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World Equestrian Games Mean A Brand New Day For KHP



 

by Ann Bullard

September 2010. The eyes of the international equestrian world are focused on Lexington, Ken., and the Kentucky Horse Park. What will they see: an anticipated 800 riders, 1,000 horses and their entourages from 50 nations competing in show jumping, dressage, three-day eventing, competitive driving, reining, vaulting and endurance riding. It will be the first time all seven disciplines will be held at a single venue or that the games will be held outside of Europe.

“It's a brand new day for the Kentucky Horse Park,” Director John Nicholson said shortly after the December 2005 announcement. The state won the bid over the Normandie-Basse region of France, at a meeting in Bahrain. Kentucky was runner-up in the bidding for the 2006 games which will be held in Aachen, Germany.

The five person delegation, Nicholson, John Long, chief executive officer of the United States Equestrian Federation, Inc., Derrick Ramsey, deputy secretary of the state's Commerce Cabinet, Tandy Patrick, chair of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission and Rob Hinkle, the park's director of operations, brought home more than an equine event. They positioned Kentucky - and the Horse Park in particular - on the national and international stage for two weeks.

“I really can't begin to say what this means,” Ramsey said. “It will be the biggest sporting event ever held in state of Kentucky. The Derby has 125,000 to 150,000 people but it's only for a weekend and two minutes. The World Games is a two-week event, with a $33 million operating budget from ticket sales, sponsorships and commercial activity.

“It's the equivalent of two NCAA Final Fours. We anticipate 300,000 to 400,000 people, including 1,000 media and broadcasters from 50 countries, attending this event,” Ramsey said, “lowballing” the event's economic impact on the Lexington-area economy at $100 million.

“The Horse Park has 1,224 acres and will continue to grow,” Ramsey said, explaining that the park reports to him. “It had almost a million visitors last year and that will grow exponentially over the next few years. The Rolex Three-Day Event is hugely successful and the venue helped put it among the top of the top in this country.”

The Kentucky-based games will be the sixth such event, held every four years between Olympic competitions. Top medal honors at the inaugural games in Stockholm, Sweden went to West Germany with 12 medals, four each in gold, silver and bronze. Germany won 16 medals at the 1994 games in Holland and 11 at Rome in 1998. The 2002 games, held in Jerez, Spain, were the closest ever for the German teams, who edged the French team by two bronze medals. For the first time, the United States finished third with eight medals, three gold, three silver and two bronze.

Governing organizations of each discipline are beginning their selection process for the 2006 games in Aachen, Germany.  

 

“The World Equestrian Games is the very essence of what equestrian sport stands for,” said United States Equestrian Federation President and Olympic Gold Medal-winner David O'Connor. “It is simply the pinnacle of equestrian sport for each of the seven disciplines it represents.”

Misdee Wrigley is one Saddlebred equestrienne who has experienced the grueling training required to compete on this level. Today, she concentrates on the more 'sedate' four-in-hand competition rather than timed events. “I used to do this but it takes so much time and training there weren't enough hours in my day. It's three-day eventing for carriage horses,” she said of this level of competitive driving. “Think of it as driven dressage with a four-horse team on the first day. A marathon phase of 7.5 kilometers follows, with horses working through obstacles with difficult turns. They're timed on speed and knock-downs. The final test is a timed cones event over a very difficult obstacle course.”

Wrigley has several friends who compete in international carriage driving. While she won't be at the whip, she plans to help facilitate such things as design and building of the driving courses.

There's a lot to be done in the next four years. With Governor Ernie Fletcher solidly behind the event, the state is well on the way to accomplishing that goal. The Governor has appointed Jim Host, the state's former Commerce Secretary and founder of the sports marketing and management firm, Host Communications, to chair the World Games Board of Directors.

As exciting as the prospect of hosting the games may be, what goes along with it probably will have the strongest impact on the show horse world. Construction of a long-discussed $35 million arena and a 300-room hotel at the park were a major part of the state's presentation. The contracts to lease land for the hotel have been signed with formal announcement of the public-private partnership to be made within 90 days.

The proposed arena faces what will be a new lake on the site of the present soccer fields on the northwest side of the park. Current plans are for the hotel to be just off Iron Works Pike to the left of the park's front entrance.

“It will be as fine an equestrian arena as there is on the continent,” Nicholson said, pointing out that the facility will enable the Horse Park to compete for all breeds' national events. “The state-of-the-art facility will be totally climate-controlled, with 6,000 seats, 10 luxury suites and an approximate 300 by 170-foot oval arena. The walls, approximately the same height as at the present Horse Park arena, will be built at an angle leading into the crowd, making it easier for exhibitors and maintenance workers.”

“We're planning privately-financed, attached stabling,” he continued, adding they are “looking forward to enthusiastic participation from the Saddlebred and Morgan communities.”

“The Legislature [which now is in session] still has to approve the $35 million appropriation, which will be recommended in the Governor's Executive Budget,” Nicholson said; he foresees that passing this session. “It is necessary for the World Equestrian Games so there is a greater sense of urgency than there might have been in the past. The funding is receiving the Governor's as well as a broad range of support.”

Tandy Patrick, chair of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, is an avid spokesperson for the American Saddlebred as well as the Horse Park. A life-long Saddlebred enthusiast, she and her father, Walter, have broodmares in Lawrenceburg, Ky. They are customers of Helen and Jimmy Robertson at Infinity Stables; their youngsters are trained by Carter Cox. She looked back on her experience in Bahrain.

“The Bureau [the board of directors for the FEI, who govern international competition] was very polite and nice in a social setting. They asked, 'Do you ride?' When I told them I rode American Saddlebreds they really didn't know about them. I explained Saddlebreds don't like to be turned out in a big pasture all day; 'They're like movie stars. They love people and attention.'”

Patrick succeeded Walt Robertson as chair of the Horse Park. Both have worked hard on the concept of the new arena. “It's essential for us to be able to host the 2010 Games, but we wanted it anyway,” she conceded honestly in discussing the long-anticipated project. “It opens up opportunities to stage all kinds of equine and non-equine events. John [Long] gave us a list of about 25 events not currently held in Kentucky that could be held at the covered arena if we had it. That's not to say we will get them all.”

She pointed out that the Horse Park hosts the headquarters for several national equine organizations. More are expected to move there this year.

“The new hotel will have a conference center, which will help make it the equine center in the United States. This is the place you need to be,” she said. “We now have an event almost 360 days a year. It's an venue for all different kinds of things.”

“As we grow and expand our horizons and with all these wonderful and great new things, the Commission repeatedly mentions we will never be a Disneyland. First and foremost, the Horse Park is a working horse farm. We're always mindful of that when building new buildings and infrastructure. We've got to keep those white fences.”

“This is about the horse. It's a great thing for families and kids to see. That character definitely needs to be preserved.” As Walt Robertson put it, “the sky's the limit.”

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