New book chronicles colorful history of Lexington’s Iroquois Hunt

April 18, 2015

150329IroquoisHunt0115ADr. Jack van Nagell, joint-master of fox hounds for the Iroquois Hunt Club, leads the beginning of a hunt on his Fayette County farm March 29. Van Nagell is the current president of the national Masters of Fox Hounds Association, the first Iroquois club member to hold that post. Photos by Tom Eblen 


The Iroquois Hunt Club is one of those Lexington institutions most longtime residents have heard of, but few know much about.

It has always seemed like an odd bit of British tradition in the Bluegrass, these colorfully well-dressed equestrians who chase their barking hounds through the rugged farm fields along the Kentucky River.

Christopher and Glenye Oakford explain much of the mystery in their new book, The Iroquois Hunt: A Bluegrass Foxhunting Tradition (The History Press, $20). This thoroughly researched and well-written account describes the peculiarities of fox-hunting and traces the history of the third-oldest of the nation’s 160 hunt clubs.

Over the years, the club’s membership has been a who’s who of Lexington society. And the clubhouse is one of Fayette County’s oldest industrial buildings: Grimes Mill, built on Boone Creek in 1807.

“Even if you’re not interested in fox-hunting, we tell the story of these people who played a big part in the town,” said Christopher Oakford, a freelance writer who grew up around fox-hunting near Salisbury, England.

He met his wife, North Carolina native Glenye Cain Oakford, at a fox hunt in England. She is an equestrian journalist, longtime Lexington resident and Iroquois member since 1993.

The cover of "The Iroquois Hunt" by Christopher and Glenye Oakford.While people have hunted with hounds for centuries, fox-hunting acquired its now-traditional dress, lingo and complex etiquette in Victorian England as newly rich industrialists sought to create their own gentry, the Oakfords write.

The Lexington Hunting and Riding Club was founded in 1880 by Gen. Roger Williams, a businessman, soldier, buddy of Theodore Roosevelt and all-around character. The club’s name is thought to have been changed sometime in the 1880s to honor Iroquois, a horse that won the English Derby in 1881.

The club became inactive in 1914 while Williams was away on military duty, but it was restarted in 1926 by a group of prominent men. They included Maj. Louie Beard, later a founder of Keeneland, and Leonard Shouse, owner of the Lafayette Hotel, now city hall.

“We tried to give a glimpse of Lexington through several eras,” Glenye Oakford said, “and write about how fascinating some of these characters were.”

In 1928, the group bought Grimes Mill, thinking a clubhouse would give their organization the structure and longevity its predecessor lacked.

The rustically elegant building with three-foot-thick stone walls has lounging area on the first floor and a dining room on the second. Each member has a little padlocked cabinet in which to store liquid refreshment for after a hunt or during social events three times a month.

The Iroquois has hunts most Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from fall through early spring, but this year’s snow played havoc with the schedule.

I got to attend the last hunt of the season, on a Sunday afternoon at the end of March. It was at the farm of Dr. Jack van Nagell, joint-master of fox hounds with the club since 1997 and current president of the national Masters of Foxhounds Association, the first Iroquois member to hold that post.

Some club members belong for the socializing, others for the riding. But dedicated hunters love to watch and listen to the hounds work as they chase the scent of a red fox — or, more commonly now, a coyote — across the landscape.

“It’s watching them work together, getting to do what they have been bred for centuries to do,” Glenye Oakford said.

What happens to a fox or coyote when it’s caught? Well, it doesn’t happen very often, she said. In fact, she has never seen it in her years of hunting.

But the hunt provides a service to farmers by keeping coyotes scattered, she said. When they get together in packs, they have been known to attack livestock and pets.

“The purpose of the hunt is to watch the hounds puzzle out the scent of a coyote’s line, and the hunt typically ends when the hounds can no longer follow that scent, either because the coyote has eluded them or because scenting conditions have become unfavorable,” she said.

Coyotes and foxes are often good at eluding their noisy pursuers, Oakford said, recalling the time she watched the start of a hunt in England.

