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Quarter Horse Congress Registers Fewer Horses This Year

The forty-fourth annual All American Quarter Horse Congress kicked off this weekend at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. While some attendees have made sacrifices to come to the show, the Congress itself has held its own in the slow economy.

Men and women get in some practice time on their horses at one of the indoor riding arenas at the Ohio Expo Center.

Kimberly Tillman from Maryland sits atop A Smart Chance - a three-year-old tan filly with a white mane. The first time Tillman came to the annual All American Quarter Horse Congress was in 1987. She's been a regular for the last six years. This year, though, is a little different.

"I've only showed one at a time. I haven't taken both horses to the horse shows," she said. The change, Tillman said, is because of the down economy.

"As opposed to spending $1,500 at a horse show, I'm only spending $700 at a quarter horse show," Tillman said.

Tillman adds she'll dine out less during her time in Columbus to help curb spending.

And Tillman's not the only one making cutbacks at the show this year.

Ronnie Wayne from Greenville, South Carolina has been to the Congress for the past decade.

"My wife and I just brought one customer horse and two of our horses to show this year. And how many would you have brought in the past? We've had as many as six here," Wayne said.

And Wayne does not think there are as many participants at this year show.

"It appears to me since we've been here that it's not quite as busy as it was. Like, before the recession it was wall-to-wall," he said.

The Congress is the largest single-breed horse show in the world, and attracts attendees from all over the country. Tracy Bidwell is their spokesperson.

"Attendance as far as horse show entries is holding steady. We've been really lucky, in the past couple of years we have not seen a decline yet," Bidwell said.

Bidwell said typically there are about 18,000 divisional entries each year. So far, for 2010, there are about 16,000. But Bidwell expects this number to increase as people register for additional shows.

The number of horses registered, though, appears to be down. The Congress said about 8,500 Quarter Horses sign up annually. This year, Bidwell said, 7,700 are registered.

Still, Bidwell, said the numbers are good. And she attributes that to the show's size and prestige.

"If you're hurting you skip other shows and you come to the Congress. So that's why probably you guys haven't seen numbers drop too much? I think so. And especially the horse industry here in Ohio is pretty strong. So I think that we pull a lot of local people," Bidwell said.

The Congress will run for the next three weeks. It's expected to draw about 650,000 people to the area, generating as much as $110 million for the local economy.