Much new to see and do at Kentucky Horse Park

April 27, 2011

People who haven’t been to the Kentucky Horse Park in a while will see some big changes, thanks to a major makeover for last fall’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Improvements include the $40 million indoor Alltech Arena, the $25 million Rolex Stadium and $14 million in other improvements, plus a $15 million widening of Iron Works Pike and the nearby Interstate 75 exit. Some additional facilities and attractions will open this summer.

The 1,224-acre park in northern Lexington will be a center of attention this week, as the popular Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event begins Thursday and continues through Sunday.

“The infrastructure that is here now will help the quality of competition, from the irrigation systems to the fiber optics that will really benefit the television productions,” said John Nicholson, the park’s director.

New this year at Rolex is tailgating Saturday during the cross-country competition, which draws more local people to the park each year than perhaps any other event.

This week also marks the debut of the Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup in Alltech Arena on Thursday and Friday and Saturday. The western horse sport was a big hit during last fall’s Games, and this competition will feature competitors from that Gold Medal team.

The new reining competition is one of about two dozen horse events the park has attracted, either because of the facility improvements or news accounts from the Games. Major new competitions this year include the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championship, May 5 to 8, and the Adequan FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, July 27 to 31.

“It was a long time coming here, and I think it was the new facilities that persuaded them,” Nicholson said of the North American Championships. “It’s like a junior Olympics. The riders you see there will be in the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics in five or 10 years.”

The park also has attracted the National Horse Show, one of the nation’s top hunter-jumper events, to Alltech Arena, Nov. 2 to 6. It also includes the top competition for judging the form and control of U.S. riders younger than 18. The show was in Syracuse, N.Y., for the past eight years after leaving New York’s Madison Square Garden, where it began in 1883.

Nicholson also hopes to attract more non-horse events, such as the Festival of the Bluegrass, the popular bluegrass music gathering at the park each June. Talks are under way with a major mountain bike competition and several dog events. The park also wants more trade shows, such as the New Home & Remodeling Marketplace that was there in February.

In addition to events, everyday visitors to the park will see improvements, such as the Arabian expansion at the International Museum of the Horse.

The park will soon reopen the restored Big Barn, a 475-foot-long barn built in 1893. The barn will become the hub of the park’s horse-drawn transportation system and collection, and have an exhibit telling the colorful history of Iron Works Pike.

Built in the early 1800s to haul products from a Bath County foundry to the Kentucky River, the seven-mile stretch of Iron Works Pike between the park and Paris Pike is the gateway to some of the Bluegrass’s oldest and most famous horse farms, and was the site of a Civil War skirmish at the intersection with Newtown Pike.

Reopening the Big Barn will create space elsewhere for a new children’s area, which will feature horse-related activities that were popular with young Games visitors last fall, such as pony grooming.

In addition to giving local people more new things to see and do, the park is in a good position to repay Kentucky’s investment, Nicholson says. The park’s last impact study, in 2003, estimated its contribution to the state’s economy at $163 million. Nicholson guesses that is now closer to $200 million.

“The place has never looked better,” he said. “It is as if it is 1978 all over again — a new facility.”

Lexington tourism officials look beyond WEG

November 15, 2010

The people who market tourism and conventions for Lexington think the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games will be a gift that keeps on giving. But here’s the challenge: How do we take advantage of the many lessons learned from the Games?

David Lord, who will retire March 31 after 17 years as president of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, has been thinking a lot about that. His biggest lesson from WEG was the value of having shared community goals — and a firm deadline for accomplishing them.

“Can we embrace that, so the next time we’re looking at something like a new farmers market location it doesn’t take 20 years?” Lord said. “When it comes to something we’re excited about like the Distillery District, does it have to take another 20 years?”

The Lexington Distillery District along Manchester Street is slowly turning long-abandoned distilleries and run-down industrial buildings into nightclubs and arts and entertainment venues. Lord, who studies these things, thinks the Distillery District has huge potential because it reflects Lexington’s unique heritage and culture — and because it isn’t so much designed for tourists as for local people.

When such places become popular with locals, tourists like them better than artificial “tourist districts” because they are authentic. The same thing applies to impromptu restaurant districts popping up downtown, such as Cheapside and Jefferson Street.

“I love watching what is happening on Jefferson Street, which is not a planned development,” Lord said. “The synergy of those little places playing off each other is wonderful.”

Lord said Lexington should consider what other quality-of-life improvements could have similar “crossover” potential for locals and tourists alike. Those could include more events and festivals, such as the successful Spotlight Lexington concerts downtown during the Games. They also could include more passive recreation facilities like the Legacy and Town Branch trails.

Lexington could also do more to promote and develop the assets it already has, Lord said. Those include such things as the Woodsongs and Red Barn Radio shows staged downtown weekly. Or things as simple as Central Kentucky’s network of scenic country roads, which are becoming increasingly popular with cyclists who travel from all over the country to ride them.

That kind of thinking is important because tourism and conventions are big business. State officials estimated they were worth $1.66 billion in economic impact for Fayette County and $2.4 billion for the Bluegrass region in 2009.

Lord and his colleagues also have a few other ideas about how Lexington can build on the priceless international exposure and momentum from the Games:

Make Lexington more beautiful: Tourists may come primarily for horses, bourbon, history and the scenic beauty of our countryside, but when convention planners look at Lexington, “the look of downtown becomes the primary decision-making factor,” said Dennis Johnston, who oversees convention sales for the bureau. “The downtown streetscape project we just finished is huge, but it’s only a start.”

Continue to improve the look of downtown: This involves a lot of big issues, from better architecture to historic preservation to public art. It also includes small things, from the artistic quality of temporary banners to cleaning up litter, an issue recently taken on by the new Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission.

Create more public-private partnerships: These are for everything from improving downtown to staging big events like WEG. “If we didn’t have a strategic alliance with Alltech, the state would be having a lot of bake sales to pay off the Games,” Lord said.

Capitalize on the $30 million worth of Games-related improvements at the Kentucky Horse Park: This can attract more and bigger equestrian events. The park has huge potential as an economic engine for the region.

Capitalize more on the horse industry and the ways it is changing: The Thoroughbred racing business is struggling, but the Horse Park and Lexington are well-positioned with the growing popularity of other equestrian sports.

“That could be a saving grace 20 years from now,” Lord said. “And maybe one of these days there will be a place where (a visitor) can actually ride a horse.”

Dreams of profit replaced by wealth of memories

November 1, 2010

Tim Jenkins is in the money and investment business. As the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games approached, all he could think of was how to profit from them.

Jenkins did not end up making a lot of money, but he gained something he now considers much more valuable.

“Most of my conversations with friends and my thoughts leading up to the Games were about how much money do you think we can make from renting our house, our car, whatever we have,” said Jenkins, 29, a principal in Keystone Financial Group LLC in Lexington.

Jenkins had a rental agency look over his modest 1950s home. He was told that he could get $1,000 a night if he signed up and paid some fees. He declined. “That seemed outrageous,” he said. “I wouldn’t pay that to rent my house.”

Still, Jenkins found a renter. A client who runs a bed-and-breakfast had filled her rooms, so she referred a family coming from South Africa to him. They negotiated a price that Jenkins said was a good deal for him and a substantial savings from the hotel bookings they were able to cancel. “It was worth it for my wife and I to do it, but it really wasn’t that much money,” he said.

As the Games drew nearer, Jenkins started catching the spirit. He volunteered as a driver, picking up international team members at the airport and taking them to their hotels. On one trip, he pulled into a gas station to buy beer for some thirsty Argentines.

When Leon and Elizabeth van Tubbergh arrived from Johannesburg, South Africa, with her mother, sister and brother, Jenkins settled them into his home and drove them around Lexington to help them get their bearings.

“They said, ‘Where can we get some fried chicken?’ and ‘What about biscuits and gravy?” Jenkins said. “They had been looking forward for four years to coming to where we live every day. It dawned on me that we needed to be good hosts.”