“After the hunt moved off, we drove up the road and saw a big, beautiful red fox sitting by the road and watching the hounds and the field ride by across the road and down a hill,” she said. “That fox sat for a long time … then he trotted off very nonchalantly in the opposite direction.”

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Glenye Oakford’s video of the Iroquois Hunt Club:

Iroquois Hounds from Glenye Oakford on Vimeo.

Plan would create 200 miles of multi-use trails in Scott County

July 15, 2014

legacyGabe Schmuck, 9, left, Nate Schmuck, 5, and their father, Paul Schmuck, rode on the Legacy Trail in Lexington in 2012. Photo by Mark Ashley.

GEORGETOWN — The popular Legacy Trail out of Lexington now stops just short of the Scott County line at the Kentucky Horse Park. But what is now the end of the trail could someday be just the beginning.

Scott County leaders have worked for three years with the regional visioning group Bluegrass Tomorrow and the National Park Service to develop an ambitious plan for Kentucky’s most extensive trails network. Plans call for 200 miles of biking, hiking, horseback riding and waterway trails throughout Scott County.

“Our vision is that this is going to eventually branch out and include the whole region,” said John Simpson, director of Georgetown/Scott County Tourism.

The Bluegrass Bike Hike Horseback Trails Alliance unveiled a draft of the proposed master plan Monday at the monthly meeting of the Georgetown/Scott County Chamber of Commerce.

Alliance leaders hope to finish the plan by the end of the year and begin negotiating property easements, designing trails, raising private money and applying for federal transportation grants.

Some trails would be shared, with bike/pedestrian and horse paths side-by-side, but most would be separate. The plan was developed with help from interested residents during a June 2013 design workshop, and the alliance is eager for more public participation.

At this point, there are no cost estimates, but such a trails network would run well into the millions of dollars. Still, many officials think it would be a great investment.

“This has the potential to have a tremendous impact, economically and socially, on the community,” said Russell Clark, the alliance’s National Park Service representative.

Clark and Rob Rumpke, president of Bluegrass Tomorrow, cited the economic impact that trail systems have had on Damascus, Va., a once-depressed logging town where hikers and mountain bikers now flock to the Appalachian and Virginia Creeper trails; Loveland, Ohio; and Indiana’s Brown County.

The trails alliance has more than a dozen partners, including the cities of Georgetown, Sadieville and Lexington; Scott County Fiscal Court; the state tourism department; the Horse Park; the Kentucky Horse Council; Georgetown College; the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; the Bluegrass Area Development District; St. Joseph Health System/Kentucky One; and several horseback-riding and cycling groups.

Rumpke said horse trails should be especially popular, given the number of local horse enthusiasts and the tourists who come to Central Kentucky to see horse farms and events.

“We’re the horse capital of the world; why are there so few horseback-riding facilities?” he asked. “This is an opportunity to address that.”

The first step in the plan is to extend the Legacy Trail 6.6 miles from the horse park to Georgetown. Christie Robinson chairs a steering committee that commissioned an engineering feasibility study, which was recently completed. The study estimates the total cost at about $8.3 million, including trailheads, bathrooms and other amenities. It could be built in four phases as money became available.

Georgetown recently awarded the Legacy Trail committee $25,000 as a match to a $100,000 federal grant that it will apply for this fall, Robinson said. That would move the design process forward.

Claude Christensen, mayor of Sadieville, said he sees the trail system as an opportunity to revitalize his town of 303 people at the northern tip of Scott County. Sadieville is applying for “trail town” status with state tourism officials. But it needs trails.

“It’s huge for Sadieville,” Christensen said. “It makes us a destination.”

Simpson, the tourism official, said many Scott County business and government leaders support trails development because they have seen the economic benefit that road cycling enthusiasts have had in the area.

The Bluegrass Cycling Club’s annual Horsey Hundred ride each Memorial Day weekend is based at Georgetown College. This year, more than 2,000 cyclists came from all over North America to ride Central Kentucky’s scenic back roads on marked routes ranging from 25 to 104 miles.

