WEG 2010


The final competition of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games was the cones phase of the driving championship.

And to top that off was an exciting — yes, exciting — medal ceremony. I’ve seen several fun medal ceremonies at a variety of driving championships, but I don’t recall another victory lap / gallop through the exit gate quite like the one we saw at last year’s WEG.

And to circle back around to one of my earlier WEG flashbacks — the wonderful mix of horse people and horse sports — as I was walking back from the driving stadium to the media center for the press conference with the medalists, a golf cart drove past, filled with the U.S. vaulting team (who had just won the gold medal) — all laughing and cheering and showing off their medals.

On this, the six-month anniversary of the WEG driving marathon, I just have to say that not much can beat a good marathon day.

And last year’s WEG driving marathon was spectacularly good for a marathon taking place here in the U.S. We had the most FEI-level four-in-hand drivers ever gathered together for a North American competition, including most of the world’s top four-in-hand drivers. We had beautiful marathon obstacles and beautiful weather. And we had huge crowds, most of whom had never seen combined driving before. More than once, while walking the course, we overheard people saying, “Wow, this is amazing!”

Then, after the marathon and my work day were done (after the marathon, of course, I had to go back to the office and prepare a blog post), we had a wonderful WEG evening to cap off an already wonderful WEG day. We had a friend visiting from Seattle, who had come to town for the weekend just to see the WEG driving. While I was working on my blog post for the day, we were offered two grandstand tickets for that night’s sold-out jumping finals — the Top Four, where the best four individual jumper riders each jump four rounds, once on their own horse and then once on each other’s horses — to determine the individual medals.

There were three of us,  and Dana and I looked at each other and said to A.J., “no, we’ll pass.” And he said, “If you want to, you can … I don’t mind.” We looked at each other again and said, “Ok, we’ll take them!” Once I was done with work, we had about an hour before the Top Four was to start, so we walked over to the food court area to get something to eat. And there was that evening’s Univ. of KY football game, being shown on the jumbotron. Needless to say, A.J. was happy to stand there and eat pizza while watching football on the BIG screen and then to go home and watch the rest of the game. (He’s definitely a convert to driving, but he’s not as much of a horse person as either Dana or me.)

A.J. left for the bus back to downtown, and Dana and I headed to the stadium. Unfortunately, the quickest route to our seats was blocked off by that point, as the competition was about to begin. But we found an even better view at a standing-room area on the mezzanine and even ran into some friends to hang out with. Needless to say, it was wonderful to see the world’s top jumpers (riders and horses) competing.

When it was over and we were leaving, Dana was almost run over by one of Princess Haya’s bodyguards, which was an, um, exciting way to end the evening. And then on the bus ride back to town, a man sitting in front of us had the exciting tail-end of the football game playing on his cell-phone radio. He’d turned it up loud enough that those of us sitting near him could hear the broadcast. And others on the bus must’ve been listening as well because nearly everyone cheered when the Wildcats scored.

Another one of my favorite memories (well, series of memories) from last year’s World Equestrian Games?

Over the course of more than a year, our office location here at the Kentucky Horse Park (and knowing the designer and builders of the WEG driving course) afforded us the unique opportunity to watch the marathon course take shape. It literally grew before our eyes, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to share that progress here on the blog. If you missed it, you can click on the “WEG 2010” topic and scroll back through to the beginning.

Then, when the marathon course was finished and decorated came the chance to fly up above it all to photograph the finished marathon obstacles. What fun that was … even if it was rather windy up there!

And, on a similar note, what a treat it was to be able to be able to watch the Western vehicles moved into place at one of the marathon obstacles, and to see them all up close and to learn more about each one.

It was fun to be able to share these unique views here on the blog, and if you were following alond during WEG, I hope you enjoyed these peeks behind the scense as well.

One of my other favorite things about last year’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games?

The chance to see some of the horse world’s greatest superstars — both horses and people — in person. It’s one thing to hear the buzz surrounding the (formerly) Dutch superstar dressage horse Totilas, and to see photos and YouTube videos of him. But it’s quite another thing, I have to say, to be standing just a few feet from where he’s warming up for his dressage test. I didn’t get a chance to see his actual (gold-medal-winning) tests in person, but his warmup routine — heck, just the way he moves — is nothing short of breathtaking.

As an added bonus, I was able to see the equally magnificent Spanish dressage horse Fuego XII warming up for his test. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know anything about this horse before the WEG but, my-oh-my, he’s a beauty.

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Fuego XII with Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz at the 2010 WEG …

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… in the warmup arena before one of their dressage tests

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he’s a gorgeous horse, no?

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On the night of the dressage Grand Prix Freestyle competition, the main stadium was packed. I wasn’t planning to stick around the Horse Park that night, as the competition was supposed to go till quite late. But I had received an offer to watch the event on a closed-circuit TV, and I figured that it would be silly to miss it.

Totilas was, indeed, magnificent … as we all knew he would be. And Fuego XII was awe-inspiring. I’ve never heard the audience at a dressage competition erupt into applause and cheers like they did after Fuego’s test. There was certainly no polite dressage/golf-clapping here that night.

After the final test, I walked through the deserted trade fair to catch the bus home … while the awards ceremony was taking place in the main stadium, under the lights, and to more loud cheers and applause. Even though I had watched the competition on a closed-circuit (not a “real”) TV, we were still a bit removed from the action, and it was easy to forget that what we watched was happening right then, just across the food court from where we sat. But the cheers from the stadium that night were another reminder that all those magnificent horses were right here.

