HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The annual Gulf Coast Winter Classic horse show begins its six week run at the Harrison County fairgrounds on Wednesday.
"Welcome back!" Horse Show Director Janet McCarroll shouted to one of several riders on Tuesday afternoon.
The longtime director said this "Sweet 16" version of the Winter Classic promises to be another winner, especially since promoters are offering $1 million in prize money for the first time.
"Especially this year with our increased prize money and all the improvements around here, we think it is the place to be," she said.
The competition features world class horses, like "Happy Z."
"She is the leading horse in the country, lifetime, by the number of grand prix wins," said her rider, Wilhelm Genn.
He is also world class, having won more than a million dollars. Genn said the Mississippi event is known for top competition and Southern hospitality.
"People are super nice. And we like everything down here in Gulfport: the beach, the restaurants. The people are very nice to us. So we feel welcomed here. That's why we like to come back," said Genn.
"We've been coming here for 13 years now for this same show," said Peter Rowe.
Rowe manages The Farm House, which sells clothing and accessories.
"It's a great show. The venue is fantastic. The jumper field up front is bar none. Actually famous throughout the United States for what a great jumper field that is. And they've added two new barns this year by the hunter rings, which are primo," he explained.
Twenty years ago, Janet McCarroll, had a vision that a horse show in Harrison County could grow into something special. Now, the success of this winter classic has exceeded even her expectations.
"Sixteen years. Can you believe it? It's just amazing. We're so excited," she said.
The $1 million in prize money has already helped boost the number of competitors by 20 percent. McCarroll said the weather has been the biggest challenge so far this year. Organizers had to deal with that recent ice and snow just as final preparations were underway.