Welcoming the World Equestrian Games 09.24.2010

Welcoming the World Equestrian Games 09.24.2010

I think it’s a great opportunity for Lexington, but our family would prefer to avoid most of the chaos. Maybe we just don’t play well with others, but we plan to miss the bulk of it.”—Becky Wallace

The Horse Circus is Coming to Town!

Welcoming the World Equestrian Games

By Heather C. Watson

By now, every Lexingtonian has heard that the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games are “galloping into town,” or some similarly cringe-worthy slogan.  For well over a year now, the WEG Countdown clocks have loomed over Lexington traffic like the disjointed eyes of T.J. Eckleburg, the fictional Long Island optometrist whose freeway billboards oversaw Jay Gatsby’s misdeeds. Stores as unlikely as Meijer and Macy’s have displayed aisle after aisle of WEG-branded merchandise since just after Derby Day, and no Lexington newscast would be complete without coverage of the Games’ economic impact. Lexington, it seems, is on WEG overload.

For Lexingtonian Leslee Moore, the events at the World Equestrian Games are an even bigger draw than the Olympics. Moore, a longtime eventing and dressage enthusiast, notes, “I was lucky enough to be an equestrian field-of-play volunteer at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, but WEG 2010 tops that by a good bit because WEG includes all eight international disciplines, not just the three recognized by the International Olympic Committee.”

Jenny Lynn Hatter, a Cynthiana school administrator, provides the perspective of an un-jaded spectator, her three-year-old son: “We are so excited to take Harrison to this once-in-a-lifetime event that celebrates Kentucky in all its equine fabulousness.  He has told everyone the world horse circus is coming to town!”

Moore’s interest in the Games runs far more personal than that of a run-of-the-mill spectator.  As an employee of the O’Connor Event Team, she works closely with world-class equestrians. She adds, “One of my bosses will be here in his capacity of president of the United States Equestrian Federation and in his role as coach of the Canadian Eventing team.  However, even more exciting is the fact that my other boss will be competing as a member of the U.S. Eventing team. It just doesn’t get any better than this!”  (Moore’s employers, the husband and wife equestrian team David and Karen O’Connor, hold a combined five Olympic medals and numerous Pan-American and WEG medals.)

For equestrian enthusiasts like Moore, the Games are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase the inextricable link between Kentucky and the horse: “Never in my wildest dreams did I think the World Equestrian Games would be held outside of Europe!” she raves.  “I am thrilled that the majority of these riders will have their first chance to see just what a fantastic facility we have here in the Kentucky Horse Park.  And, these horses and riders (and drivers and vaulters) are the absolute best in the world at what they do. You can use whatever cliche you choose:  rock star, royalty, best of the best, cream of the crop…each may be trite, but any would accurately describe the equine and human athletes who will be here.”

Other Lexingtonians aren’t quite so enthusiastic.  Attorney Jenni Scutchfield, a mother of two, notes, “I hate to say this, but I really have no plans to take the kids.” Scutchfield jokes—“I hate crowds and tend to lose my son.” – but notes that she plans to visit the newly renovated Horse Park with her kids once the Games are over.

Realtor Becky Wallace says that she and her husband plan to visit Disney World with their two small daughters during the Games. “I have no desire to be around all the traffic and madness,” Wallace sighs. “I think it’s a great opportunity for Lexington, but our family would prefer to avoid most of the chaos. Maybe we just don’t play well with others, but we plan to miss the bulk of it.”

Traffic is a similar concern for Heather Ley. A downtown-based office manager, Ley notes that, after months of construction and traffic problems, “I’m so annoyed at this point that I just want them to be finished.” Ley cites downtown road closures as the final straw. “I just learned that they’re going to close a variety of downtown streets from September 24th to October 10th.  I’m a horse girl and I appreciate the magnitude of the WEG, but this is ridiculous.”  Ley’s misgivings about the traffic and planning issues don’t extend to her participation in the Games, she says. She plans to attend a few days of the competition to watch her friends compete.

The World Equestrian Games, we’ve been told, are the equestrian world’s version of the Super Bowl, the World Cup, the Olympics, and the Masters rolled into one. We’ve been assured that spectators from all over the world will come out to cheer on their countries’ teams. We’ve been promised concerts and activities and oh-so-much more, yet we find ourselves wondering what the World Equestrian Games bring to the thousands of Lexingtonians who have no ties to the horse industry. We question how downtown’s already tortured traffic patterns will sustain the influx of out-of-towners. We fear the tickets are too expensive. We wonder why the company that makes everyone’s favorite local beer is spending so very much money on a non-racing horse event. But, most of all, we wonder why we should care about the World Equestrian Games. How does a multi-million dollar equestrian competition tie into the lives of everyday folks? 

Should Lexingtonians give in to the impending sense of WEG overload and get out of town during the event? If our only equine experiences are semi-regular trips to the Keeneland Sports Bar or the distant memory of our grade school class trips to the Horse Park, should we ditch the games altogether?  Or should we take advantage of the entertainment, education and pageantry that the Games have to offer?  What are the World Equestrian Games, and why should the average Lexingtonian – who doesn’t know a gait from a gallop—care about them?