As it turned out, the van Tubberghs were the same ages as Jenkins and his wife, Lisa. “We had a lot in common,” he said.

Soon it was the van Tubberghs’ turn to play host. They invited the Jenkins family to their own home for a barbecue, or what South Africans call a “braai.” The van Tubberghs cooked lamb and sausages on the Jenkinses’ grill. They also invited the neighbors, who brought Derby-Pie, bourbon balls and bourbon cream sauce.

“We were having an international experience right on our itty-bitty deck,” Jenkins said. “And it was just because people wanted to get together and learn about each other. It was just about life, but it really opened up our minds.”

In an e-mail message from South Africa, Elizabeth van Tubbergh wrote last week that her family was impressed with the Games, Kentucky’s beauty, and Bourbon Cream liqueur, “which is to die for — it’s going to become a staple in our family!”

But what impressed her most were average Kentuckians, “the utter friendliness we encountered,” she wrote. The Afrikaans word for it is “grasvry,” which she said translates roughly to “hospitable.”

“Tim was an amazing host, and we wanted for nothing while we stayed in his and Lisa’s home,” she wrote, adding that he borrowed a bike so her husband could ride the Legacy Trail. “That we could stay in their home was just lucky. Or fate maybe?”

The Jenkinses now have their home back, and a little extra money in their pockets. But they need more, because they are saving for a trip to South Africa next fall. They will visit the van Tubberghs and tour their country. “Elizabeth is mapping it all out for us,” he said.

Jenkins said he has been reflecting on how much the Games enriched his life.

“When it was all over, I realized that value doesn’t always come in the form of that dollar,” he said. “I deal with people and their money every day. But this was a unique opportunity to put money behind us and just be people, people who have a lot in common even though they live on the other side of the world from each other.”

The next time Lexington has an opportunity like the Games, Jenkins said, “I would encourage everyone to focus on the experience and the opportunity to be gracious hosts. If you focus on the money, you’re missing the point.”

Readers’ advice on lessons from WEG

October 27, 2010

What were the hits and misses of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games? What can we learn from the experience?

That is what I asked readers last week, and more than three dozen sent thoughtful, detailed responses.

Almost everyone thought the Games were a success, and there were several ideas for the future.

Everyone agreed that the competitions were amazing, the Kentucky Horse Park venues excellent and the LexTran shuttles outstanding. Kentuckians were praised as friendly and hospitable hosts.

“It was an amazing experience — the people, the state, the athletes — we took home lifetime memories,” wrote Hillary Hulen of Medford, Ore. “My niece is even considering a Kentucky college as a result of this trip.”

Kudos went to the International Museum of the Horse’s Gift From the Desert exhibit, and the Kentucky Experience and Alltech Experience pavilions. Alltech’s drew special praise for its science exhibits, kids’ activities and designer Deirdre Lyons’ inclusion of Kentucky artists.

Alltech employees received praise from people familiar with how they helped shore up weaknesses in the Games organization. And several readers thanked the company for bringing 64,000 local schoolchildren to the Games.

What could have been done better? Readers complained that many people were kept away by high ticket prices. Stands were often filled at the last minute with discounted and even free tickets, and that angered spectators who had paid full price.

Everyone thought the food was overpriced and mediocre. “There should have been a greater emphasis on local food and regional specialties,” wrote Sarah Gaddis of Frankfort. “I agree that Papa John’s (pizza) is both local and tasty, but we could have done better.”

There should have been more maps and signs at the Kentucky Horse Park. Jane Jacobs of Georgetown had a great idea: Every person who bought a ticket should have received a “daily sheet” with a map and a schedule of events that day.

Games volunteers did a great job of shuttling elderly and disabled people around in golf carts, and a few tractor-pulled wagons were added, but readers thought more public shuttles were needed between venues. And there should have been a drop-off point at the front gate.

The biggest complaint, by far, was about price-gouging by some hotels and car-rental companies. A modest price increase was expected, but when visitors are charged several hundred dollars a night for a room at a budget motel, that’s just greed.

Readers had some good ideas about how Lexington can build on the Games’ legacy. The Kentucky Horse Park now has some of the world’s best equestrian facilities — built at great public expense — and care must be taken to maintain and use them for long-term economic payoff.

LexTran was widely praised for excellent performance and getting thousands of locals on a bus for the first time. Several readers mentioned that Keeneland should partner with LexTran for a similar shuttle service, reducing the need to turn Keeneland’s lovely meadows into vast parking lots during racing meets.

“What about a Legacy Horse Trail at the Kentucky Horse Park?” suggested Cynthia Day of Lexington. “It would be great for citizens and visitors alike to be able to actually ride a horse. Perhaps volunteers could assist in the development, building and maintaining a horse trail system at the park.”

The Games showed what can be accomplished with good public-private partnerships, readers said, especially when led by local business dynamos such as Jim Host, the Games’ first chairman, and Alltech president Pearse Lyons.

Several readers suggested that Lyons would make a good governor, mayor or University of Kentucky president. He might not be interested in any of those jobs, but his vision, energy and ability to get things done make him Lexington’s top go-to guy for civic projects.

I thought Lexington developer Tom Padgett had the best idea of all: “The Games gave us a set of goals and, most important, a deadline. Perhaps the city and Commerce Lexington need to come together to establish a list of 10 things that need to be accomplished over the next five years, with various timetables. They should span a variety of categories, from the arts to infrastructure.”

Before we move on from WEG, let’s take stock

October 17, 2010

As the dust settles from the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, we should take stock of what we learned.

For the most part, the Games went well. But, as with any big undertaking, there were hits, misses, near-misses and things we would do differently next time.

That is why, before the holidays, someone needs to get all of the principals together — as well as a diverse group of engaged bystanders — to record and analyze the experience before our collective memory fades and life goes on.

This isn’t a job for elected officials, especially in an election season. A better choice to lead this effort might be a small task force from Commerce Lexington, the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau and the United Way of the Bluegrass.

Some of the knowledge we would capture could help Central Kentucky attract and host other big events in the future. But the focus should be bigger than that. Lessons learned from the Games could be applied to broader goals of economic and community development.

For example: What did the Games teach us about our region’s strengths and weaknesses? How could the public-private partnership models used for WEG be applied for other endeavors? How could LexTran’s success during the Games be leveraged to re-imagine the role of public transportation in Central Kentucky? How could the Games’ volunteer spirit be kept alive and used in other ways?

We don’t have to wait for the big shots, though. What do you think were the Games’ hits and misses? What lessons did you learn? Where should we go from here? Email your thoughts to: If I get enough good responses, I will write about them.

We pulled off WEG; what could we do next?

October 12, 2010

We did it. Now, what do we do next?

After five years of planning and anticipation, the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games have come and gone. The Games went well, and almost every visitor I met remarked on how friendly Kentuckians were.

There were a few glitches, of course — and there would have been more without last-minute infusions of money and skill from the title sponsor, Alltech. But the world’s top equestrians seemed to be pleased with the Games, and they raved about the Kentucky Horse Park’s facilities.

The Games attracted a half-million people, including several hundred journalists, 6,000 volunteers and 63,000 students whose admissions were paid by Alltech’s business partners. I suspect more paying spectators would have come had it not been for some overpriced tickets and hotels.

We don’t know yet if the Games made or lost money, but such calculations usually involve a lot of fuzzy math. We may never know if the estimated $107 million in public investment in facilities and infrastructure was immediately recouped in overall economic impact.

But the new facilities at the Kentucky Horse Park — already a big economic engine for this region — will pay dividends for decades as the park is able to attract more, bigger and better events.

“This is not about the next 16 days,” park director John Nicholson told me on opening day. “The success and notoriety of these Games will ensure that we remain the horse capital of the world for the next 50 to 100 years.”

