The numbers are proof the Gulf Coast Winter Classics is not horsing around.
The six week equestrian showcase brings almost 20,000 horse owners and riders to south Mississippi. Those people are credited with booking 10,000 room nights at area hotels.
They reportedly eat 60,000 dinners during their six week stay. They shop at our stores. They even ride in our Mardi Gras parades.
Their economic impact is an estimated $42 million. And yet, they get very little fanfare from the community.
Were you aware the Gulf Coast Winter Classics is wrapping up its 10th horse show at the Harrison County Fairgrounds? I wasn't.
I must also admit that my assignment at the Winter Classics event on Wednesday was just my second visit to the event -- ever! Shame on me, because there's so much to see, and so much to enjoy at the different equestrian venues.
Lucky for me, Wednesday was the day a special guest showed up at the fairgrounds. Steve Stephens, the course designer who set up the equestrian track at the Beijing Olympics, mapped out a jumping trail for the fairgrounds horses.
"I'm like helping them teach their horses," Stephens explained as he watched the first horse and rider fly over the first rail on the 10 gate course. "I like to be a part of it. I'm basically part of it, and not on the horse."
Stephens and I spent about an hour together. I got to hear some great stories about the subtle nuances he had to include in his Olympic course to make it fit in with China's requirements. He also walked me through the fairgrounds course, and explained how athleticism and speed are incorporated into the layout he created for the amateurs and pros in south Mississippi.
I've never been comfortable on a horse. And I would never try to jump one over a gate. But thanks to Mr. Stephens, and the Gulf Coast Winter Classics participants, I have a much greater appreciation for the power and the grace you see at equestrian competitions.
Sometime Sunday, the makeshift barns will be taken down, the jumping gates will be put in storage, and the last remaining horses will be loaded onto trailers and returned to their farms.
That will be Janet McCarroll's first chance to catch her breath. McCarroll is the show coordinator.
"We've actually had some new growth, and a lot of people who've come here who never came before," she bragged. "I hope that it says that we've worked really hard to produce just a quality event."
Kudos to McCarroll and her staff. Thanks for galloping into south Mississippi each winter with a horse show that quietly enhances our community.
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