Gulf Coast Winter Classics ends on high note

Gulf Coast Winter Classics ends on high note

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Sunday was the last day of the 2017 Gulf Coast Winter Classics, a six-week horse competition.

And - as it has been for 19 years - the ride was great.

There's a lot to attract people to the event, but when it comes down to basics, it's all about the jumps.

"They're jumping really high jumps and it's a competition," said 9-year-old Soren Christensen from New Orleans.

It's the same for Eugene Fett and his wife, who visit the Coast from Michigan every year for the winter. For them, the horse competition is a must-see.

"I mean, these are huge jumps," said Fett. "This is the best it gets."

Overall attendance is down slightly from the previous year's record-breaking numbers, but event coordinator Janet McCarroll says it's the biggest week six in the event's history.

"You don't get in this if you don't love it," McCarroll said. "So, it's a blessing for me to be able to turn my sport into my living, number one. And, who wouldn't love these gorgeous animals and all this that goes on here."

Emerald Van Alstyne is a former competitor. But to her, the competition is also good family time.

"There's not too many horse things you can do around here that you can just go to for free and bring the family along and just kind of enjoy a nice quiet day," Emerald said.

Louisiana resident Holly Macle uses the event as a learning experience for her riding students.

"We like to come out to Gulfport to bring out students to take a field trip, and watch some of the national riders at the next level and get inspired," said Macle.

Among those students, 14-year-old Tanya Person.

"It makes me wonder how far I could go. Maybe one day I could be here," Tanya said. "I would like to eventually like to show here. It would be a good experience for me."

But, the extracurricular things are nice as well.

"This is a great atmosphere," Macle said. "It's good for the national level riders, but it's fun for the kids. I bring my kids, they get snowballs, they go to the beach. They hang out, we shop."

The appreciation isn't lost on those in the spotlight.

"It means a lot when you're riding. It's great to have people that appreciate the sport and spectate," said Winter Classics veteran Trapp O'Neal. "Gulf Coast is great. Great food and good environment, so, lots to do when we're down here."

The projected economic impact for the Gulf Coast Winter Classics is about $40 million dollars.

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