Georgetown hosted a downtown party for the cyclists, who filled Georgetown College’s residence halls and more than half of the 1,100 local motel rooms. A big group from Ontario, Canada, came for an entire week of cycling before the event.

An extensive trail network, along with Central Kentucky’s world-class cycling roads, could make Georgetown a major recreation destination, Simpson said.

“We’re at the starting point of something that could be phenomenal,” he said. “It could bring thousands of tourists to our community and enhance our own quality of life.”

New tailgating is a big hit at Rolex 3-Day Event

April 30, 2011

Martha Lambert of Louisville comes to the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event every year. So when she heard tailgating spaces would be available for the first time, she quickly reserved one and started inviting friends.

“This is the best idea they’ve had since they started the Rolex,” said Lambert, who competed at the Rolex three times in the 1990s. “I wonder why they haven’t done it before?”

Lambert was one of more than 100 people, companies and organizations that paid either $275 or $325 for a space along the crest of the meadow where much of the cross-country course was built. Each spot included eight admission tickets. Only a handful of spots went unused.

“There was an excellent response,” said Vanessa Coleman, ticketing director for Equestrian Events, the Rolex’s organizer. “We’ve already had people say ‘you need to make this a tradition.'”

It certainly helped to have a picture-perfect day — lots of sunshine and temperatures in the 70s, following a stormy month that dumped more than a foot of rain on Lexington.

“Yes, we’re responsible for the weather today, too,” Coleman joked with tailgaters as she walked from spot to spot to check on things.

Lundy’s Catering took advance orders, but also sold a lot of last-minute food as tailgaters saw what their neighbors were having. “I think it’s going to be a hit,” said Alissa Lundergan, one of the company’s owners.

But most tailgaters brought their own food and drink — impressive homemade spreads, served with plenty of champagne. Chad Ross of Frankfort loaded a big gas grill into his pickup truck to cook brisket and pork tenderloin for his family and friends from Missouri.

“We come to the Horse Park as often as we can,” said Wendy Long of Huntington, W.Va. She and her husband, Larry, are such horse sport fans that their license plate reads: Jump Over. “This is such a nice way to enjoy the Horse Park and the Rolex,” she said.

Becky Coleman of Tifton, Ga., comes to Rolex every year to photograph the competition. Her husband, Tony, isn’t a horseman, but he agreed to come this year and was happy to have the tailgating spot as a place to relax. “She’s big into it,” he said of the Rolex. “I figure if Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.”

Practical Horseman magazine had a spot to entertain supporters, as did the Irish Draught Horse Society of North America. Society members were there to cheer on eight competing horses with Irish draught bloodlines.

Land Rover had the most elegant tailgating space — six spaces, actually, with six brand new Land Rover and Range Rover models. Their tailgates were lifted to display a spread of gourmet food for Land Rover owners and other customers to enjoy.

“This was perfect for us,” said Kim McCullough, the company’s brand vice president. “People naturally tailgate with a Land Rover.”

Land Rover, the event’s vehicle sponsor, also was operating an off-road demonstration course. While the company doesn’t actually sell vehicles here, dealers report the efforts have produced many good leads, McCullough said.

Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, had a tailgating spot to do some marketing for its equine studies programs, which have 110 majors, and equestrian team. About 30 students were attending Rolex.

“We hope to attract potential students,” said Lucy Cryan, who directs the university’s equine program. “And we decided to get the word out to alumni to stop by and say hello.”

Most tailgaters said they hope to get a spot next year — and for many years to come.

“It is awesome being able to do this,” said Randi McEntire, who comes each year with a group of fellow horse enthusiasts from Charleston, S.C. “We’re already talking about next year and how we’re going to improve on our setup.”

The group was tailgating under a University of South Carolina Gamecocks tent and digging into the smoked chicken, cold cuts, fresh vegetables and ample liquor selection that Kent Gramke had assembled.

“Good company, good weather, good food — that’s what makes the event,” Gramke said. “And horses,” his friend Sherry Lilley quickly added.