That is important, especially considering the growth of the sport horse industry in Kentucky as Thoroughbred racing battles decline. Veterinarian Tom Riddle of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital estimates there are twice as many sport horses in the region as there were five years ago.

Beyond the horse industry, only time will tell how successful the Games were at attracting long-term economic development to Kentucky. They certainly didn’t hurt. The Games showed visitors Kentucky at its best, and NBC’s television coverage amounted to a long video Valentine.

When it is all said and done, though, the Games’ most significant legacy may be what they taught Kentuckians — and especially Lexingtonians — about themselves.

The Games forced politicians to get serious about long-needed infrastructure improvements. Good planning and logistics prevented the traffic jams many had feared.

LexTran was a star performer. Thousands of locals rode LexTran buses for the first time — and all of those I talked with were impressed. Just as the beautiful new Legacy Trail has promoted fitness and alternative transportation, LexTran’s performance helped affluent Lexingtonians see the value and potential of good public transportation.

Lexington’s investment in downtown paid off as more than 175,000 people, according to police estimates, flocked to the city center for Games-related concerts and festivals, as well as new bars and restaurants.

The entertainers were good. But what impressed me most were the large crowds, which, for the first time I can recall, truly reflected Lexington’s diversity. “I think we witnessed something really interesting downtown,” said Urban League President P.G. Peeples.

I lived in Knoxville before, during and after the 1982 World’s Fair and in Atlanta before, during and after the 1996 Olympics. Neither event went as smoothly as Lexington’s WEG.

Those events’ most important legacy to Atlanta and Knoxville, even beyond significant infrastructure improvements, was civic confidence. Leaders and citizens in those cities gained the confidence to again try new, different and ambitious things. I sense that same confidence in Lexington this week, and it must not be allowed to dissipate.

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games showcased Kentucky and underscored the value of preserving its beauty and developing its potential. The Games showed what we can accomplish by working together with specific goals and firm deadlines.

After a few good nights’ sleep, Kentuckians must get back to work. We must figure out how to harness this energy and confidence to achieve bigger, more important things than a sporting event — things that will improve Kentucky’s long-term economy and quality of life. We need specific goals and firm deadlines.

Lexington and Kentucky performed well for 16 days in the international spotlight. If we can do that, what else can we do?

Blind rider’s reining lesson a dream come true

October 9, 2010

Anne Cecilie Ore began riding at age 11 and was soon a show-jumping competitor. Trouble was, she could barely see the jumps in front of her and had no peripheral vision.

Ore’s eyesight kept getting worse. By age 14, she was totally blind.

But blindness has never stopped Ore, who turns 32 on Monday, from achieving her equestrian dreams.

The resident of Olso, Norway, trains in Germany and is an active para-dressage rider in Europe. She competed last week as part of the Norwegian para-dressage team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, but was disappointed with her 6th and 7th-place scores.

Before leaving America, Ore had one more goal to achieve. She had always wanted to learn reining — that Western-style sport of flashy horsemanship where riders gently guide their mounts through dizzying spins and sliding stops in a cloud of dirt.

When WEG board member Becky Jordan heard about Ore’s wish, she knew how to make it come true. She arranged for Ore to have a reining lesson with her daughter, Lyndsey, 22, a two-time world champion who performed at the Games’ reining exhibition Sept. 30.

Ore arrived at the Jordans’ Scott County farm Saturday morning with a delegation from the Norwegian team in tow. Lyndsey Jordan introduced her to Blazin, a laid-back, 10-year-old quarter horse who wore the first Western-style saddle Ore had ever used.

With Jordan calling out cues, Ore walked Blazin around the ring, then they cantered. Within 15 minutes, Ore and Blazin were a team. There was no obvious sign that the rider couldn’t see where she was going.

“It was just amazing to me how well she was able to go around the arena,” Jordan said afterward. “Once she made the first couple of laps around she knew exactly where she was.”

Within a half hour, Jordan had given Ore the spurs off her boots and was teaching her to guide Blazin through spins and sliding stops.

“The cues are a little different from sport to sport,” Jordan said. “But I would tell her what my cues were and she just had it. She knew exactly what she was doing. Her posture and positioning on the horse were just beautiful. She’s a very good rider.”

When it was time to dismount, Ore was all smiles.

“It was like a dream since I was 11,” she said. “The really fun stuff was the sliding and the spins. When the spins are slow you get really dizzy, but when you go faster you are not so dizzy. Not like I had imagined it.”

Ore wasn’t the only one smiling.

“She is fearless,” Becky Jordan said. “That was just amazing.”

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Volunteers make the Equestrian Games work

October 8, 2010

Some of the key performers at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games won’t win a medal — or even get on a horse.

But the show could not go on without the 6,000 volunteers who came from around the world to assist competitors, take tickets, direct traffic, drive golf-cart shuttles and perform a million other vital but unglamorous tasks.

“These people are absolutely critical in the entire scheme of the Games,” said Alltech President Pearse Lyons, whose company has been giving volunteers donuts each morning and snacks each afternoon. “They are the face of the Games, and without them we could not have put on such a successful show.”

You see volunteers everywhere at the Kentucky Horse Park, wearing yellow or blue Ariat polo shirts and caps — and, usually, a big smile.

Unfailingly cheerful volunteers greet me each morning as I step off the LexTran shuttle and each evening as I leave the park. All day, I see volunteers managing lines, giving directions, answering questions and ferrying people around this giant obstacle course of pedestrians, golf carts and bicycles.

“People just need information and direction; that I’ve got,” said Amy Waddingham, a volunteer from Colorado, who was energetically organizing school groups and moving them through the front gate like a veteran traffic cop.

The volunteer corps is getting good reviews.

“Some of them are a little bit too strict to the rules, but they are very friendly,” said Giel Hendrix, a journalist from the Netherlands. “They have made a good impression.”

“We’ve been getting a lot of good reports,” said Erin Faherty, WEG’s volunteer services director, whose management team arrives at 4:30 a.m. each day to begin checking in that day’s volunteers. “But there have been some logistical challenges, especially getting people where they need to be, when they need to be there, on a 1,200-acre park.”

About 1,200 volunteers work the Games each day. A record 1,700 volunteers were on duty last Saturday, when the park had its highest attendance of 51,000 people for the cross-country competition.

Volunteers work at least six nine-hour shifts. In return, they get food and free grounds-pass access for any day of the Games they’re not working. They get to keep their uniforms.

Volunteer planning and coordination began several years ago. By January, Games officials had confirmed about 1,200 volunteers.

Last winter, officials launched an aggressive campaign to recruit general and security volunteers — especially Kentuckians who wouldn’t have to spend a lot of their own money for lodging during the Games.

“My husband is always going on fishing trips with the boys, so this is my to-do,” said volunteer Becky Kauffman of Southern Pines, N.C., who was driving media shuttles. She was lucky to have a high school friend in Lexington to stay with, she said.

The trick for organizers is having enough volunteers at the right places and the right times so they are neither swamped nor bored.

Most volunteers said they were well-trained, except when it came to enough familiarity with the park layout to give directions. “There have been some issues, but I’ve been surprised by how well it’s going,” said volunteer Sue Stodola of Frankfort.

But Nadja Davidson of Carp, Ontario, was critical of the training, organization, food and logistics for volunteers. Davidson said she drove 16 hours from Canada and was spending $1,600 to stay in the area to volunteer. She felt Games organizers had been “inhospitable to volunteers … I would treat strangers in my own home better.”

“The organization for us has not always been on the top, but, on the whole, it is working,” said Sven Hedberg of Sweden, who is a volunteer translator. His sister lives in Mount Sterling, so he and his wife had a free place to stay.

“It’s been wonderful,” said volunteer Tom Timm of Niles, Mich. His wife, Linda, a teacher, agreed: “I had to take an unpaid leave to do this, but it has been well worth it.”

