Sweet 16 was a solid success for the big horse show at the Harrison County Fairgrounds. The Gulf Coast Winter Classic wrapped up its six weeks of competition on Sunday.
This 16th annual show attracted new participants and a larger attendance.
A group from Ly-Nard Hills Farm in North Carolina is among those packing up.
"Setting up and tearing down is the hardest day, right? Your help is all worn out. We've been on the road for ten weeks, and now I try to push them to get 25 horses loaded," said Vick Russell, the veteran trainer and President of Ly-Nard Hills.
He lets his riders help with the tearing down and loading up and says that way they learn the whole thing from the ground up.
"We've had a great time. This is a wonderful place and we've started good, young horses into the grand prixs, and that's what we came here for," said Russell.
This year marks sweet 16 for the Gulf Coast Classic, and the early numbers from this year's competition point to yet another winner.
"A big success, I think. It takes a little while to shake it all out and see what it did, but we believe that attendance was up probably in the 25 percent range, which is good," said Executive Director Janet McCarroll.
Pam Hayden can now take a short break from working seven days a week at her food trailer. A former show groom, she decided a good retirement job would be to become a coffee and snack vendor at the horse shows.
"One of the judges got a coffee trailer, and I thought ‘what a neat idea.' That's what I want to do when I retire. I love it. Love the people," said Hayden.
For many of these horse show folks, it is a life on the road. After leaving South Mississippi, they'll be headed to the next shows in Atlanta or Houston.
"It's kind of a sad day, bitter sweet day. We're going on to some other places, but we always hate leaving here," said McCarroll.
She promises they'll return for year 17, next winter.
The annual Gulf Coast Winter Classic pumps millions of dollars into the local economy.
Not only do the visitors eat at restaurants, shop locally and visit the casinos but they also purchase supplies and equipment.
Many teams also rent houses or apartments in South Mississippi for the six week show.
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