GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Gulf Coast Winter Classic is a six-week long horse show in Gulfport where hundreds of horses and families journey to the Coast for a chance to win awards, and more than $1,000,000 in prize money.
Though it may look easy, competitors say competitive show jumping is complex and expensive. In most sports, games are lost by human error. But in show jumping, it's the horse who has the win riding on its back.
"These horses, they wouldn't do this. We couldn't force them to do this. They love doing it, but the first thing that will go away if we're not treating them right is the heart and the will, and the love for doing it. If you're messing with a horse that's hurting and you're making him jump, he's not going to want to do it," said event coordinator Janet McCarroll.
Dr. Patrick Cleveland has a practice based in the Kiln, but is on call for the entire horse show. It's his work that keeps the show running.
"They can't talk, so we have to listen the only way we know how," said Cleveland, who claims to have a special connection with the gentle giants.
One of the ways Dr. Cleveland listens to the horses is by using acupuncture to locate sore spots.
"The most common use of acupuncture is pain relief. It does several other things, but mainly what I do at a show is to just make them feel good and move better," said Cleveland. "We'll put about 100 needles in him, leave them in for about 20 minutes and he should feel pretty outstanding after that"
Show horses commonly suffer from back pain, but even something as minor as that can have huge effects. According to Cleveland, many of the horses cost more than most cars. Keeping them in tip-top shape is of the utmost importance.
Back pain could prevent a horse from competing; which would be a big problem for riders who may be in the competition for financial reasons.
"It's always kind of a gamble. You have to hope everything goes your way that day, and you can pick up that prize money," said McCarroll.
With multiple shows everyday, Dr. Cleveland is a busy man.