As the WEG logo spells out in infinite detail, the Games are properly called the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.  Alltech is, of course, the Kentucky link; the Nicholasville-based animal nutrition and supplement company is providing corporate sponsorship for the 2010 event.  FEI is the FÈdÈration …questre Internationale (or International Federation for Equestrian Sports), the Lausanne, Switzerland-based governing body for equestrian sports, an international organization whose presidents have included military generals and monarchs.  The World Equestrian Games are the two-week-long event, held every four years, in which the world’s most elite equestrians compete in a variety of disciplines, as regulated and overseen by the FEI.

Since the Games’ inception in 1990, they have never before been held outside Europe.  This year’s event, which will be held at the Kentucky Horse Park, offer not only a new American exposure to the WEG, but also the incorporation of all competitions into one site.  The Horse Park has expanded to meet the capacity of the Games with the recent construction of two new arenas, marking the first time that all WEG discipline events will be held on the same grounds.

Perhaps the most significant innovation, however, is that the 2010 event marks the first year in which the World Equestrian Games has obtained corporate sponsorship.  Alltech, along with its President and founder, Irish-born chemist Dr. Pearse Lyons, has become synonymous with the brand of the 2010 WEG, through relentless marketing, partnerships, and a healthy influx of capital.

Pearse Lyons, according to a well-worn legend, was having a cup of coffee with Jim Host of the Louisville Arena Authority several years ago when he made the commitment to sponsor the Games.  This commitment, which Dr. Lyons has since called the “most expensive cup of coffee ever,” led to the creation of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. 

Just past the bustle of the Nicholasville Road shopping traffic, on Jessamine County’s sleepy-sounding Catnip Hill Road, lies the Headquarters building for Alltech, the international animal nutrition and supplement company. The waiting room chandelier evokes the form of a fantastical, postmodern peacock.  A door handle channels the form of a stylized glass horse – or maybe it’s a dolphin. 

Alltech began in 1980 as a biochemistry company, an offshoot of the yeast research that Dr. Lyons had conducted in the United Kingdom’s spirits industry. By 1984, the company was producing animal feed, and it soon grew to an international operation, providing a full spectrum of animal health and nutrition products. As operations grew, so did the scope of Alltech’s innovation: the labs began to produce the popular Kentucky Ale line, and later embarked upon algae research.

Dr. Lyons’ reputation as a visionary proceeds him.  Most any conversation with someone who has worked with Dr. Lyons evokes the standard business school definition of the entrepreneurial spirit.  Dr. Lyons, they say, dreams big.  As is the most entrepreneurs, those big dreams can either lead to huge payoffs or spectacular disasters. 

When Dr. Lyons committed to Alltech’s corporate sponsorship in the summer of 2006, it was clear that this would be another huge dream.  Dr. Lyons hand-picked a dedicated, cross-functional WEG steering team from among Alltech’s top-level employees.  Equestrian enthusiasts cheered the event possibilities, the tourism industry anxiously awaited visitors, and pundits doubted the whole endeavor. Would the World Equestrian Games and their related events, backed by Alltech’s deep commitment and even deeper pockets, be remembered as a raging success or Pearse’s Folly? Would the sponsorship provide an inextricable link between Alltech’s Lifezone equine nutrition supplements and the equestrian sports industry, or would it be the costliest marketing gamble since New Coke?

With the addition of Alltech’s corporate sponsorship, 2010 Games mark a concentrated attempt to provide something for everyone. In addition to the equestrian events, this year’s WEG festivities include extensive Grounds entertainment, as well as a state-wide concert series.


The Games themselves feature competitions in eight of the FEI’s ten equestrian disciplines: driving, dressage, endurance riding, eventing, paraequestrianism, reining, show jumping, and vaulting.  Of the eight events, seven involve a single horse-and-rider combination.  Dressage involves classically trained horses performing highly controlled displays of athleticism and obedience. Endurance riding is a one-day, 100 mile race. Reining displays the athletic ability of western-type horses. Reining competitions are a fast-paced, showy display in which galloping horses glide to a dramatic halt.  Jumping is the test of skill and athleticism in jumping over a series of obstacles.Vaulting involves the performance of acrobatics or dance atop a cantering horse. Eventing, sort of an equestrian triathlon, tests the riders in a combination of the dressage, cross-country and jumping disciplines. Paraequestrian events—new to the WEG this year—showcase riders with physical disabilities. The driving discipline involves teams of four horses, competing in the areas of Dressage, Marathon, and Obstacle Cones Driving.

While the games provide an incredible opportunity for equine enthusiasts to enjoy the highest level of their sport, many of the events are equally accessible for the uninitiated viewer.  The rodeo-style crowd participation of the Reining events, the chariot-race feel of the Driving discipline, and the circus performance atmosphere of the Vaulting performances make these competitions a favorite for family audiences as well as knowledgeable equestrians.

