It took me a while to figure out the horse show this week here at the Kentucky Horse Park was a big deal. Cynically, and especially because the emphasis seemed to be on the sponsor, I thought they had dreamed up an event to keep the ball rolling after the World Equestrian Games here last fall. After a while, I realized this National Horse Show was the National Horse Show - as in the one held in Madison Square Garden in New York for forever. To compare another species, it would be the same as if the Westminster Dog Show would come to Lexington, and the event is about the same age, 120-something years.
A friend and I went yesterday for the last day - the day with all the big stakes (championships) classes, and it was terrific. The crowd was sparce in the afternoon, but picked up in the evening for the $250k Open Jumper Championship. That's right, a quarter of a million dollars - no small potatoes. Except for the "end-zone" area of the arena (shown in the background below), the crowd was not packed, but respectable.
photos by Matt Goins - Lexington Herald Leader
This was our vantage point - although a few rows up. The jumps were terrifying - 6 feet high and with spreads equally huge. This was one of a triple combination - only one step in between. Some horses were so smooth, they made it look almost easy. But one jump that seemed very plain and 'easy' was the undoing of many. We couldn't understand it - until a visitor from Arizona, obviously an expert, explained to us that it was an awkward distance from the previous jump.
It was the top-of-the-top echelon of show jumpers. There were competitors from all over the world, including several Olympic Team members, both from the US other countries.
The sponsors seemed to have learned their lessons from the WEG - no more $100+ tickets. We got in for the price of a movie, and it was on-the-edge-of-your-seat exciting. Everyone would hold their breath during each ride, groaning if a rail came down, afraid to 'jinx' it if it looked like someone was going to jump clean. If they did, the instant they landed the crowd would erupt in cheers.
Here is the winning rider collecting his $75k check. (The top 12 placements were money winners) We joked that it might pay his transportation bills to get to the show. :) I talked to folks sitting around us, asking where they had come from and what they thought of the facility. To a person, and from what I have read, all the participants are thrilled with the arena, the Park, and especially the easy accessibly. Can you imagine trailering horses into mid-town Manhattan?
It was a very fun time that we both enjoyed enormously. I think it will grow in popularity in the same way the Rolex Three-Day Event has. I'm putting it on my calendar.