In addition to the Games volunteers, several hundred Rotary Club members from across the country have worked concession stands to raise money to fight polio.

Many Rotarians are professionals — such as the lawyer behind the checkout counter at lunch the other day, and the architect who was cleaning up trash at picnic tables. They both told me they were having a great time.

“We’ve had so much fun!” said former Lexington Vice Mayor Isabel Yates, an 80-something Rotarian who spent four days working at coffee stands with her friend, Beanie Pederson. “We’ve met people from everywhere — New Zealand, Australia, Brazil. It has really been something.”

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Some nice scenics from WEG today

October 8, 2010

The temporary stands at Rolex Stadium were reflected in the lake as people passed by Friday evening on their way to the jumping competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. The photo below shows just how big those horse murals are. Photos by Tom Eblen

The Chieftains & friends boost Haiti aid effort

October 5, 2010

Pearse Lyons was a busy man when the earthquake shook Haiti in January; he was running a global biotechnology company and getting ready to host the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

But Lyons was shaken, too. After flying down to see the devastation for himself, the founder and president of Nicholasville-based Alltech decided the best thing he could do for Haiti was to create jobs to help the long-impoverished nation build a sustainable future.

The company started a Haitian fair-trade coffee business, adopted a school and worked with the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre program to create a children’s choir, bringing 24 children up to sing at the Games.

If there was any doubt that Alltech’s Haitian Harmony project has taken on a life of its own, you just had to be at UK’s Singletary Center on Tuesday night when the world-famous Irish band The Chieftains and their musical friends from Ireland, Lexington, Nashville, New York and Canada joined with the singing Haitian children for a benefit concert that rocked the house.

“When you get an invitation like this, you can’t refuse,” said Paddy Moloney, who has led The Chieftains for nearly a half-century. “This was our way to help. The thing hasn’t gone away; (Haiti’s) just as bad as ever.

“It’s a pity we didn’t have another day to rehearse so we could have done some Haitian music,” Moloney said, adding with a wink: “But it was a hell of a show.”

Lyons said Moloney and friends agreed to donate their services after Shane Ryan, who owns Lexington’s Castleton Lyons farm and Europe’s biggest discount airline, Ryanair, agreed to fly The Chieftains over from Ireland on a private jet. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, who performed at the Games’ opening ceremonies, returned from a gig in Florida to join the benefit.

“We had a meeting of the Irish minds,” Lyons said, adding that his brothers John and Lorcan helped with the arrangements. The Chieftains got to see the Games’ cross-country competition Saturday before a private dinner downtown with Ireland’s equestrian team.

“The hospitality has been just amazing,” Moloney said.

The concert raised more than $53,000 from donations and sales of tickets and Haitian coffee, but Lyons said the most important thing was raising awareness of the project.

The children’s choir returns to Haiti on Thursday, and Lyons and UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey have been thinking the same thing many others have: How will these children ever be able to cope back home after having such an amazing trip?

“I have a personal responsibility for these 24 children,” Lyons said. “There’s an outpouring of compassion for these children, but at the end of it we have to give them a future. They will have an education. We will follow through.”

There is talk of scholarship funds for them and others, of a traveling choir and ways to expand the concept to other Haitian schools, but nothing has been decided. With this concert and others, Lyons hopes to have recruited lots of help.

“The audience was really with us,” Lyons said, “and that was the important thing.”

Foreign guests giving Kentucky a thumbs up

October 5, 2010

When you invite thousands of people from around the world to visit your home, the question is always in the back of your mind: What do they think?

Since the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games began 10 days ago, I have been asking international athletes, team officials, journalists and spectators what they think of the Games, Kentucky and its people.

The answers have been remarkably consistent — and overwhelmingly positive, except for a few complaints about some price-gouging or the occasional glitch.

The first thing everyone comments on is the Kentucky Horse Park, with “fantastic” being the most common adjective. Athletes and team officials especially like having all of the venues in one place — even though the park’s vast size means a lot of walking.

Rana Omar, left, of the United Arab Emirates played Monday with Brianne Beerbaum, 7 months, who was with her nanny, Nina Leonoff of Germany.  Photo by Tom Eblen

Rana Omar, left, of the United Arab Emirates played Monday with Brianne Beerbaum, 7 months, who was with her nanny, Nina Leonoff of Germany. Photo by Tom Eblen

The next thing mentioned is the friendliness and genuine hospitality of Kentuckians — from the army of always-cheerful WEG volunteers to folks on the street.

“We haven’t met a sour-faced person yet,” Canadian spectator Jan Simmonds said, then gave me a sly smile. “Oh, wait, I did see one lady frowning yesterday.”

Games officials are getting high marks for organization, even if some Europeans don’t think they are quite up to the German efficiency of the 2006 Aachen Games, which were at a much smaller park.

“Very, very good organization and very friendly people,” said Miguel Angel Cardenas of Seville, breeder of the top Spanish dressage horse Fuego XII. How do these Games compare with the 2002 Games in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain? “This is bigger and better,” he said.

Oliver Lazarus, a show jumping competitor from South Africa taking part in his first World Games, rode the LexTran shuttle with his mother and grandmother one day last week.

“We came into the city to have a look, and it’s really nice. I’m enjoying it a lot,” said Lazarus. “Three people came up and introduced themselves and asked if we were having a good time.”

Annika Wulff of Sweden was getting to see more of Kentucky than many international visitors. She had rented a car and was staying at a bed-and-breakfast in Mount Sterling.

“It’s a lovely, lovely place, and all of the people are so friendly,” Wulff said. “We like Kentucky very much.”

Simmonds, Joann Beger and Chris Collins came down from Edmonton, Alberta, and were having a terrific time. The three friends were staying in a guest house and trying a different restaurant each night.

They took a carriage ride around downtown one evening — “We felt so elegant!” Beger said — and planned to visit a couple of art museums and take in a performance of La Bohème at the Opera House.

“We’ve just had loads of fun,” Beger said. “We’re just overwhelmed by the hospitality.”

The only significant complaints I heard were about the high prices of food at the Games and expensive rates for mediocre motel rooms around Central Kentucky.

Lodging was a sore point for some international journalists, who were paying high rates for normally budget-priced motels in Richmond and taking WEG shuttles to the Horse Park. (Officials had tried to house the media in Lexington but couldn’t find enough hotels willing to negotiate acceptable rates.)

Just like many Kentuckians, internationals find the weather this time of year baffling. “It is cold, then hot, in the same day,” said Yasukazu Chatani, an eventing manager with Japan’s team.

Michael Barnes, a salesman from Sydney, Australia, had to be in the United States for a couple of trade shows and came to the Games while he had a few days free. Having been to the last two Kentucky Derbys, he was worried about traffic snarls and shuttle bus snafus.

“To be honest, I was concerned about the infrastructure,” he said. But Barnes was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the Games were running and by the fast, efficient and cheap LexTran shuttles.

“The Games are great, and the countryside around here is just stunning,” he said.

Barnes noted that this past weekend marked the 10th anniversary of the close of Sydney’s 2000 Olympic Games, the success of which brought an enormous boost in civic confidence. He predicted the same for Lexington.

“It boosted our confidence because Sydney was able to pull it off,” he said. “Kentucky seems to be pulling this off quite well.”

Cross-country Saturday was the day to ‘do’ WEG

October 2, 2010

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games had been in town for a week, but this seemed to be the day everyone said, “Let’s do it!”

And why not? It was Saturday. The weather was perfect. And it was cross-country day. Even locals who aren’t equestrians know that cross-country is the annual highlight of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event — horses and riders racing across fields, splashing through water and making breath-taking jumps.

The record crowd of 50,818 started building early, creating the closest thing to a traffic jam Lexington has seen during the Games. Cars waiting to exit Interstate 75 North at Ironworks Pike backed up for more than a mile at times.

As usual, some of the happiest spectators were those on one of the LexTran shuttles running continuously from downtown to the Kentucky Horse Park.

