Skip to content

John Nicholson announces Retirement from The Virginia Horse Center Foundation; The Foundation Plans Leadership Transition



After six years of recovery, growth, and progress for the Virginia Horse Center Foundation (VHC), John Nicholson announced that he planned to retire, giving the Board of Directors (BOD) an opportunity to develop a leadership transition plan. As a result of the pandemic, the planned transition was delayed by one year and is being announced today.

“I am honored to have served as The Virginia Horse Center’s Chief Executive Officer," said John Nicholson. "And I will continue to work in this role until the future leader is in place.  I would like to thank the team of incredibly hardworking employees of the VHCF. It has been a privilege to work with a truly remarkable group of people."  

Under Nicholson’s leadership VHCF’s financial stability was restored, enabling it to thrive at a time when its survival was in question.   Nicholson and his team attracted new horse shows, recruited new Board Members, and garnered the support of the equestrian community.  Most recently, VHC raised millions of dollars to fund newly added renovations and upgrades, guided by VHCF’s first-ever Master Plan.
 
Gardy Bloemers, President of the BOD said, "On behalf of the entire BOD, I would like to thank John for his more than six years of service with the Virginia Horse Center Foundation (VHCF). Seven years ago, our organization faced two very serious problems:  a leadership void and financial instability.  It would be hard to imagine what would have happened to VHC had we not found John.”  

Former Board President, Ernie Oare, shared, “I was able to recruit former Kentucky Horse Park CEO John Nicholson to initially serve as a consultant and subsequently to become our full-time CEO.   Together with a strong team, John skillfully led the facility out of a crisis to a position of prominence in the Commonwealth and national equestrian communities.”

Board Vice President Kenny Wheeler said, “All of us are incredibly grateful to John for stepping in to lead at a time when we needed specific expertise and help.  The situation was pretty dismal.  His vast experience and ability to connect with the horse industry, and the localities of Lexington and Rockbridge County, as well as Commonwealth leaders, enabled us to turn this ship in the right direction.”  

During Nicholson’s tenure he worked with both management and the elected leaders of Lexington and Rockbridge to increase the local occupancy tax allocated to meet the debt service on VHCF’s $11.5 million mortgage from the US Department of Agriculture.  Obtaining non-operating resources to meet annual debt service payments was the first step in returning VHCF to financial stability.

Spencer Suter, Rockbridge County Administrator, added, "John was the shot it in arm that VHCF needed at such a critical time.  It is no coincidence that his arrival heralded a period of organizational healing and financial recovery.  His ability to seamlessly develop relationships and earn trust was clearly a catalyst in revitalizing a critical component of our community."

John Nicholson concluded, "I would like to thank the Board of Directors for its leadership, and the community of Rockbridge and Lexington for its partnership over the past six years. I strongly believe in the future of the VHCF.  I am proud that many of our goals have been accomplished. The VHCF has a bright future and I look forward to seeing its continued success."  

President Bloemers appointed a Board subcommittee in December of 2020 to lead the search for VHCF's next leader with the goal of filling the position in mid-2021.  The search committee has created a robust and transparent process to identify the most capable person to lead the VHCF forward.  We are looking for a mission-driven and experienced business leader who is skilled in executing strategic plans, developing and leading staff and fostering a positive and empowering culture.  Please find the Executive Director job description here.

More Stories

  • Latest Issue 3 4 24

    Read More
  • Joint Leadership Council Reinstated

    Leaders of the American Saddlebred Horse and Breeders Association, American Hackney Horse Society, American Road Horse and Pony Association, and the United Professional Horsemen’s Association met Sunday evening to reinstate the Joint Leadership Council (JLC), comprised of leadership from all four membership organizations. Read More
  • Latest Issue 3 24 HW

    Read More
  • 2024 ASHBA Council and Committee Applications Are Now Live!

    If you are passionate about serving to strengthen the American Saddlebred Horse & Breeders Association (ASHBA) and the future of the American Saddlebred, you may be interested in joining one of ASHBA’s committees! ASHBA is proud to host a full slate of committees that allow all members to get involved. Read More
  • ASHBA Holding Statement Regarding World's Championship Horse Show

    The American Saddlebred Horse and Breeders Association has seen the Kentucky State Fair Board’s unexpected press release yesterday afternoon, after learning the day before of its plan to drop the United States Equestrian Federation as its governing body for the 2024 World Championship Horse Show. Read More
  • WCHS drops USEF, joins ESC

    Read More
  • WCHS Drops USEF, Joins ESC

    The World’s Championship Horse Show (WCHS) announced today that the Equine Sports Council (ESC) has been selected as the governing body ahead of the 2024 event. In February, the Kentucky State Fair Board unanimously approved the change, recognizing the importance of operating with Saddlebred-competition-tailored rules and standards emphasizing integrity, sportsmanship, and safety for the non-Olympic horse industry. Qualifying requirements for WCHS remain unchanged. Read More
  • Meet the Author Event with Emma Hudelson

    Join the American Saddlebred Museum on Friday, April 5 at 3:00 p.m. for a lecture, book signing and reception with Emma Hudelson author of Sky Watch: Chasing an American Saddlebred Story. This book is not only the tale of a remarkable horse, but of the American Saddlebred breed and the way these horses carried one rider back to herself.  Read More
  • 2024 USEF Saddle Seat Medal Finals Qualifying Season Has Begun

     US Equestrian invites saddle seat equitation athletes in the junior exhibitor and adult amateur ranks to plan their path to the 2024 USEF Saddle Seat Medal Finals. The finals will be held once again at the UPHA American Royal National Horse Show in Kansas City, Mo., in November. Read More
  • Morgan Stallion Sweeps Winners Drawn

    In conjunction with the United Breeders Committee, the New England Morgan Horse Association and New England Regional Morgan Horse Show, have drawn the 2023-2024 Morgan Stallion Sweeps winners. Read More