On the Rail with Nancy Jaffer: The Case for the Kentucky Horse Park

I have vivid memories of 1986, the last year the Olympic equestrian disciplines held separate world championships. First, I flew to Gawler, Australia, for the eventing title meet. Next was the show jumping at Aachen, Germany. For good measure, I hit the four-in-hand driving at Ascot, England, where Prince Philip was very much in evidence, enjoying his favorite sport. Finally, I headed to Cedar Valley, Canada, near Toronto, for the dressage. That was a lot of traveling, about four weeks worth over the spring and summer. It didn’t come cheap, either. As far as I know, the only other person lucky enough to see all four of those wonderful competitions was the late Findlay Davidson, a British photojournalist.

I wanted to go to those four championships again, but knew I could never afford to repeat my odyssey. So it was great news to hear that those disciplines, together with vaulting and endurance, were going to be collected into the first World Equestrian Games in Stockholm four years later. What a terrific idea, I thought. It only took one plane ticket, and one hotel room, to see the best that the FEI (international equestrian federation) had to offer across the board.

Sweden did a super job with the first WEG. Some had felt it would be a one-of occasion, but it was decided to give the second WEG in 1994 to France. The French had financial problems, however, and the Games were awarded late to Holland.

The Dutch did their best, but they overspent. Part of the problem was that they were unable to hold any practice events before the WEG, and they used venues that had not previously been the scene of equestrian competitions. Although the 1994 WEG was a fiscal disaster, the FEI decided there should be a 1998 WEG, rather than going back to separate world championships as some wanted. This one was awarded to Ireland. “The Irish will do a fabulous job,” everyone said, but finances sank that effort, too, in a replay of 1994. Luckily, Rome stepped in. Though the 1998 WEG was not quite the well-oiled machine that the 1990 debut of the event had been, the Italians did well despite their late start.

The 2002 WEG is set for Jerez, Spain, the homeland of FEI President Dona Pilar, a member of that country’s royal family. No one doubts that this version of the Games will come off as it should. There has not been even a whisper of trouble. But the FEI will not decide until after the 2002 WEG whether there will be a 2006 WEG. There should be, and the place to stage it is the Kentucky Horse Park. This marvelous facility, the home of Rolex-Kentucky and the 1978 World Eventing Championships, has everything that is needed for a successful Games. Anyone who has been to Rolex knows the quality of that 4-star course. The new ring is a model of its kind, and would equally suit the show jumping and dressage, as well as those phases in eventing — which it already hosts at Rolex.

There’s already an indoor ring for vaulting and reining, though park officials are hoping they’ll have a new, bigger and better indoor, by the time of the WEG. A driving course could be woven into the cross-country route, just as was done in 1998. And officials think the space for the endurance will be no problem. For the first time since 1990, the WEG could be held in a single venue, instead of two venues miles apart, as was the case in 1994 and 1998, and will be again next year.

On top of that, Kentucky is the horse-friendliest state, with government assistance and spectator interest practically assured. Lexington has plenty of hotel rooms and restaurants in all price ranges to serve spectators and competitors. Air travel is also convenient. The huge Cincinnati international airport is only an hour away, and Lexington has a smaller airport of its own. And after four outings in Europe, it’s time that the WEG crosses the ocean to the U.S. The WEG is, after all, an international event.

There are still those who would prefer to have separate world championships in all the disciplines. Driving, endurance and vaulting continue to have stand-alone title meets in non-WEG years, but single championships — even in the more popular Olympic disciplines — can’t draw the crowds or have the clout that the WEG enjoys.

Despite its troubles over the years, the WEG is the way to go. Awarding it to Kentucky and having it at a venue of that caliber — with the organization to match — will be a windfall that horse sports can use as they compete for sponsors and spectators.

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