Long road to the 2010 World Equestrian Games

September 22, 2009

The ambitious plan to bring the World Equestrian Games to the US began some 14 years ago, and this week marks the one-year countdown to the event at the Kentucky Horse Park.

The park, which was established in the Bluegrass state of the US 31 years ago, is the first venue outside Europe to host the World Equestrian Games.


Kentucky Horse Park executive director John Nicholson.
Plans for the WEG 2010 are falling nicely into place for organisers, with new facilities designed, built and opened, and test events completed. As the equestrian world looks forward to the 16-day event in a year's time, the Kentucky Horse Park's executive director, John Nicholson, has had time to look back on his grand plan to bring the WEG to the United States, which began 14 years ago.

"I first learned about the World Equestrian Games during a conversation I had in Germany in 1995 with Michael Stone, (then) President of the Irish Equestrian Federation, who later became Secretary General of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI)," Nicholson says.

"It got me thinking about importing the games to the United States, more specifically to Kentucky, and not a day has gone by in the past fourteen years when I haven't thought about it or worked on it."


Rob Hinkle, Vice President and Chief Operations Officer for the World Games 2010 Foundation John Nicholson and Her Royal Highness Infanta Pilar of Spain, (then) FEI President, in Bahrain in 2005 signing the documents that awarded the 2010 Games to the Kentucky Horse Park.


Rob Hinkle, John Nicholson, Derrick Ramsey (then Deputy Director of the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet), Tandy Patrick (then Chair of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission and now World Games 2010 Foundation secretary), and John Long in Bahrain in 2005.


The park's new outdoor stadium, which was opened in April 2009.


John Nicholson with Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry at the opening.


The new climate-controlled Indoor Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park was on the master plan developed for the park since 1999 and opened in July of 2009.

Nicholson, who was working for Equitana USA at the time, broached the idea with Rob Hinkle, who was working at Disney. Both were living in Orlando, Florida, and both were former employees of the Kentucky Horse Park. The pair discussed what it would take to bring the games to the US. Both were soon to return to the park - Nicholson as the executive director and Hinkle as deputy director.

First up, a new facility was needed. Then, in the autumn of 2000, the pair were ready to begin work in earnest to acquire the 2006 World Equestrian Games.

"Two solid years were devoted almost exclusively to working on the bid for the 2006 Games," Nicholson says.

"Rob deserves a great deal of credit for doing the 'heavy lifting' that it took to pull the bid together, and from the beginning, we have received enormous encouragement from Alan Balch, former President of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), John Long, current CEO of USEF and David O'Connor, current President of USEF.

"Throughout the process we had to address numerous obstacles, including a very serious problem called Equine Piroplasmosis, a tick-borne protozoal disease. It meant that Piro-positive horses would have to remain in quarantine and unable to stable on the park grounds - a 'deal breaker' as far as the FEI was concerned.

"Unless we solved this dilemma, we would never acquire the games, so we contacted Dr Peter Timoney, (then) Director of the Gluck Equine Research Center, who is arguably the world's most respected equine research veterinarian. He conducted a risk assessment to determine if Piroplasmosis was indeed a threat to US horses.

"As a result of that research, the United States Department of Agriculture developed a reasonable protocol that satisfied all parties."

Rob Hinkle, John Nicholson, Derrick Ramsey (then Deputy Director of the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet), Tandy Patrick (then Chair of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission and current Secretary of the World Games 2010 Foundation), and John Long in Bahrain in 2005 for the awarding of the 2010 Games to the Kentucky Horse Park.

With that stumbling block out of the way, it was possible to submit a viable bid for the 2006 games.

Aachen in Germany won the bid to host the games. Nicholson says it was a "crushing disappointment that became a blessing in disguise because it allowed us more time to secure increased support and refine a new bid to host the 2010 Games."

Since then, our support system has become vast and deep, and has included unwavering cooperation first from (former) Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher and now from Governor and Mrs Steven L Beshear. The Beshears have been actively involved with the park for more than two decades. "Mrs Beshear is an accomplished horsewoman who knows and loves every corner of our 1200 acres," Nicholson says.

"They, the Kentucky General Assembly, Jim Host (former) Secretary of the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet and Marcheta Sparrow, Secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation and of course the outstanding staff of the Kentucky Horse Park have made it possible for this park to become the word's finest equestrian facility. We have also received tremendous assistance from Mayor Jim Newberry and the city of Lexington."

It was collaborations with parties such as those, coupled with perseverance and the dedication of many unsung heroes, that resulted in the park being awarded, in 2005, the rights to host the 2010 Games.

The World Games 2010 Foundation, Inc, was formed to organize the event. Jack Kelly came on as the first CEO and Rob Hinkle became the Vice President and Chief Operations Officer. John Long is the Chair of the World Games 2010 Foundation, Nicholson is the President, and Jamie Link is the Chief Executive Officer. Shortly thereafter, Dr Pearse Lyons and Alltech stepped in as the first naming sponsor in the history of the games.

"Alltech's sponsorship is a great statement about 21st Century Kentucky. Alltech is a Kentucky company with global operations, and as such, a perfect sponsor for the games. I believe this is a fine example of the fact that Kentucky holds a place on the world economic scene," Nicholson says.

After 14 years of effort that was sparked by an idea to bring a world event to Kentucky, this week marks "One Year to Go" for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

"The Games will be the largest event ever held in Kentucky, the largest sporting event in the United States in 2010 and the second-largest in North America. Only the Winter Olympics in Vancouver will be larger," Nicholson says.

The Games are 16 days long and tickets go on sale on Friday.

WEG 2010 movers and shakers:


Rob Hinkle, Vice President and Chief Operations Officer for the World Games 2010 Foundation

Alston Kerr, current Chair of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission and member of the World Games 2010 Foundation Board of Directors.

Dr Pearse Lyons, President of Alltech, naming sponsor of the WEG 2010.

John Nicholson, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park


Kentucky's First Lady Jane Beshear

Kentucky Governor Steven L. Beshear

Jamie Link, CEO of the World Games 2010 Foundation