A Visitors Guide to the All American Quarter Horse Congress

The All American Quarter Horse Congress.... aka any horse persons personal shopping paradise and heaven nestled in downtown Columbus, OH for the entire month of October. I have heard it called the Superbowl of horse showing. So many of us visit simply to watch, shop, see the famous horses, learn from clinics or just to get a feel for the biggest horse show in the world.

For the last 10 years I have been living in Ohio, a mere 1.45 hours from the Congress, I have visited at least 1-2 weekends every Congress to shop and hang out and watch. With my experience and amount of time spent there, I have amassed a large knowledge base on navigating the Congress as a visitor not exhibitor and many shortcuts and tricks. Here I will be outlining my best tips and tricks for a fun trip to the legendary All American Quarter Horse Congress for those of us not showing.
1. Best Times To Go
 -The first weekend is the best for shopping. Everything is fully stocked, lots of sizes, not very busy. Store workers are fresh and happy and excited to help you. They haven't run out of free stuff at booths yet. Downside is the classes are mostly reining and cow horse and if you don't want to watch that then theres not much to watch. Also, Gilligan stall fronts aren't all set up yet and those are so worth seeing.
-The middle weekends is the best for watching the classes. This is pleasure, hunter under saddle, trail, showmanship, etc. Freestyle Reining is the second weekend and always a fun evening of big stops and good music. It is busy though so shopping and navigating the buildings can be hard.
-Last weekend is a time for deals. Stores don't want to haul it home so prices are often reduced. Also, less traffic this weekend.
What a beautiful sight

2. Best Places to Shop
Personally, I love Schneiders, Rods and Big Dee's. They are the biggest and mainstream and there is good reason for that. They have a great selection and quality products. Schneiders and Big Dee's have very reduced stores at the congress this year but they offer free shipping in. Some of my more hidden favorites include The Tack Room: great quality and selection of English apparel and quality halters, storage materials and little bits and pieces. I also love Kathy Williams Tail Extensions; in addition to great tails, she always has great show clothes in her booth. Chicks and HorseLoverz are also good destinations for little random things- you can't beat the prices.

3. Walk Through the Barns
Trust me- take at least one walk down the main aisle of Gilligan and see the amazing set ups of the trainers. They are pretty incredible. Also, you never know when you will be walking down the aisle and see a famous trainer or horse.
Building the Stall Fronts and one of my favorite set ups

The food stands are seriously the best. You MUST get a cinnamon roll from the Sweet Shop. Also, the Stromboli is to die for. You can't shop on an empty stomach so eat. A lot. It is worth it and you will work off the calories walking around and carrying all your purchases :)

5. Go sit at the Practice Arena
This is usually my dad and I's favorite congress pastime. We love to sit at the practice arena next to Congress Hall and just watch everybody ride. It's amazing how much you can learn just watching these great trainers ride and listening to what they tell clients warming up. I highly suggest taking even just 15 minutes to go watch- you never know what you will pick up.

6. Fun Events
Freestyle Reining = enough said. It is a super fun evening. The rides are great, the music is fun... defiantly one of the Congress's best events. Grab a Stromboli and sit yourself down in the Coliseum for a night of music, spins and stops. Also, sometimes you get to witness history... such as 2006 when I watched Stacy Westfall perform her legendary bareback and brideless ride LIVE. The Masters is also a really cool experience- it is awesome to see the upcoming great horses in their first class and witness the pinnacle of talent in the industry.
Few things a cooler then watching Stacy Westfall win the Congress... again

7. Clinic's and Product Information Sessions
Why not? If you are there during a clinic, go stop by. Just like the practice arena, you never know what you might pick up and learn. These are put on by highly skilled and successful professionals and I guarantee you could learn something from any of them. This is also a great opportunity to rest your feet and set your bags down for a few minutes. Also, stop and listen to the product demonstrations. There are always a million new products available here and someone who wants to tell you all about it. Sometimes they are silly and other times they might be your new favorite product. I would have never found EquiFUSE if I had not stopped and talked to the dealer at Congress. It doesn't hurt to stop and get the info and sometimes they give you free samples... and who doesn't like free samples?? (only crazy people)

Ah the giveaways.... they are everywhere at the congress. Free stuff, gift certificates, free breedings... they are endless. When and doubt take the second to fill out that little paper. You can't win unless you play. Smartpak always has a great giveaway for not only starting Smartpaks at the Congress but also a raffle. Farnum usually has one, AQHA usually has one, The University of Findlay gives away hats and t shirts.... I know I am missing a ton but seriously find the giveaways and sign up. More chances to eventually win something.

9. Deals, Deals, Deals
I am a huge bargain shopper. I love nothing more then to find a good deal. Congress is great for this. I always take advantage of the deals on Jeans at congress: this year it was buy 2 get 1 free on Wranglers and Cinch at Rods! Yay! Also, as I previously mentioned, Chicks and HorseLoverZ always seem to have little deals like the zip up Sleazy I got for $20 yesterday! The last weekend will have a lot of places giving even better sales and deals because they won't want to take it home. Bargain shoppers heaven!
Nothing better then new riding jeans :)

10. Watch the Show
After all, this is the reason for the whole shebang. Go sit and watch the best of the best compete for bronze trophies and bragging rights. At risk of sounding like a broken record, you can learn something from this also. Drool over the outfits, dream about the horses and be in awe of the incredible  level of the competition. The Congress is overall, first and foremost a horse show... the biggest in the world.
The Celeste Arena
The Congress is one of my favorite equine destinations... such a convergence of all things equine and it is just a blast. I was there yesterday for the day and it was as good as ever. I got some new jeans, stuff for my puppies, treats for my spoiled ponies, a new sleazy for Charles and some information on breeding... more on that at a later date ;). I love the Congress and I like to think I have it pretty well figured out as a visitor. I hope these tips help you out when visiting the legendary show.
A beautiful evening at the Congress before we left
Happy Shopping and I hope you learn something too :)

 ~ Brandy

- What are your favorite parts of the Congress???

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