The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games have come to a close. As with any major event -- a wedding, a huge project, even the holiday season -- its conclusion brings a mixture of sadness and relief.
Sadness, for the special time never seems to last long enough to savor, after the months or years of planning and hard work. Relief, at seeing the event come off successfully and knowing that the burden is finally off one's shoulders.
We've been hearing about the WEG for so long that it's almost hard to believe it's over. Like any massive undertaking, the Lexington, Kentucky, event had its share of bumps along the way. Foremost among them had to be the economic downturn that led to budget cuts and lower-than-anticipated ticket sales (although WEG organizers yesterday announced that the total attendance figure for the sixteen days topped half a million). A change in organization management midstream led to challenges. There were complaints about price-gouging on everything from tickets and lodging to concessions and souvenirs. Some vendors at the Kentucky Horse Park site, who had paid princely sums for booth space, felt stung by the change in the economic winds.
Even so, I think that the 2010 WEG will be regarded as a success. In its role as US ambassador to the world, Kentucky impressed with its friendliness and helpfulness. Visitors both foreign and domestic thrilled to see the Bluegrass, the Thoroughbred farms, and the all-American breeds on display. Reining enthusiasts watched the jumping. Jumpers took in endurance. Endurance riders enjoyed dressage. And everyone embraced the newcomer sport, para-equestrian dressage, the sight of able-bodied athletes schooling alongside those with physical disabilties making for an atmosphere of true inclusiveness.
That feeling of commonality -- the sense that physical limitations, ethnicity, accents, language barriers, and countries of origin fell away, leaving a global community of horse lovers -- is my strongest WEG memory.
My last night at the WEG, I attended a social event for media representatives at the magnificent Walnut Hall, next door to the Kentucky Horse Park. On the way over, our golf-cart shuttle passed a four-in-hand out for twilight exercise, brass gleaming in the headlights and the whip and groom waving a cheery greeting. After a few pleasant hours spent chatting with tablemates from all over the Americas, I caught a ride back to the press center, gathered my belongings for the last time, and squeezed aboard the rear-facing seats of yet another golf cart, next to two giggling Japanese journalists who squealed happily every time our driver hugged a turn. We sped past a floodlighted schooling ring, where the jumpers were out in force for a nighttime session. As we left the scene behind, I watched the colorful, beautiful horses and riders, brilliant and winking like fireflies in the light, until they disappeared from view.
On the shuttle back to my hotel, my melancholy quickly evaporated as I found myself in a lively discussion with three journalists from Germany, New Zealand, and Canada. We talked of the party and the horses and the WEG and the 2012 London Olympics, and the conversation was so interesting that the commute time melted away and it was soon time to leave my newfound friends.
That's what the WEG was to me: a magical moment, filled with a sense of camaraderie and a renewed love and respect for the horse and all he does for us. I feel privileged to have attended and to have had the opportunity to share the experience with you. I hope you have enjoyed this year-long blog, which now comes to a close as well. If you were lucky enough to have experienced the WEG in person, I hope that it was as special for you as it was for me.
Did you miss any of the WEG competition? Watch it on the US Equestrian Federation's online on-demand network.