Organizers of the first World Equestrian Games held Stateside hope that these will also be the first profitable ones.
The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games will stampede into Lexington, Ky., on Sept. 25, 2010, bringing with them a number of historic firsts: the first time the WEG have been held outside of Europe; the first time that there will be eight disciplines (dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, para dressage, reining and vaulting), all of which will take place at the Kentucky Horse Park, and the first time the WEG will have a title sponsor. And, officials hope, the first time the WEG will turn a profit.
Historically, the WEG have not broken even, let alone made money. But in a press conference in May of this year, Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech, pledged, “You heard it here; these Games will pay for themselves and will make a profit. Over half of the trade fair is booked; we have sponsors on board with more being added every month, and early indications are favorable for ticket sales. This is something that is going to put us on the map.”
Jamie Link, the World Games 2010 Foundation CEO, echoed Lyon’s statement that the WEG will operate in the black, even though the WEG doesn’t receive state funding.
“The Foundation is a not-for-profit entity, but we expect the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games to be commercially successful through sponsorships, hospitality package and ticket sales and trade show commercial space sales,” Link said. “We have been conservative with our building plans and will not spend more than we take in. Profits from the WEG will be turned over to the Kentucky Horse Park after the Games.”
What’s New At The Kentucky Horse Park
Two new competition facilities opened this year at the KHP. The outdoor stadium, named the Sheila C. Johnson stadium, opened on April 22, with the inaugural events being the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event dressage and show jumping, and the climate-controlled indoor arena opened in mid-July by hosting the WEG reining and vaulting test events.
The outdoor stadium grandstand has approximately 7,300 seats, including spaces for disabled seating and terrace tables, lighting for night competition, concession stands and restrooms.
The stadium features state-of-the-art artificial footing installed by OTTO Sport und Reitplatz GMBH of Germany and paid for by funds raised by Hugh Kincannon, manager of Kentucky Horse Shows, LLC and co-chairman of show jumping on the World Games 2010 Foundation, and his partners. The same surface was used at the 2006 Aachen WEG (Germany) and had already been installed in the Walnut Ring at the KHP in 2008.
“The OTTO Sport footing is secure, yet forgiving. The mats provide a significant cushioning effect as horses gallop and jump, and the drainage system makes wet weather a non-issue. Their design absorbs concussion, prevents horses from slipping and retains water to minimize dust,” said Kincannon in the Spring 2009 issue of Equine International magazine.
The new $40-million-plus indoor arena is air-conditioned, heated and has 6,000 seats and approximately 21,000 square feet of commercial exhibit space. Bob Kaiser, who is renowned as a guru of natural footing, designed the surface, which was chosen with reining in mind.
The indoor arena has an enclosed warm-up area, and construction continues on three stable blocks (each with 104 stalls, also climate controlled) that will be connected to the indoor by an enclosed walkway. Eventually, a fourth stable building will be added.
“Many people don’t realize that the new outdoor stadium and new indoor arena were not built specifically for the World Games but were already included in our long-range plan before we ever bid on hosting the Games,” said Lisa Jackson, KHP director of marketing and public relations. “When we decided to bid on the Games in 2005, the state of Kentucky joined us to back up our plans and guarantee to the Fédération Equestre Inter-nationale that the improvement projects would go on as planned so that we could be ready to host the Games in 2010.”
In addition to the permanent seating in the new outdoor stadium and indoor arena, there will be additional temporary seating added for the WEG. This includes another 22,500-plus seats around the outdoor stadium, a 6,000-seat driving stadium and seating at various popular spots on the endurance course, cross-country course and driving marathon.
The KPH is 31 years old this year and needed a face lift, said Jackson. Improvements to the internal roadways, walkways and lighting, made possible by $2.4 million in state funding, will be finished in time for the Games. A new roundabout was installed in the Park entranceway to alleviate traffic congestion and eliminate the “harsh” left turns that were difficult for big rigs turning into the stabling area.
Widening and repaving Cigar Lane (which runs mostly north-south from the entrance along the west side of the Park back to the new indoor arena) and Nina Bonnie Boulevard (the mile-long major east-west road that runs across the back of the Park) will be completed by this fall.
Federal funding is also providing for much-needed renovation of the Big Barn, one of the largest wooden barns in North America. The renovations will be historically accurate, and KHP officials hope to gain National Historic Landmark status for the barn.
In addition to these plans, Jackson said several privately funded projects at the KHP are planned for completion by the Games. These include: the new U.S. Hunter Jumper Association headquarters, the American Morgan Horse Pavilion, an addition to the American Saddlebred Museum and an 8,500-square-foot expansion to the International Museum of the Horse to house the Arabian Horse Gallery.
Beyond the improvements made to the KHP, there are road improvements in the works in and around Lexington and to the Interstates running from Louisville and Cincinnati to Lexington. There’s also a new bicycle and hiking Legacy Trail, which runs from Lexington to the KHP.
