HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The Gulf Coast Winter Classics is one of the biggest economic generators on the Coast, bringing in an estimated at $43 million a year.
The numbers are impressive considering the event is free for attendees. While the horse competition makes money, it is also making people happy.
"They're beautiful. … They're such graceful creatures," said Deborah Goudeaux of Diamondhead. "Anybody would love to watch them."
Goudeaux is a dog trainer by profession, but loves all animals, including horses. For her, this event has it all.
"Everything's delightful here," she said. "It doesn't cost anything to come. You get to spend your afternoon with lots of friendly people. And it's wonderful entertainment."
Milton Harris of Gulfport and his wife, Nancy, have horses to thank for bringing them together. "We lived out in the country, so we had to ride horses to date, to visit and all that," he said. "We didn't have a driver's license."
The attraction goes beyond those with a direct investment in horses.
"I just enjoy their majesty. I enjoy the show they put on," said Bea Petrozzino of Long Beach. "The riders do a great job with them. You can almost feel the relationship that the riders have with the horses."
This year at the hunter-jumper circuit enough riders to affect start times for the Grand Prix events. Now they will start at 3 p.m. instead of 2 p.m. for the remainder of the competition, which goes through March 18.
"The people that come here are our customers," said Janet McCarroll, event coordinator. "So, we change things every year because we have to keep interest in them to come back to us."
Among those repeat customer is Isabella Bleu Baxter of St. Louis. She's already won a Grand Prix event this year at the event with her horse named "Q."
With this being her first year competing, she plans to stay for the entire six weeks.
"I love the grass field. It's really fun to ride on the field," she said, "and the spectators that come out and cheer everyone on. They're great. They make it a lot of fun. Also, there's so much to do around here when you're not busy with the horses. So, it's a great show."