“This is a historic event,” said Holly Codell of Lexington, and not just because she was taking her son, Jack, 12, to one of the world’s great sporting events.

“We’re riding a LexTran bus for the first time,” she said, snapping an iPhone photo of Jack, who looked ready to die of mother-induced embarrassment. “This was so easy, and the bus is nice and clean.”

After several days of entertaining horse-crazy friends from Boston, Codell said she was developing new appreciation for her hometown. “You forget living here how beautiful Lexington is,” she said.

The horse park’s advantage — a huge facility with all of the venues in one place — has also been its curse during the Games, forcing visitors to walk long distances to see everything. But there seemed to be more directional signs and shuttles on Saturday. There were many more maps, posted at strategic locations or being passed out by volunteers.

On the cross-country course, cheers went up each time a horse and rider cleared a jump. Locals smiled each time the announcer mentioned one of the Kentucky-named jumps in his proper British accent: Fort Boonesborough, Red River Gorge, Land Between the Lakes.

Everyone seemed to be an amateur photographer. Crowds gathered around each jump with fancy cameras, small point-and-shoots and even cell phones waiting to capture the decisive moment.

“I’m getting some good shots with my wimpy little camera,” said Vanessa Deroux, who came from Seattle to see the Games. “This is great. I couldn’t miss the opportunity.”

For those who needed a diversion from horses, Land Rover was offering free test drives on its own cross-country course. Several hundred people waited in line to drive a Range Rover through water, over hills and across a tilting wooden bridge.

While much of Lexington’s population seemed to be at the park, there were plenty of internationals, too. Many proudly wore their national colors, or literally wrapped themselves in their flag.

Monika Gottschalk and Christiane Somerfeldt of Cologne, Germany, were decked out in tri-color clothing and had German flags sticking out of their backpacks. This was their fourth World Equestrian Games, and they were having a blast: spending all day at the horse park and shopping downtown and at Fayette Mall each evening. “All of the people here are so friendly,” Somerfeldt said.

The Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau’s “Big Lex” blue horse stickers seemed to be especially popular with Europeans. One Italian journalist had a dozen decorating her backpack.

After leaving the crowds on the cross-country course, I was surprised to see so many people in the other side of the park. The giant food tent was packed at lunch for the first time during these Games, and the Normandy, France, pavilion was jammed with people trying to watch the cooking demonstrations.

The trade fair was doing a booming business, and the Alltech Experience and Kentucky Experience pavilions and Equine Village were comfortably crowded.

“Come on ladies — you need a Corvette. Your hair would look so good in the wind!” Daryl Lyons called out to passersby at the Kentucky Experience, where he was selling $20 raffle tickets for the $80,000 Bowling Green-made sports car.

“We’re having fun,” said Christian Hahn of Prospect as he and his three children, ages 2, 4 and 6, took a pizza break. “We did the kidzone, rode a pony, pet a penguin and now we’re going to find some horses to watch.”

As John Morgan and his wife, Linda Carroll, wandered the cross-country course, they said they had been going to WEG events all week, from the endurance race to one of the James Beard gourmet dinners.

“We’re about WEG’d out,” he said. “But it has all been just fantastic.”

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Equestrian Games’ opening day is a hit

September 26, 2010

Note: Because of newspaper deadlines, this column was filed Saturday night before Opening Ceremonies began. For a full report on that, click on these links for stories by Rich Copley and Linda Blackford. Click here for a photo gallery.

The first day of WEG was a WOW.

That seemed to be the consensus among locals, visitors, athletes and officials at Saturday’s opening of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

The weather was perfect. The crowd was large, but never uncomfortably so. The facilities were beautiful, the pavilions were impressive, the events ran smoothly, the glitches were minor and everybody seemed to be having a good time.

I took the LexTran shuttle to avoid traffic. It was a quick and easy ride from downtown to the Kentucky Horse Park where there was … no traffic. In fact, Iron Works Pike was so clear I couldn’t believe how many people I saw in the park.

Even for those who didn’t attend the reining competition, the only event Saturday, there was plenty to see and do. The Horse Park has been transformed into a horse-themed world’s fair, with exhibits and horsemanship demonstrations at the Equine Village, more than 300 vendor booths and pavilions and the impressive Kentucky Experience and Alltech Experience complexes.

“It has exceeded my expectations, even though I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Doran Bradford of Lexington, who was there with his wife, Anne, and their two young sons. “We’re having a good time.”

A Chinese vaulting competitor sat beside the Bradfords at lunch and told them all about her sport. “That was really neat,” he said. “I’ll probably be more interested in these sports now after coming out here.”

The Kentucky Horse Park drew rave reviews from some international equestrians. Having all of the venues in one place is an advantage over previous Games, although they noted the park’s size makes it a challenge to navigate.

“It’s a fabulous facility, but it’s huge,” said Francesca Sternberg, a reining rider from Great Britain who will be competing Sunday but spent Saturday taking her children around the trade fair. “The show grounds are outstanding. They’ve done an impressive job.”

Many international teams had golf carts and bicycles to help them get around. For spectators, though, the Games mean a lot of walking — and dodging golf carts and bicycles. (Some shuttles are available for elderly and disabled visitors, but you can’t bring a bicycle into the park.)

“It’s a fantastic place, and the people are so nice — friendly and helpful,” said Jenny Champion, who had hoped to be on the New Zealand endurance team but ended up coming as a spectator. “The park is so big you need a map.”

But Eduardo Tame, a Mexico team official and tour operator, complained that the prices he had to pay for buses, hotels and other necessities for the 120 people he brought to the Games were outrageous.

“I have been to every Equestrian Games and Olympics, and this is the most expensive of all of them,” he said. “I’m really surprised with these prices.”

Spectators complained a little about food prices but noted the food was quite good and prices weren’t out of line with other special events. The main food tent, staffed by Rotary Club volunteers from across the country, had so many food and checkout stations that there was rarely a line.

“I’m genuinely delighted to see everyone’s hard work coming together,” said Alltech President Pearse Lyons, the driving force behind the Games, who spent the day greeting visitors at the 4-acre Alltech Experience.

“This has all been in my head so many years it’s nice to see it happen,” added his wife, Deirdre, who designed much of the Alltech Experience.

The Kentucky Experience pavilion also was a big hit, as much with Kentuckians as with those from elsewhere. Visitors could hear bluegrass music, see exhibits about all parts of the state, sample Kentucky’s “unbridled spirits” — bourbon and wine — and sit behind the wheel of a Corvette.

“People keep asking, ‘Can I have it?'” said Coni Sheppard, who was watching over the Bowling Green-made sports car. “I tell them that, for $75,000, I’m sure they can fix you up.”

“These Games are going to be wonderful for this state,” said Gov. Steve Beshear, who toured the pavilion after a ribbon-cutting ceremony and joined Beam Global Spirits CEO Matt Shattock in dipping souvenir Maker’s Mark bottles in red wax.

“What fun!” Roger Leasor, the president of Liquor Barn, said as he wandered the trade fair. “I’ve always liked being in places where you hear a lot of languages and accents, and now you can do it in Lexington — at least for the next 16 days.”

Sixteen things to do during the 16 days of WEG

September 22, 2010

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games promise to be much more than the Olympics on horseback. Get ready for an international festival and non-stop party in our backyard.

So, here are 16 things you should do during the 16 days of the Games:

1. Watch the opening ceremonies

The Games officially begin Saturday evening in the main stadium with a 2 ½ -hour show that has 40 acts and a cast of 1,500 people and 200 horses. If you don’t have tickets, WLEX-TV will have live coverage at 7 p.m. Headliners include Muhammad Ali and Wynonna Judd; opera stars Denyce Graves, Cynthia Lawrence and Ronan Tynan and an ensemble from Jazz at Lincoln Center. Plus a 100-piece orchestra debuting British composer Jamie Burton’s “World Equestrian Games Fanfare.”

