HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - This week, one of the biggest single events for economic impact on the Coast arrives.
The Gulf Coast Winter Classics horse competition is in its 21st year.
That means it’s gone from a trot to full gallop, and for many, the Harrison County Fairgrounds will be home for seven weeks.
“This year, we’re going to have a nice, big firepit,” said Holly Shepherd of Mobile. “Just good people being around us all the time. I think that makes it most comfortable.”
Shepherd has competed at this event every year for a lot of reasons.
“The derby ring and the grand prix ring are incredible,” she said. “The people here are super nice. I'm an hour away from home, the footing's good, the stabling's good, the casinos are a lot of fun and the restaurants are amazing."
It takes a lot of ground work to get ready and a lot of prop work as well.
“There’s a lot of solid things here that bring people back,” said event coordinator Janet McCarroll. “The good footing, the grass field, and, of course, the community. So, it’s not that hard to re-invent ourselves. We just change a few things up and smile and keep telling people come on down.”
McCarroll said the event has about a $40 million economic impact on the Coast.
That’s because people like Kathy Rheinheimer of Indiana and her family come to enjoy the competition and what the Coast has to offer.
“Yes, we do spend a lot of money down here, because most of us go out to eat every night,” she said. “And the shopping down here is phenomenal.”
As far as the competition, she said it’s laid back and helps her break in young horses.
“They’re at home right away,” Rheinheimer said. “They never get over intimidated. They’re not scared. It’s such a good experience for them.”
Her 13-year-old daughter, Emma, has been coming here since she was a baby, and, to her, it’s all about the horses.
“I look forward to coming here, because I get to spend more time with my horses,” she said. “They love me just the way I love them.”
The competition runs from Wednesday through March 31, and admission is free. For more information, check out Gulf Coast Weekend.