A few weekends ago I did something I'm not sure I've done before—I helped set a record. More than 50,800 people flocked to the 1,224-acre Kentucky Horse Park on Oct. 2 to watch cross-country competition, browse exhibits and a trade fair, witness famous trainers' demonstrations, and soak in the wonder that was the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG). That was the highest one-day attendence the Park had ever seen. The point I'd like to emphasize is that a sizable portion of this crowd wasn't what you'd consider a collection of “horse people.” For example, two of my non-horsey friends each coughed up the $45 admission and decided to see for themselves this cross-country thing I've been gushing about for years. And I must tell you: Almost as compelling as the action at the second water jump complex were the smiles on my friends' faces as they realized the beauty and thrills equestrian events have to offer. (At right see my friends' daughter meeting a horse for the first time!)
As we picnicked on a hill, with the likes of Karen O’Connor, William Fox-Pitt, and others navigating various cross-country “questions,” or obstacles/combinations in front of us, thousands of people milled about, cheered, and waved various nations’ flags. The experience was infectious, and not in the usual context of that word’s use in this magazine. The park was alive with an enthusiasm for the horse—and not just one particular type of horse or discipline. All horses were respected and celebrated.
The many groups responsible for planning various aspects of WEG, and Central Kentucky in general, rolled out the welcome mat for the world to be up close and personal with horses. Thousands of students arrived in school buses during the 16 days of WEG to browse exhibits and watch competition. I would imagine that more than one child touched a horse and had an interest ignited that will stretch far into adulthood. And I know at least one local elementary school is spending its entire academic year focused on writing assignments about horses.
More of this chance for connection with horses needs to happen. Why? Well, frankly, we horse people are an aging breed. Survey seems to say that fewer people are into horses these days. Col. Walter Herd, featured speaker at the inaugural meeting of the Kentucky Equine Networking Association in September, put it well: There are myriad threats to American equestrianism, reasons why not everyone is involved with horses. Among these: stovepipe thinking/lack of unity (my breed is better than yours), urbanization, animal rights organizations, the growing cost of the sport, litigation and legislation (Can I even afford to run a lesson barn?), and corruption and moral weakness.
Herd’s goal was to get us thinking about this issue, and I challenge you to do the same. How will you be an ambassador for horses, getting new people involved—or at least interested—the way WEG has done for this region? How will you help us ensure that, as Herd says, our grandchildren won’t be looking at horses in a zoo?