2. See the best of something familiar

The reliable crowd-pleasers of equestrian sports are jumping and cross-country riding, as Kentuckians who attend the annual Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event already know. Those events and the 100-mile endurance race should draw big attendance to the Games on the first two weekends.

3. Try something new

Want to see horses and humans do things they don’t even dream about at Keeneland? Buy tickets to vaulting, which is human gymnastics and dance on the back of a moving horse. Or reining, where riders in Western gear guide horses through spins, circles and sliding stops.

4. See para-dressage

This is the first time human athletes with physical disabilities have competed in a World Games. Cheer them on; you may be amazed by what they and their horses can do.

5. Learn more about horses

The Equine Village showcases the variety and complexity of American horse culture. There will be exhibits, performances and demonstrations involving every kind of horse you can imagine, and many you can’t. This is likely to be one of the Games’ most popular venues.

6. Have the Kentucky Experience

Much of the Kentucky Horse Park’s grounds has been turned into an international festival, and the Kentucky Experience pavilion gives visitors a glimpse of the state’s highlights. You can dip a Maker’s Mark bottle in red wax, sit behind the wheel of a Corvette, listen to all kinds of local music and learn things about this state you probably didn’t know.

7. Have the Alltech Experience

The Games’ title sponsor, which does nothing in a small way, has a four-acre pavilion showcasing its products and global initiatives, which include trying to solve hunger, climate change and disease. After seeing the science exhibits, enjoy Alltech’s Bourbon Barrel Ale or Dippin’ Dots ice cream. There is a special kids’ area that includes penguins and petting sharks from the Newport Aquarium.

8. Eat, but not like a horse

There will be much good eating at the Games, from gourmet dinners cooked by celebrity chefs to special concession-stand fare. The Games are being catered by Patina Restaurant Group, which operates many high-profile venues around the country. “We’ve been sampling some of the concession food and it’s off-the-charts,” Games CEO Jamie Link said this week.

9. Shop non-stop

The Games’ trade show will have more than 300 merchants, selling everything from sportswear, jewelry and art to that custom-made saddle you have always wanted.

10. See the unexpected

Many sponsors and vendors have set up cool exhibits to showcase what they do. Among them: the UK solar house, which was displayed on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and the Rood & Riddle pavilion, which showcases the high-tech Lexington horse hospital and will have speakers including Hall of Fame jockeys Pat Day and Chris McCarron.

11. Enjoy the Alltech Fortnight Festival

This statewide concert series during the Games is jam-packed with talent: Loretta Lynn, Charlie Daniels, Tony Bennett, Marvin Hamlisch, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and many more. The Chieftains will perform a benefit concert with a Haitian children’s choir.

12. Take in the Spotlight Festival

Downtown Lexington will be rocking from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day during the Games with food, arts and crafts vendors and concerts at Cheapside and Courthouse Plaza. Entertainers include bluegrass legends J.D. Crowe and Sam Bush.

13. See horse art

Horse Mania was just the beginning. Equine art of every variety is on display around town, most notably at the horse park’s International Museum of the Horse, the UK Art Museum and the Headley-Whitney Museum.

14. Check out alternatives

HRTV is presenting its own International Equestrian Festival, with exhibits, vendors and speakers at Lexington Center. And a few miles up I-75 from the horse park is the Georgetown Equine Expo.

15. Soak up color

Spend some time just walking around the horse park or downtown and taking in the scene. Introduce yourself to visitors and ask them what they think of Kentucky.

16. Say farewell

Singer Lyle Lovett will headline the Games’ closing ceremonies on Oct. 10. Although less elaborate than opening ceremonies, it should be another good show. By then, we’ll all be exhausted — but at least a little sorry to see the non-stop party end.

Kentucky, businesses hope to cash in on WEG

September 20, 2010

Much of the competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games won’t be among the equine and human athletes on the field.

In the stands, in the hospitality tents, across the grounds and even throughout the state, Kentucky business executives and economic development officials will be busy trying to figure out how to make the Games pay dividends for years.

“This will be huge,” Commerce Lexington president Robert Quick said. After all, for two weeks, an international spotlight will be trained on some of Central Kentucky’s most positive aspects during its most beautiful time of year.

“The rolling, green hills and smiling faces will be our biggest advertisement,” he said.

Commerce Lexington, which is part of the Bluegrass Business Development Partnership that also includes Lexington’s city government and the University of Kentucky, has invited some business prospects and site-selection consultants to the Games, but Quick said he doesn’t know yet how many will attend.

The group is partnering with chambers of commerce in Louisville and Northern Kentucky on business- recruiting efforts, and with the Lexington Convention & Visitors Bureau to reach out to national, international and niche media.

At the Kentucky Horse Park, Commerce Lexington’s most visible role will be staffing 58 shifts at the information desk in the VIP hospitality tent. “We’re not going to do a hard sell,” Quick said. “But we want to be the go-to information source to guide them.”

Kentucky’s Cabinet for Economic Development will play host to about 50 guests, said Mandy Lambert, director of marketing and communications. Plans are similar to what the cabinet does each year when it brings prospects to attend the Kentucky Derby in Louisville.

“They’ll be attending the Games, as well as enjoying other outside activities during their stay,” Lambert said. “Our goal is to showcase the state’s business and quality of life advantages and encourage future economic development opportunities for Kentucky.”

Individual companies will be using the Games to entertain clients, reward partners and build business. And none will work harder at it than Alltech, the Games’ title sponsor.

Alltech is investing more than $30 million to make the Games a success and leverage them for its own business development, president Pearse Lyons has said. In fact, in recent months, the line between the Games organization and Alltech has seemed increasingly blurred.

Alltech is using the Games to launch two animal feed products, a malt whiskey, a brand of Haitian coffee and an after-dinner drink, spokesman Billy Frey said. The company’s Bourbon Barrel Ale is the official beer of the Games, and its Alltech Angus beef will be served frequently and promoted heavily.

The company also is sponsoring the Alltech Fortnight Festival, two weeks of concerts and other entertainment during the Games that gives it a way to reach out to a wider audience and forge stronger ties with more than 60 Central Kentucky restaurants and bars.

Alltech has used the Games as a marketing engine to build relationships with 67 customer companies. And, in an effort to boost ticket sales and attendance, Lyons created the Commonwealth Club, which provides ticket and hospitality packages that other companies can use to entertain guests. So far, 115 companies have joined the club.

Lexmark International plans to host customers from Canada and Europe at the Games, said Denis Giuliani, vice president of U.S. marketing and supply sales for the company’s laser printer division.

“WEG could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, just like the Ryder Cup,” Giuliani said, referring to the golf tournament at Louisville’s Valhalla course in 2008, where Lexmark was a sponsor. “They’re great customer-hosting events.”

While some deals might get done amid all the vaulting, jumping and reining, the real payoff, at least for Lexington and Kentucky, will be long-term. “We learned from Aachen (the German city that was host to the 2006 World Equestrian Games) that a lot of what happened with the Games happened later,” Quick said.

“It will be all about image and impression that people have as they go around the region and how they might see economic connections, business connections,” Quick said. “I think we’re going to have the benefits of this for decades to come. People will be talking about this.”

Hats Off Day highlights Kentucky horse industry

July 27, 2010

Drive past the suburbs and you quickly see that horses are a big industry in Central Kentucky. But a lot goes on beyond the plank fences that you might not realize.

In addition to farms, there are feed companies, tack and equipment suppliers, van fleets, sales and insurance agencies, fence-builders, farriers and some of the world’s most advanced animal research labs and clinics.

Hardly a week goes by that people don’t come to Lexington from all over the world for some kind of horse event. This week, for example, the Kentucky Horse Park is playing host to North American Young Riders, as well as large reining and hunter jumper competitions. And the International Symposium on Equine Reproduction, held every four years, is meeting in Lexington for the first time.

