In true Congress fashion, Darnell explained the importance of listening to exhibitors wants and needs when it comes to competing in the show pen. “Exhibitors tell us what they are interested in showing and we listen.” In addition to the vast number of classes the Congress offers, new classes have been added for the 2017 show.

Level 1 Amateur and Youth Ranch Riding, 4 & 5 Year Old Trail Stakes-Limited for both Open and Non Pro, and Level 1 Amateur Select Trail are now on the class roster. “Ranch Riding and Trail are continually growing each year at the Congress so we added new classes in these disciplines to accommodate the growing interest,” explained Darnell.

congress 2016 2The Congress will feature four special events this year, including: crowd favorite Freestyle Reining, Bridleless Cutting, Professional Bull Riders Touring Pro Division, and the Equine Chronicle Congress Masters Western Pleasure and Masters Hunter Under Saddle.

The Congress special events begin with the NCHA Mercuria World Series of Cutting Open and Non Pro finals and the Congress Bridleless Cutting on October 8. Exhibitors travel across the country to vie for a spot in the Mercuria Finals and the Bridleless Cutting. Horse and rider teams give a remarkable show of talent and athletic ability as these horses play a one-on-one game with wiry cattle.

 On October 13, the PBR Touring Pro Division will transform the coliseum into a high energy, heart-thumping chamber as cowboys attempt to outlast the eight-second mark on massive bucking bulls to ultimately win the esteemed title.

The Freestyle Reining, on October 14, will no doubt be a sold out show bringing the sport of reining and entertainment together for an unforgettable night filled with laughs, surprises, and great reining horses and exhibitors “dancing” to music.

Rounding out the Congress special events, on October 28, is the Congress Masters Western Pleasure and Hunter Under Saddle. The best of the best maiden two-year-old horses walk into the show pen for the first time and perform in front of a packed stadium competing for the most prestigious title of their time, the Congress Masters Champion.

 Established in 2016, the Congress Super Sale Stakes will continue in 2017. Horses nominated as yearlings and sold in the Congress Super Sale qualify to be placed into a special 2-year-old Western Pleasure Stakes class the following year.  The first crop of 2-year-olds will compete October 20 for a purse of $64,500, “that will be divided between Open and Non Pro classes based on the number of entries in each class,” according to In addition to the original purse, OQHA added $10,000 for Limited Riders. congress 2016 4

The annual Congress Super Sale will be held October 21, bringing buyers from across the world into this one day, elite sale. It is one of the largest live sales in the country.

A continued Congress classic, the Southern Belle Breeders Program will feature 20 classes ranging from Longe Line, Western Pleasure, and Hunter Under Saddle including the Breeders $10,000 Maturity Western Pleasure and the Breeders $10,000 Maturity Western Pleasure-Limited.

Another growing Congress event is the NRHA Congress Futurity. Professional, Non Pro, and Youth Reiners alike start the show off with a bang in multiple NRHA classes, leading up to the Futurity on October 7. As a bonus, the Congress Reining Futurity is a non-ticketed, FREE event.

congress 20165In addition to high-level events, the Congress also offers an array of classes designed for riders with disabilities.  Para Reining, which debuted at the 2016 Congress, is designed for exhibitors with physical disabilities and will run on October 6.  The Congress will also continue partnering with NSBA for Equestrians with Disabilities for the third year, and Heroes on Horses, for its second year.  Para Reining, EWD, and Heroes on Horses bring all equestrians together to celebrate family, country, and horses. The Heroes on Horses debuted at the Congress 50th Anniversary and brought exhibitors and spectators to their feet in support of the men and women who make great shows like the Congress possible by sacrificing their lives for America’s freedom. The Congress is proud to continue these programs that provide avenues for riders to pursue their passion for showing horses.

In line with the founders’ design for the show, Congress offers FREE lectures and demonstrations during the month of October. Demonstrations featuring top professionals include:

  • Understanding How Bits Work with Jimmy Roth
  • Assessing Saddle Fit for Horse & Rider with CWD Rep. (Hunt Seat/English); Phil Harris (Western)
  • Ranch Riding with Steve Meadows
  • Western Pleasure with Cole Baker
  • Pleasure Driving with Kevin Dukes
  • Showmanship with Melissa Maxwell
  • Horsemanship with Kelly McDowall
  • Hunter Under Saddle with Karen Graham
  • Trail Course Design with Tim Kimura

The Congress will also continue to house one of the largest tradeshows in the horse show industry. Spanning across five acres, top-notch equine supply stores, high-end show apparel, western clothing, and much more will attract thousands of shoppers throughout the event’s entirety. From living quarter horse trailers to Congress winners’ jackets, tack, and household décor, the Congress trade show is THE shopping trip of the year.

 Quite possibly the cutest Congress attraction, Puppy Alley, will be housed in Cardinal Hall, the newest building at the Ohio Expo Center. Adorable puppies will visit the grounds hoping to find forever homes in a horse show family. Whether or not you want to adopt a pup, this alley is definitely a place to stop.

 The All American Quarter Horse Queen Contest Crowning will be October 14, during the Congress Freestyle Reining. Queens representing their home state quarter horse associations will congregate in Columbus to compete for the prestigious honor of being crowned the All American Quarter Horse Congress Queen. Contestants will compete in a series of tests, interviews and horsemanship competition, which will ultimately determine the winner. Darnell expressed her excitement in bringing the Queen’s Contest to the front end of the Congress. “We have a great Congress Queen Team and are excited to feature the prestigious crowning during Freestyle Reining.”

The 2016 Queen, Amy Brown will also be present throughout the show and will be a member of the Awards Team to hand out the coveted Congress medallions and Congress bronze to class Top Ten and Champions. 

The Ohio Quarter Horse Foundation, established in 2016, will host its second annual gala. OQHF President, Cathy Martz stated, “This year, guests can look forward to the gala dinner theme ‘Congress Derby – A Night at the Races.’  So be ready to come dressed in your favorite Derby attire.  All monies raised will be used to fulfill the mission of the Foundation, which is accomplished through supporting and educating those involved with the American Quarter Horse Industry.” congress 2016 3

In addition to the gala, the OQHF will once again provide the Congress Classroom, designed for exhibitors who are currently in school.  Martz continued, “To facilitate education, last year the Congress Classroom was established with the assistance of our generous sponsor, Archer-Daniels- Midland.  The Congress Classroom provides a quiet place for youth and amateurs to study and have access to computers, the Internet and printers to keep up with their school studies.”

 The Congress also promotes youth development throughout the month-long event. Scholastic and intercollegiate competitors will participate in Horse Judging, Hippology, Horse Bowl, Communications and the National Youth Activity Team Tournament. These events provide the youth of all ages with engaging, educational, and competitive events to promote learning and appreciation for the Quarter Horse.

The Ohio Quarter Horse Youth Association (OQHYA) will also host the annual Youth Bash on October 21.

The Congress offers free admission to the horse show and trade show and will offer both one-day and entire event parking passes. Discounted parking passes will be offered Monday through Wednesday each week of the event.

 The Congress is more than just a horse show or fun shopping trip. In Darnell’s words, “Congress is an event.” Truly an experience like no other. It simply cannot be compared to any other equine event in the world.  The Congress becomes a unique world, filled with excitement, competition and a shared passion for the American Quarter Horse.

Join the OQHA and Congress Team this October and experience the magic of the greatest horse show on earth, the All American Quarter Horse Congress.

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