Planning The Games
In December 2005 a proposal to host the WEG was developed, and since that time members of the World Games Foundation have worked with officials from the Kentucky Horse Park, the U.S. Equestrian Federation, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, title sponsor Alltech and the cities of Lexington and Georgetown to plan the 2010 WEG.
Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry was part of the Kentucky delegation that went to Aachen, Germany, in 2006 to observe the previous WEG.
“I came away from Aachen with the belief that even though we knew this was going to be a big event, we really didn’t have any idea how big it was going to be for us, economically or from the perspective of Lexington’s visibility in the world,” he said. “This will change the way the world looks at Lexington. It’s just that simple and that profound at the same time.”
Test events are being conducted for every discipline so that the venues, volunteers, security, and other aspects of hosting the WEG can be tried. The first test events were the reining and vaulting in July, and driving and endurance events will follow in October, then show jumping and dressage test events will run concurrently with the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in April 2010.
Kate Jackson, WEG Foundation vice president of competitions, oversees everything that touches the horse and rider during the Games, from quarantine to equipment to veterinary and farrier care. Jackson is a veteran, having been in charge of equestrian competitions at the Seoul and Atlanta Olympics.
“We are now moving from the planning stage to the execution stage,” she said. “Each of the discipline managers (Lloyd Landkamer, dressage and para dressage; Susan Gililand, driving; Emmett Ross, endurance; Jane Atkinson, eventing; Hugh Kincannon, jumping; Brad Ettleman, reining, and Kersten Klophaus, vaulting) are experts in their area. In addition, Sherry Frank, technology and competition volunteer coordinator; Susan Reynolds, equipment coordinator; Kent Allen, veterinary services coordinator, and Howard Simpson, athlete services coordinator, will all deal with the ‘global issues’ across all of the disciplines.”
According to Jackson, the details of each competition are carefully being worked out during each test event.
For example, since the KHP isn’t big enough to accommodate the 100-mile track for endurance, the competitors will have to make five 20-mile loops, starting at the KHP, traveling off the grounds and then circling back to the KHP for veterinary checks. The logistics of monitoring the competitors and providing security seem daunting, but organizers plan to have global positioning system trackers attached to each horse and rider pair to assist in the effort.
The athletes will not stay in an organized athletes’ village but will choose their own housing. Team vans with volunteer drivers will shuttle the athletes, and the Language Services Department from the University of Kentucky will provide translators where needed.
A temporary veterinary hospital will be constructed on KHP grounds, and a temporary equine quarantine facility is being built at the Cincinnati (Ohio) airport for the horses coming from Europe. Horses from South America will come through quarantine in Miami (Fla.), and horses from Asia, Australia and New Zealand will go through quarantine in Los Angeles (Calif.). The U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Ames, Iowa, will process all test samples.
Logistical Challenges Under Control
Link wanted to clarify that although it’s expected that up to 600,000 visitors might attend the WEG over the 16 days, they will not all be there every day. An expected daily average attendance is about 40,000. Between 25,000 to 60,000 are expected on the eventing cross-country and driving marathon days when there will be no assigned seating and general admission tickets are $25.
“While this seems like a lot of people, considering it’s not unusual for us tohave 45,000 to 50,000 people at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event for cross-country, it’s well within our capability to handle a crowd of this magnitude,” said Link.
Much planning is going into the “park and ride” bus transportation from area parking lots to the front gate of the KHP. Security checks will be completed before people board the buses.
“We want people to arrive at the Park ready to have a great day,” said Link.
Taking care of visitors once they arrive is foremost in the minds of the WEG planners. Niki Heichelbech, media/communications manager of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, explained that “front line” employees of the restaurant, hotel, police department and other service industries in Lexington are participating in the Bluegrass Tourism Ambassador Program, a nationally certified hospitality-training course.
“From February 2008 to June 2009, roughly 800 people had gone through the certification with 25 to 30 more completing the course every week and thousands expected to be certified by 2010,” said Heichelbech. “We will be the first city in the U.S. to certify our entire police staff in this program.”
Two artistic aspects of the WEG are yet to be announced: the identity of the 2010 WEG mascot and details of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. The ceremonies will contain music, interpretive and historical aspects, and there’s some discussion of using water from all 120 Kentucky counties. Visitors from Normandy, France, the site of the next WEG, have visited Kentucky to coordinate their participation in the Closing Ceremonies.
Link views the WEG as a springboard for tourism and economic development in Central Kentucky.
“We want the Games to be technically and artistically perfect,” said Link. “Our legacy will be a premier equestrian facility here at the Park, and we hope to raise the Games to a whole new level.”
“I want [visitors] to just be wowed by what we can do, for them to think that Kentucky really is the horse capital of the world and that we have lived up to our billing,” said Lisa Jackson.