Dr. Tom Riddle, co-founder of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital on Georgetown Road, was thinking several years ago about the equine industry’s size, diversity and challenges, and he decided an annual event was needed to raise public awareness.

“When people think about Kentucky, they think about horses,” Riddle said. “But they don’t know just how much it involves.”

Riddle’s idea evolved into Hats Off Day. The sixth such annual day will be Aug. 7 at the Kentucky Horse Park. In addition to Rood & Riddle, the main sponsors are Alltech and Hallway Feeds.

This is the only time each year when the public gets all-day free admission to the Kentucky Horse Park, which can save a big family big bucks. Last year, more than 12,000 people attended Hats Off Day.

This year’s event could be especially popular, because in two months, the park will host the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. In addition to seeing new and improved facilities, people will get free admission to the International Museum of the Horse, the American Saddlebred Museum and A Gift from the Desert, a special exhibit of 350 artifacts and paintings about horses in Arab history and culture.

Hats Off Day festivities begin at 4 p.m., when horse farms and other equine businesses give away logo hats while supplies last. (Last year, about 1,500 hats were given away.) There also will be exhibits, a silent auction and free pony rides for kids, plus a chance to ride an Equicizer — the mechanical horse simulators that Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron uses at his jockey-training school.

The highlight of the evening will be the Rood & Riddle Kentucky Grand Prix, a $50,000 international show-jumping competition. Since 2003, the event has raised more than $275,000 for charity. This year, proceeds will benefit the Kentucky Equine Humane Center and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation.

Kentucky’s equine industry claims to provide more than 80,000 direct and indirect jobs and an annual economic impact of $4 billion, plus a good share of the state’s $8.8 billion tourism industry. But the industry’s fortunes have suffered with a decline in thoroughbred racing’s popularity and efforts by other states to attract breeding stock.

The horse industry’s health is obviously vital to Riddle’s business and many others, but he and partner William Rood usually deal with equine health on a more micro level. Rood & Riddle employs more than 220 people, including 57 veterinarians, who care for horses at a 24-acre complex with high-tech equipment that would rival that of most human hospitals. Rood & Riddle treats more than 10,000 horses a year from all over the world.

Riddle said Kentucky’s horse industry needs more public support.

“The average person in Kentucky thinks of the average horse farm owner as an extremely wealthy person who may or may not live here and does this as a hobby,” he said. “That’s just not the case. By far, the majority of farms are business operations with mortgage payments, and they must work seven days a week to keep their business going.

“The majority of the people in this industry are hard-working folks just trying to earn a living,” Riddle said. “I hope people will come out, have a good time and leave the horse park knowing a little more about our industry, and how it’s good for the entire state.”

If you go

Hats Off Day
Where: Kentucky Horse Park
When: Aug. 7. Gates open 9 a.m. Events begin at 4 p.m. in the indoor arena
More info:

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Equestrian Games reach the home stretch

June 21, 2010

After years of talk and preparation, the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games begin in only 96 days. Are we ready?

The short answer is no, but we seem to be getting there.

With revenue below projections, Games organizers are scrambling to sell more tickets, get creative with sponsorships and trim operating costs.

As part of a major ticket-sales push, title sponsor Alltech has created a toll-free line — 1-888-934-2010 — where people can get ticket information from Alltech employees, who know more about the Games than the average Ticketmaster operator.

Alltech President Pearse Lyons recently launched the Commonwealth Club, which offers perks to people, companies and groups that buy at least $10,000 worth of tickets. They will get special-access credentials, straw hats and hospitality in a VIP area at Alltech’s pavilion.

John Long, chairman of the Games and CEO of the U.S. Equestrian Federation, said tickets to event finals are selling well and should sell out before the Games. But sales aren’t so hot for many preliminary competitions. Long said additional ticket options and packages will be announced during the next two weeks.

“I want to be able to look out and see not one seat empty,” Long said Thursday as festivities were beginning at Cheapside Park to mark 100 days to go. “We’re looking for ways to sell every single ticket.” Failing that, organizers plan to build fewer temporary seats at some venues.

Games tickets aren’t cheap. They might be an especially hard sell to average Kentuckians who know little or nothing about such equestrian sports as reining, vaulting and dressage. This isn’t basketball or Thoroughbred racing, after all.

Figuring out a way to get more local, paying customers into the stands might be the Games’ biggest challenge. But organizers stress that the atmosphere at the Kentucky Horse Park will be more like an international festival than a horse show.

For those just wanting to take in the scene without having seats to an event, daily grounds passes are on sale for $25 — free for children 12 and younger when accompanied by an adult.

The economy has made it harder to attract sponsors, Long said. For example, who would have thought three years ago that the Games couldn’t attract an automobile company sponsorship? Still, Long insists, 90 percent of the sponsorship budget has been met.

Part of the problem with ticket sales, Long says, is that people are waiting until the last minute. He also says European sales will pick up after World Cup soccer is over. We’ll see.

City officials are scurrying to finish street repairs and new sidewalks to handle the people expected to flock downtown to dine, drink and attend Spotlight Lexington events at venues such as Cheapside, Triangle Park and Courthouse Plaza.

Since the completion of the Fifth Third Bank Pavilion, Cheapside has become the place to be downtown. The Thursday Night Live event put on by Downtown Lexington Corp. and Central Bank is drawing several thousand people each week — three or four times the crowds of previous summers.

In addition to the Spotlight festival, Alltech last week announced some big-name talent that will be joining regional performers at its Fortnight Festival during the Games. They include the Vienna Philharmonic, Little Feat, Tony Bennett, The Temptations, Chubby Checker, Marvin Hamlisch, the Beach Boys and Charlie Daniels.

I have never been to a World Equestrian Games, but I have covered the Winter and Summer Olympics and two World’s Fairs. There is always a lot of scrambling in the final weeks to make everything work, but it usually does.

I don’t think most people here have a sense yet of just how big a deal these Games will be. International events like this always seem to have a transformative effect on the place they are held. That’s hard to appreciate until long after the event has come and gone.

“In the end,” Long said. “I think Lexington and Kentucky will emerge from this with a sense of confidence that we were on the world stage for 16 days and we pulled it off.”

Aria man has advice for entrepreneurs

February 1, 2010

Everett McCorvey performs at "A Prelude to A Grand Night for Singing" in May 2008. The "Prelude" and "Grand Night" events have become big fundraisers for UK Opera Theatre and popular community events. Photo by Tom Eblen

Everett McCorvey isn’t a businessman; he’s a musician and a teacher. He has started a lot of companies, but not the kind you usually associate with entrepreneurs.

McCorvey is a skilled entrepreneur nonetheless, having accomplished the unlikely feat of turning Lexington — a city best known for developing racehorses and basketball players — into a center for developing opera singers, too.

Since McCorvey came to Lexington in 1991, he has transformed the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre program by attracting public support and private donations. He said the program he began building with a $20,000 loan now has an annual budget of more than $1 million and an endowment approaching $5 million.

In his spare time, McCorvey started the American Spiritual Ensemble, which has toured the world and recorded several albums in an effort to preserve music inspired by slave melodies. The group began another tour last week with a sold-out performance at Frankfort’s Grand Theatre.

McCorvey recently formed Global Creative Connections to produce opening and closing ceremonies for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. He said he wants those productions to include as many Kentuckians as possible.

Last week, McCorvey, with backup from the American Spiritual Ensemble, gave a lecture at UK about entrepreneurship. He offered many insights into the attitudes, behaviors and strategies that have helped him succeed.

Some of them might work for you, too, even if you have little interest in business — or opera. That is because entrepreneurship isn’t necessarily about making money; it’s about figuring out ways to achieve your dreams.