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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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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

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.”

Photo Gallery: Out and about at Rolex

April 24, 2010

Here are some photos I took today at the Cross Country competition of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park. Click on each thumbnail to see complete image:

Keeneland’s Nicholson on horse industry’s future

April 3, 2010

As the spring racing meet was about to begin, Keeneland President Nick Nicholson briskly walked the grounds to make sure everything was ready.

At the track’s last turn, he inspected the yellow forsythia hedge and tall magnolia trees. (He knows there are exactly 73 of them.) He pointed out new bushes in the infield that look as if they have always been there, and a maple tree in the paddock that won’t thrive no matter what the groundskeepers do.

Nicholson drove a visitor to the back of the racecourse’s 1,200 acres, to a nursery where trimmed shrubs stand ready should any part of the green hedges that spell “Keeneland” in the infield suddenly turn brown.

“You’re looking at the next generation of the parking lot there,” he said, pointing to a row of tall trees in the nursery. They are gradually being moved out to the parking lot to replace the giant pin oaks as they succumb to age and insects.

What does this obsession with landscaping have to do with horse racing and Kentucky’s Thoroughbred industry? Everything, Nicholson believes.

That’s because the future of the horse industry that is so vital to Kentucky’s image and economy depends on developing a larger, younger and more loyal fan base. Nicholson thinks the years-long battle over expanded gambling has distracted the industry from that fundamental issue.

“Expanded gaming has taken on more of a role than I think it should have; I would love to think of a way to get it behind us,” he said. “It will never be a long-term fix or a total solution. It would just provide some capital at a time when the industry needs capital. It’s a means to an end. It’s not the end.”

Horse racing once flourished, in part, because it was the only way many people could gamble legally. Now there are plenty of quicker and cheaper ways, including lotteries, slot machines, Internet betting and casinos. Everyone wants in on the action, including politicians eager to avoid raising taxes.

“I often feel like a ping-pong ball in other people’s ping-pong games,” Nicholson said.

Unlike corporate racetracks, whose ultimate goal is to provide shareholders with a maximum return on investment, Keeneland is a non-profit association. Since its founding in 1936, the mission has been to support Kentucky’s Thoroughbred breeding industry through racing and sales to an increasingly international market.

“It’s the marketplace where the farmers bring their crop to market,” he said. “The reason we race is to determine which horses to breed to which horses.”

The income and jobs the horse industry provides Kentucky — from breeders and blacksmiths to restaurant waiters and equine artists — ultimately depend on the popularity of horses and racing, Nicholson said. That’s why he spends much of his time on efforts to improve racing’s credibility, from the integrity of the betting system to improved safety for horses and riders.

“For the new fan base we’ll build the sport on, safety is a threshold issue,” he said. “You can’t say (frequent death and injury) is part of the sport anymore. You’ve got to be doing everything you can do to prevent it.”

That means cracking down on horse doping and investing in such things as artificial track surfaces that are easier on horses’ legs and high-tech padding in the starting gate.

Growing horse racing’s fan base means providing a total entertainment experience — everything from exciting sport to good food, comfortable seats, beautiful landscaping, easy parking and friendly customer service.

During an orientation last Wednesday for some of the hundreds of green-jacketed retirees who work customer-service jobs at each racing meet, Nicholson told them: “You’re the secret ingredient in the recipe for what makes Keeneland special.”

To appeal to potential young fans, horse racing must market itself more creatively and embrace technology. Keeneland now has new season and annual passes, live online race video, race replays for cell phones and updates for both experienced and novice fans via SMS text, Twitter and Facebook.

Discreet remote-control television cameras have been installed in the paddock, and there’s a new TV camera platform behind the winner’s circle. “We want to create more of a Game Day atmosphere,” Nicholson said. “We’d like each meet to be like an international festival.”

The TVG network will have daily coverage from Keeneland this month. Churchill Downs in Louisville has partnered with NBC Sports for “Road to the Kentucky Derby” telecasts that will include Keeneland’s Bluegrass Stakes on April 10.

