South MS horse show among the top rated in the Southeast

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Organizers of a South Mississippi horse show are saddling up for what they hope will be another record breaking year. The Harrison County Fairgrounds is once again the home of the Gulf Coast Winter Classic. Now in its 14th year, organizers said the Classic has grown into one of the top rated horse shows in the Southeast.

There are two types of riders: the hunters and the jumpers.

"I think you can say that the hunters are your figure skaters and the jumpers are hockey players," said Winter Classic President Bob Bell. "The figure skaters have to be beautiful and they have to do everything just to precision. That's how the hunters operate. And jumpers, it's just going as fast as they can without taking a rail down."

Organizers said there are several reasons the Gulf Coast Winter Classic has grown into a prestigious AA-rated horse competition. The weekly prize money given away is between $125,000 to $135,000. Also, the level of competition is superb. Organizers said the courses are challenging and change frequently. In fact, during week six, an Olympic course designer will be arranging the layout.

"These are athletes. The horses and the people," said Bell. "They're at that top level of their sport. When people start showing horses and start taking lessons in their backyard, that's one end. And the next step from here is the Olympics. These people are in the same type of training as the Olympic riders. "

To ease the stress of six weeks of intense competition, many trainers and riders turn their stalls into a home away from home. Michael Tokaruk is a rider and coach from Memphis.

"It's definitely very stressful, what we do. And it's intense. So it's nice to just have a place that we can relax and take a load off for awhile and just enjoy the scenery."

This year The Gulf Coast Winter Classic will be selling raffle tickets every Sunday at the Grand Prix to raise money for charity. Officials said the proceeds will go to Combat Wounded Veterans of South Mississippi.

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