McCorvey, 52, was born into segregated Montgomery, Ala., and lived around the corner from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. His mother was a librarian. His father worked overnight for the post office, ran a grocery, dabbled in real estate and sprayed homes for bugs. Plus, he was active in church and the local civil rights movement.

“My father was a tremendous role model for me,” McCorvey said. “My only problem was that I didn’t have the energy to keep up with him.”

McCorvey’s interest in music was sparked by a student trumpeter at Alabama State University who rented a room in their home. McCorvey persuaded his father to rent him a trumpet so he could learn to play. Performing in school bands, he later switched to baritone horn.

When McCorvey auditioned for the University of Alabama, he mentioned, as an afterthought, “Oh, by the way, I also sing.” Professors soon convinced him that his primary talent was singing, so that’s where he focused. “I had to work very hard to develop that talent,” he said.

McCorvey earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Alabama, then spent years in New York and abroad, performing in a wide variety of genres and venues — opera houses, Broadway theaters, TV commericals. That’s when he met his wife, singer Alicia Helm McCorvey.

He learned a lot about the business of show business before returning to Alabama to earn a doctorate. “And because Alabama was not like New York, I learned that if I wanted to do something in music, I had to create the opportunities,” he said.

McCorvey joined the UK faculty after teaching at a small college in Knoxville, Tenn., but a mentor warned him that opera would never be appreciated in Kentucky.

“I don’t know if I took that as a challenge, or what,” McCorvey said. He knew that creating an outstanding program would require recruiting the best singers available and producing professional-quality operas to train them.

While serving on the UK Athletics Association’s board, McCorvey studied the basketball program’s strategies and applied them to his goals.

“I thought that I needed my own athletics association,” he said. “Babies here leave the hospitals in UK sweatshirts. I thought that what I need to figure out is how to make Kentucky babies grow up loving the arts.”

He noticed that Lexington was filled with amateur singers and others who appreciate music. So he convinced some of them to create the Lexington Opera Society, which raises money and rallies support for UK Opera Theatre.

Entrepreneurship, like an opera production, is all about collaboration, he said. It requires engaging people who have skills you don’t have and creating a vision others want to share.

McCorvey said his job was best described by the late comic actor Charles Nelson Reilly, an opera lover he met while spending time with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

“He said, ‘If it’s important to you, your job is to make it important to them,’ ” McCorvey said. “That’s basically what I do.”

  • McCorvey’s advice for entrepreneurs:

    • Enjoy what you do. If you don’t enjoy what you do, do something else because life is too short.
    • Surround yourself with positive spirits.
    • Celebrate the amazing talents of others.
    • Be patient, be persistent and pray constantly.
    • Don’t try to do things that aren’t in your skill set.
    • Work harder than anyone else at the things you do well.
    • Engage people who have skills you don’t have and collaborate with them.
    • The more collaborative you are, the more you can achieve.
    • Engage your community in every way possible.
    • Find the good and praise it. (A tip from his friend Alex Haley, the late author of Roots.)
    • Stay away from ‘energy vampires.’
    • Embrace your fears and go with them.
    • Stay focused on your dreams and goals. Stop doing things that don’t support them.
    • Be good and kind to everyone; you never know when it might come back to you.
    • When a door closes, a window opens. Some doors should close; celebrate that.
    • Expect good things, and look forward to the next opportunity for something special to happen.

Internet radio show covers 2010 Equestrian Games

September 7, 2009

I was interviewed last week by Horse Radio Network, an Internet radio venture that is covering the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and other horse sports for an international online audience.

Hosts Samantha Clark and Glenn “the Geek” Hebert talked with me and Niki Heichelbech of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau about Central Kentucky and what there will be for Games visitors to see and do while they’re here.

You can listen to the show by clicking here.

Pearse Lyons talks about Kentucky’s opportunities

August 6, 2009

There’s no zealot like a convert, and when it comes to believing in Kentucky’s potential, there’s none like Pearse Lyons.

The energetic Irishman, who moved to Lexington three decades ago and built his Alltech nutrition supplement company into a global giant, has a few thoughts about how the future could shine brighter on his new Kentucky home.

Lyons shared some of those thoughts Thursday with the Lexington Forum, telling the monthly gathering of business folks that the keys are education, innovation and building on Kentucky’s existing strengths and resources.

Lyons hopes to showcase many of those resources next fall, when his company sponsors the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park.

But he’s getting a head start in Britain this month at the Alltech FEI European Jumping and Dressage Championships, Aug. 25-30.

More than 60,000 spectators and 150 competitors from 32 nations are expected to attend the games at Windsor Castle. One thing they’ll find, a short walk from the arena, is a Kentucky oasis.

The Alltech Kentucky Village, a tented area inside a white-plank fence, will give visitors a literal taste of Kentucky: burgoo, hot Browns, Maker’s Mark bourbon, Dippin’ Dots ice cream and, of course, Alltech’s Kentucky Ale and Bourbon Barrel Ale.

Everett McCorvey from the University of Kentucky’s Opera Theatre program will direct a vocal ensemble. There also will be displays promoting Kentucky tourism and products.

Muhammad Ali and Pearse Lyons announced creation of the Alltech Muhammad Ali Center

Muhammad Ali and Pearse Lyons announced creation of the Alltech Muhammad Ali Center Global Education and Charitable Fund in Lexington in May. Alltech Photo

Lyons is taking Muhammad Ali to Windsor, thanks to the Alltech-Muhammad Ali Center Global Education and Charitable Fund. After that, Lyons and Ali head to Dublin for a fund-raising dinner and a visit to the Irish town one of Ali’s great-grandfathers left for America in the mid-1800s.

Lyons said he gets dizzy sometimes thinking about how an Irish lad of modest means could grow up to earn a Ph.D. and create a company with annual revenues of $500 million and a 35 percent profit margin — much less hobnob with people such as Ali and Queen Elizabeth II.

It all came down to education, entrepreneurship and taking advantage of opportunities. The same formula can work for Kentucky, too, he told the Lexington Forum.

Lyons noted that Kentucky and Ireland have many similarities. They’re both beautiful, mainly rural places with about 4 million people, rich heritage and a history of seeing their smart young people leave for opportunities elsewhere.

Ireland reversed its fortunes by focusing on education and innovation, and Kentucky can do the same.

This time of economic transition is when Kentucky should look for new opportunities and new ways of doing things, Lyons said.

For example, Kentucky should neither ignore its rich coal reserves, nor expect to continue mining and burning coal the old way, given environmental concerns and climate change. Instead, he said, Kentucky should be at the forefront of figuring out how to make coal more valuable “within the new rules and regulations.”

One way to do that is by focusing on carbon-capture research. Lyons thinks one solution could be algae — the fast-growing slime that produces two-thirds of the world’s oxygen by soaking up carbon dioxide.

Another opportunity is aquaculture, because Kentucky has enormous reserves of fresh water, much of it underground.

“Fish is an incredible opportunity for Kentucky,” he said. “Where the poultry industry is today, the fish industry will be tomorrow.”

Algae and aquaculture are two of many things Alltech researchers are working on.

“The possibilities for innovation are enormous,” Lyons said. But innovation requires education.

Lyons said Kentucky universities must develop programs that will retain the state’s own students and attract those from elsewhere. And he challenged Kentucky businesses to invest in education.

He said Alltech donates laboratories to schools and pays graduate students to earn Ph.D.s, do research for the company and stay in Kentucky after graduation.

While looking for new opportunities, Kentucky should continue developing signature industries such as bourbon and horses that already have infrastructure and international reputations. For example, one thing that led Alltech to develop its popular Bourbon Barrel Ale was Kentucky’s ready supply of used bourbon barrels.

Along with more focus on education, Lyons said, Kentucky needs leaders.

“The leader’s job is to bring uncertainty out and certainty in,” he said. “That’s what our state needs. Because in 20 years’ time the whole world is going to change. Which way? I’m not sure. But it’s going to change. And please God it will change, because therein lies our opportunity.”