The future of the Thoroughbred industry, Nicholson believes, depends on attracting more fans who become passionate about horses, not just about gambling. It’s about the pageantry and excitement of the sport, the intellectual challenge of handicapping, the thrill of betting a winner and the pleasure of an afternoon with friends in a beautiful place that looks as if it has always been there.

“More days of cheap racing won’t do it,” he said. “We must work with like-minded tracks to create an appealing product. We can’t compete with a casino, nor should we want to.”

Keeneland President Nick Nicholson shows a visitor the nursery hidden among the association's 1,200 acres where mature trees and shrubs are grown for the racetrack's well-groomed grounds. Photo by Tom Eblen

Keeneland President Nick Nicholson shows a visitor the nursery where trees and shrubs are grown for the track's manicured landscape. Photo by Tom Eblen

Ali, the queen and another Kentucky connection

June 3, 2009

Pearse Lyons, the founder and president of Alltech, says he has arranged to take Muhammad Ali to England in August to meet Queen Elizabeth II.

His next mission: Persuade the queen to return to Kentucky in the fall of 2010 to attend the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Lyons talks with Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Windsor Horse Show last month. Alltech photo

Pearse Lyons talks with Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Windsor Horse Show last month. Alltech photo

Lyons and his wife, Deirdre, met the queen for the first time May 15 at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, on the grounds of ancient Windsor Castle, the British monarch’s weekend home just west of London.

Nicholasville-based Alltech is the title sponsor of both the 2010 Games at the Kentucky Horse Park and the Alltech FEI European Jumping and Dressage Championships, Aug. 25-30 at Windsor.

Thanks to a new charitable foundation that Alltech has created with the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Lyons said he has arranged to take the boxing icon to the horse show at Windsor.

After that, Lyons said, he hopes to take Louisville-born Ali to Lyons’ hometown of Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 30 for a fund-raiser he is organizing for the Alltech-Muhammad Ali Center Global and Charitable Fund.

Lyons and Ali announced the fund’s creation last month at Alltech’s 25th annual International Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium, which brought more than 1,200 people from around the world to Lexington.

Muhammad Ali and Pearse Lyons announce the charitable fund last month in Lexington. Photo by Charles Bertram

Muhammad Ali and Pearse Lyons announce the Alltech-Muhammad Ali Center Global and Charitable Fund last month. Photo by Charles Bertram

Alltech launched the charitable fund with a $50,000 gift, and Lyons said several companies have indicated interest in supporting it. The goal is to raise $500,000 before the 2010 Games. The fund will support higher education scholarships and mentoring programs as well as humanitarian and disaster relief.

Lyons said he spent more than an hour with the queen at the horse show, chatting while they watched children compete on ponies. He said he talked about his new partnership with the Ali Center.

“She seemed particularly interested in Muhammad Ali,” he said. “And she’s very much into philanthropic things.”

He also made a pitch for her to return to Kentucky, which she has visited at least five times since 1984.

Lyons thinks there’s an especially good chance she will attend the 2010 Games if her granddaughter, Zara Phillips, who won the eventing championship at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, comes to Kentucky to defend her title.

Lyons could never be described as shy, but he said meeting the queen for the first time was intimidating, even though she was friendly and down-to-earth. Before they met, Lyons said, he thought a lot about how to begin the conversation.

“I told her, ‘Your majesty, I have been disappointed in you since 1953,'” Lyons said. “To which she replied, ‘Whatever for?’

“So I explained that as a young boy my brother and I went to London. My mum and dad were going on to France, and so they left us with an aunt of ours in London. And my aunt explained that she would bring us to see the queen and then we would have tea.”

It was the queen’s coronation day, but the Lyons boys just assumed they were having tea with her personally.

Instead, they were taken to the coronation parade, where they saw her ride by in a coach.

“I said, ‘I waved at you along with hundreds and thousands of others, and then we had tea in a tea shop.'” Lyons said.