One of my favorite things about the idea of a World Equestrian Games — often called the “Olympics for horses” — is the great mix of horse people. Unlike most “regular” horse shows and events, this isn’t just jumpers, or only dressage horses, or nothing but driving horses, etc.

One of my favorite things about this particular World Equestrian Games, and the fact that I was literally in the middle of it for the duration (and then some) was that I was able to see this wonderful mix — horses, sports, and people — firsthand.

There were jumpers cheering on reiners, drivers enjoying the eventing cross-country, competitors enjoying everything else going on at the venue, and on, and on, and on: two weeks of good-natured camaraderie that revolved around everyone’s mutual love of the horse, no matter what vocation any one person or horse had chosen.

Among all this horsey goodwill, one of my absolute favorite scenes took place late one evening during the first week of the Games.

Many of the Equine Village events aimed at children were stationed outside the CAA office, so we had a good view of children visiting with ponies, troops of spectators walking from the main stadium to the indoor arena for reining and vaulting competition, and the mechanical cutting horse, which invariably drew a large crowd of participants and spectators.

As I was getting ready to close the CAA shop around 7 o’clock one evening, most of the crowds had left our area, but the mechanical cutting horse was still in action. A couple of members of the U.S. reining team and their families were the mechanical horse’s last riders for the day, and they were having a blast. Apparently, the horse’s operator could adjust the difficulty level posed by the cutting horse and its calf (and I think he even controlled the horse’s movements), and most of the people we saw were riding at a basic level. But on this evening, the required skill level was ratcheted up several notches, and the reiners almost looked like they were riding a real cutting horse. I’m not sure a “real” cutting-horse rider would be laughing quite so much, though! It was a treat to see them and their families enjoying the evening and a bit of fun.

Today’s post is the first of six “WEG flashbacks,” in which I’ll share some of my favorite memories, images, and past blog posts from the WEG. These are in honor of the six-month anniversary of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, which concluded on October 10, 2010.

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In my opinion, the best aspect of an international sporting event, like the WEG, is the international “flavor” of the event.

People came from around Kentucky, from across the United States, and from all over the world, converging on Lexington and the Kentucky Horse Park for two weeks of top equestrian competition. I saw and met visitors from near and far on my daily bus rides between downtown and the Horse Park, in our CAA gift shop, and all over the WEG venue. Team members and fans decorated their bicycles, their golf carts, and themselves in their national colors and flags and urged their favorite riders and drivers on with cheers and chants and flag waving.

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people, bicycles ...

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... and golf carts were all decked out in national colors and flags

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fans getting themselves ready for show jumping at the 2010 WEG

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One of my other favorite “international” memories of the event was the lone media event I was able to attend. When we (media) checked in and received our media credentials, we also received a list of daily Alltech-sponsored events we were invited to attend. As lovely as they all sounded (trips, parties, events in the media “chill-zone,” a bourbon tasting, and more), there just wasn’t time to go to most of them. The one I managed to fit in was a special-event Chieftains concert. My husband was (sadly) out of town that night, but it was a treat — after a long day at work — to be able to watch a concert/party with Irish music, bluegrass music, Canadian fiddlers and step dancers, a Scottish singer, bagpipers, Irish dancers, opera singers, and an Alltech-sponsored children’s choir from Haiti.

I read later in our local newspaper that, while they were in town briefly for this special concert, the Chieftains enjoyed a visit and dinner with the Irish WEG team and the president of WEG sponsor Alltech, who is also Irish.

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Stay tuned for more WEG flashbacks, and please feel free to share your favorite WEG memories in the comments!

On Wednesday, I went to a reception at the KHP’s International Museum of Horse, to welcome Big Lex to his new home.

Who’s Big Lex, you ask?

Well, he’s the mascot of our fair city: a bright blue (what we here know as UK blue) horse, based on a painting of the famous nineteenth-century racehorse named Lexington.

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this is the, um, modified version of Edward Troye's painting of the racehorse named Lexington; in this version, he's Wildcat blue instead of bay

 

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Lexington the horse, bred and born near Lexington the city, won six of his seven starts. That doesn’t sound like much today, but many of his races were four miles long!

He went on to a successful stud career and was named Leading Sire in North America sixteen times.

According to Wikipedia: “Lexington was part of the first group of horses inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1955. Not so long ago, Lexington was so forgotten that on a fourth-floor attic catwalk of the Smithsonial Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, [Lexington] was listed simply as Catalog No. 16020. On Tuesday, August 31st, 2010, Lexington’s remains were transferred to the International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park.”

Wednesday, it was Big Lex’s turn to come home. Although he didn’t start out being quite so far away.

During last fall’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, a fiberglass horse painted to look like the one pictured above stood patiently in the media tent. Here, after every medal press conference, he was signed by medal winners. At Wednesday’s reception, several people said that he was signed only by gold-medal winners (and, truth be told, the number of signatures gracing his blue coat would appear to bear that out), but I know for a fact that the silver-medal-winning drivers signed Big Lex as well.

Besides the gold-medalists (and our U.S. driving team), the other signatures on the horse are those of Princess Haya (FEI president), Lyle Lovett (who owns one of the reining horses that competed at the WEG), and William Shatner (who lives near here and performed in the Opening Ceremony).

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Big Lex, in his new museum home, showing off for the TV news cameramen

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signatures on Big Lex's offside rump; you can see some reiners' signatures (and their horses' names) and Lyle Lovett's signature on the right

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more signatures here; that signature to the left of the lower left corner of the vaulting pictogram (on the underside of the neck) is Tucker Johnson's (he won the team silver and individual bronze medals in driving)

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