Perhaps the most ambitious and far-reaching aspect of the World Equestrian Games is the live entertainment.  The Alltech Fortnight Festival promises live entertainment in a variety of genres and across a wide spectrum of venues. According to Thomas Stevens, Alltech’s Corporate Counsel and Director of the Fortnight Festival, when Dr. Lyons visited the 2006 Games in Aachen, Germany, he was dismayed to find an utter lack of nightlife for visitors.  In turn, he worked with the WEG team to develop a multi-tiered program of entertainment for the entire state.  The acts range from La Boheme to Shooter Jennings, and span a geographical area from Ashland to Murray.

Jessica Case, owner of Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, is excited about the potential for both local entertainment and economic growth that the Fortnight Festival affords. “Buster’s is very excited to be a part of the Alltech Fortnight Concert Series,” she says. “We hope to showcase for the world a diverse range of talent in our unique venue and to give the Distillery District the exposure it needs to realize its true potential.”
As Case illustrates, the Games and associated festivities promise a high level of interest and exposure for music venues, restaurants, and lodging throughout the Bluegrass.

Little Feat, Lexington Opera House

Blake Shelton, Courthouse Plaza
Ralph Stanley, Christ the King Oktoberfest
Randy Travis, LeAnn Rimes, Legends ballpark

Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, Christ the King Oktoberfest


Governor Steve Beshear says, “The competition is estimated to bring hundreds of thousands of visitors and millions of dollars into our state. A recent economic impact study estimated the Games will bring $167 million into Kentucky. The vast majority of visitors will come from outside the Bluegrass state, bringing new dollars to be spent across the Commonwealth. In terms of economic impact, the Games are a Kentucky event, benefiting every citizen and every community.”

The estimated $167 million dollar return was postulated in an independent study by University of Louisville economics professor Paul Coomes in the spring of 2010.  This revenue will derive mainly from visitors such as spectators, competitors and journalists.  While earlier speculation placed tourism revenue far higher, some adjustments have been made for the current economic climate. When the state won its WEG bid in the early 2000s, the recession had not yet hit.  Now, not everyone is as optimistic about even scaled-back economic projections.

Financial considerations have hit home for many Lexington-area families who want to take part in the Games. Lexington attorney Jane Brannon says that she and her husband considered bringing their twin four year-old sons to the games, but found the price tag to be prohibitive. “The cheapest tickets are $25, which means $100 for us to walk in the gate. [She left out parking.] I don’t know what the price is for drinks and food, etc., but I am pretty certain that they are not giving those away. It would easily end up being a $200 day (or more if we buy a hat or toy or what-have-you). We can spend the whole day at the Louisville Zoo for $100.”

Law firm recruiter Carrie Marshall agrees that the ticket prices run high for a family event: “I think we are going to take the kids to see the Vaulting one day, simply because I may be getting tickets from my office. The whole undertaking would be too expensive if we weren’t getting free tickets. The kids are excited about the possibility of going, though. They love the Horse Park on a normal day so I have no doubt they will love the craziness of it all.”

The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games offer Lexingtonians the glamour of international equestrian competition, the opportunity for diverse entertainment options, and the potential promise of state economic stimulus.  The Horse Capital of the World, for two weeks, will greet international equestrian enthusiasts while seeking to entertain its locals.  As Harrison Hatter would say, “The Horse Circus is coming to town!”

The daily grounds events that will be held in conjunction with the Games promise to live up to Harrison Hatter’s expectations of a “horse circus.”  Over four acres of on-site educational and entertainment options are designed to provide a mini-World’s Fair for spectators.  These family-oriented displays, filled with food, drink, music, and hands-on entertainment, act both as a supplement to the games and as a stand-alone attraction.  Grounds admissions are free with purchase of Games tickets, or can be purchased as a standalone Grounds Pass. The purchase of an adult Grounds Pass includes admission for an unlimited number of children aged 12 and under.

The Grounds promise an EPCOT Center-style trip around the world.  Four acres of Horse Park land will be devoted to the various pavilions. The Alltech Experience provides Alltech PR, along with tents where adults can enjoy samples of Kentucky Ale, while their children enjoy Kidzone exhibits including Dippin’ Dots, the Newport Aquarium and a farm-life simulation. The Equine Village celebrates the horse, providing demonstrations, lessons and information, including a pony petting zoo and tail-braiding opportunities for kids, as well as a simulated Native American village and the daily creation of giant sand structures. The Kentucky Experience spotlights the food, art, music, and resources of each of the state’s geographic regions. The Equine Trade Fair offers a variety of horse-inspired gifts, collectibles, artwork, apparel, tack, jewelry, and other unique merchandise, and the French Experience showcases Normandy, the French region that will play host to the 2014 Games, with French cooking demonstrations, tourism information, and food and beverage samples.

Yard Dogs, Buster’s

The Hold Steady, Buster’s


Big Bad Voodoo Daddy with Lexington Philharmonic, Singletary Center

Laura Bell Bundy, Courthouse Plaza

John Lithgow, Lexington Opera House
Ivan Neville, Buster’s


Grand Night for Singing, Courthouse Plaza

JD Crowe, Sam Bush, Courthouse Plaza
Nickelback/Three Days Grace/Buckcherry, Rupp Arena
Charlie Daniels Band, Lexington Opera House