“‘Oh, how disappointing,'” she said. “‘We shall have to rectify that.'”

Lyons doesn’t know if that means he will have tea with the queen when he returns to Windsor Castle in August. But if he has Muhammad Ali with him, the odds would seem better than they once were for an Irish lad of 8.

Consider Rolex a bonus for living in Lexington

April 25, 2009

Who comes out for cross-country day at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event?

Mostly horse people — thousands and thousands of horse people, from across the country and around the world. Many of them are serious horse people.

You can tell the serious international horse people because they converse in French or German, or have accents as British as the Rolex’s play-by-play announcer. Some are impressively overdressed, but they seem not to mind as temperatures on a sun-splashed Saturday rise well into the 80s.

You can tell other serious horse people because their less-impressive clothing contains the logos of Rolexes past, other major horse events or their local riding club. They carefully mark notes in the program and comment to one another about each rider’s performance and technique.

Others may be dressed normally, except for a telling accessory. Take, for example, the woman in the white sun dress, straw hat and knee-high Gore-Tex and leather riding boots. This was not a day for waterproof boots. My guess is that she bought them from the Irish vendor and thought they were easier to wear than carry.

The Rolex trade fair in one corner of the Kentucky Horse Park is its own little world of temptation for serious horse people. In addition to waterproof boots from Ireland, there is everything from made-to-measure saddles and English riding apparel to handy gadgets like the Jiffy Steamer hay storage device.

A growing number of horse people come armed with expensive cameras and long, heavy lenses. Others seem just as happy with the results from their little point-and-shoots. The wonders of digital photography and auto focus have made it easy to capture the magic of a beautiful animal and a skilled rider as they thunder down the course and glide over a jump.

A major Rolex demographic is little girls who love horses and older girls who are getting good at riding them. They are accompanied by camera-toting fathers, and mothers, many of whom used to be those little girls.

Johnny Smith was there with his daughter Jordan, 19, who has been riding since she was 8 and has always wanted to come to Rolex. They decided just last Wednesday to make the trip up from Dallas, Texas. They drove all day Friday and were having a great time.

“I hope to do eventing someday,” Jordan Smith said. “I want to be here someday.” Her father talked about how many camera memory cards he had filled up.

Between the competitors’ rides, the little girls give constant loving to the outriders’ horses. Some are veterans, such as Safari, a 14-year-old draft cross who was working his ninth Rolex with owner Maureen O’Daniel of Lexington in the saddle in formal (and hot) riding attire. Others are new, such as Lil’ Mo, a 5-year-old retired thoroughbred racehorse who has found a new career as a hunter-jumper for Lei Ruckle of St. Louis.

The little girls’ younger brothers seem more interested in the funnel cakes in the food area, not to mention the Kettle Korn and deep-fried Oreos. The littlest siblings just want to play in the muddy creek that runs through the course.

There are many people here who would like to be horse people, if only they had more money or time or land.

Karen and Paul Lehman, who moved to Scott County from Florida last year, hope to have horses someday. At the moment, they’re busy with 7-month-old Brandon and another baby on the way. “We’re just getting into the whole horse thing,” she said.

I also suspect many of the 40,600 people who came out Saturday are like me — they don’t own horses or ride horses or even really know much about them. Rolex, like Keeneland, is one of those bonuses you get for living here. It’s a good excuse to get out and walk around on a beautiful day in a beautiful place and see some of the world’s best horses and riders do amazing things.

In 516 days, the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games will begin its 16-day run at the Kentucky Horse Park, bringing together the world’s best athletes in eight equine disciplines. Hundreds of thousands of horse people will be here, including many of the world’s most serious horse people. Tickets go on sale Sept. 25.

But Games organizers also want to make sure they leave room for average, local people who just want to come out to see some horses and riders do amazing things. That’s why some general admission tickets will be available. (Prices will be announced late this summer.)

“Our event will be as much for the Lexington resident as for the international horse person,” Games spokeswoman Amy Walker said. “We want people to come out and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Think of it as one of the bonuses of living here.

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