Here at the Kentucky Horse Park, each day brings an array of exciting events. Most involve equines, but there are other worthwhile attractions, too.
Winter, spring, summer and fall, the Kentucky Horse Park has it all. We’re talking horses, of course in many sizes, colors and breeds, doing everything from police work and pulling carriages to barrel racing, jumping and other activities too numerous to mention.
But you don’t have to love horses to love the park. Non equine events abound, from home decorator shows and tractor pulls to canine competitions, music festivals and the like. Truly, there’s something here for everyone.
Given the park’s world-class venue, that’s hardly surprising. “As word has spread nationally that we have an indoor facility like the Alltech Arena which fills a seating sweet spot of around 5,000+ and can be so versatile in what it allows rentals in the arena and our other facilities has increased significantly,” says the park’s retiring executive director John Nicholson.
Some of the world’s biggest stars, both equine and equestrian, take center stage during key competitions at the park.
A new March favorite, the Road to the Horse International showcases the efforts of top trainers in a unique colt-starting championship that is both entertaining and educational. Each of three or four horsemen or women, most of whom are internationally known, chooses an untouched 3-year-old from the AQHA Remuda of the 6666 Ranch and builds a relationship with that horse, with an eye to winning the World Championship title. The means to the end count, because the goal of Road to the Horse is to demonstrate how natural horsemanship is a gentler and more effective way of training equines.
Past winners include three-time undefeated champion Chris Cox and two-time champion Clinton Anderson. But relative unknowns can test their talents here, too: Beginning in 2014, Wild Card competitors who chose their horses at the previous year’s competition get to face off against each other for a chance to compete against the big name trainers for RTTH World Championship status. “I had some pretty high expectations when I was designing the Wild Card Challenge for Road to the Horse, but little did I know that these great 6666 colts in the hands of this great group of horsemen would put those expectations to shame, and then some!” says RTTH producer Tootie Bland. “You can bet that I will be hanging on the gate in amazement, just like everyone else who’s lucky enough to be there.”
A rite of spring at the park is April’s Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, which tests the versatility and athletic prowess of eventing’s international elite in three very exacting English disciplines: dressage, cross-country and show jumping. It’s a memorable outing for tailgaters, shoppers and eventing fans alike. Since 2011, the event has also offered spectators a taste of the only Western discipline approved for Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) competition, Reining.
The USEF Open Reining National Championship, part of the Kentucky Reining Cup, is held in conjunction with the 2014 three day and serves as the Selection Trial for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games U.S. Reining Team. Also in 2014, this truly American type of competition offers $120,000 total prize money and includes a World Championship Freestyle class. “The Kentucky Reining Cup has proven to be the perfect event to complement the Rolex Kentucky ThreeDay Event,” says Darren Ripley, president of EEI, producer of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.
Come May, buckle your seatbelts for the High Hope Steeplechase, where Thoroughbreds race at high speeds over hurdles and on the flat, steered by jockeys in brightly colored silks. A beloved 50-year-old Bluegrass tradition in the same spirit as the Kentucky Derby, High Hope also serves as a gathering place for friends and family, many of whom bring delicious and colorful tailgate spreads. There are terrier races, a Members’ Pavilion and children’s activities galore. In addition, this race meeting benefits area non profits, including the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation and Central Kentucky Riding for Hope.
“We are thrilled at the tremendous amount of community support for this event, which is truly a central Kentucky tradition for thousands of local families,” says Laura Klumb, executive director of the High Hope Steeplechase Association, Inc.
One of the newer kids on the block, the US Dressage Finals in November is a head to head national competition showcasing competitors in dressage, a discipline that has been likened to “equine ballet” but that was actually developed to help prepare war horses for battle. An extension of the Great American/USDF Regional Championships, it’s designed so competitors qualify through their Regional Championships. All levels from Training through Grand Prix are offered, with both open and adult amateur divisions. The action takes place in the climate controlled Alltech Arena.
“The 2013 inaugural US Dressage Finals, presented by Adequan, exceeded our expectations and we plan to build on that success for 2014 and years to come,” says US Dressage Federation Executive Director Stephan Hienzsch.
Even model horses get their day in the sun at BreyerFest[R], a national event celebrating its Silver Jubilee in July, 2014.
“The iconic American toy and collectible brand that is dedicated to the creation of realistic and authentic model horses first launched its annual model horse celebration in 1990 at the Kentucky Horse Park,” explains Kathleen Fallon, vice president of communications for Breyer’s parent company, Reeves International, Inc. “Today, more than 10,000 people and over 200 [live] horses attend this fun family festival to celebrate model horses and the real horses that inspired them.”
Topping the 2014 guest list is Siren Song Stables’ multi World Champion Friesian Gooitzen fan Teakesyl, handled by Emmy winning television star, fashion designer and acclaimed horseman Carson Kressley.
Ever wonder how police horses are trained? The National Mounted Police Colloquium, an annual October event that marks its 30th anniversary in 2014, features instruction in flatwork, jumping, crowd control, obstacle training, police tactics and competition courses in the Alltech Arena.
Of special interest is the Sensory Clinic for Civilians, which gives everyday equestrians the opportunity to learn troop drill exercises and expose their mounts to not only challenging obstacles, but a number of sights and sounds in an effort to make them “bombproof” all utilizing the same methods used to train police mounts.
“This is a great way to see how your horse can cope with stressful objects in a controlled fashion,” says Kentucky Horse Park Mounted Police Captain Lisa Rakes. “We have had participants from Canada, California, Texas and all along the East Coast attend in the past.”
June brings the popular Festival of the Bluegrass to the Kentucky Horse Park’s spacious campgrounds for some toe tappin’ fun with top bands in this all American genre. The 2014 lineup includes the Gibson Brothers, the Grascals, the Seldom Scene, Illrd Tyme Out, Mountain Heart, the Claire Lynch Band, and many others. The festival also features an open-air classroom for children aged 6 18, with a music camp for beginner, intermediate and advanced musicians.
“The Festival of the Bluegrass is one big family, from the campers, to the bands, the volunteers and the park staff,” says Roy Miller Cornett, whose own family actually runs the festival. “For over 40 years, this family has put on one of the nation’s premiere events, and I look forward to seeing what the next 40 bring.”
There’s also the Ichthus Festival, a four-day, faith-based music and arts festival that has been an area tradition for more than 42 years. Over the years, it’s hosted numerous bands, as well as “powerful teachers” who bring awareness to such issues as poverty and human trafficking, according to festival official Bill Darpino.
The June 2014 festival, also held at the park’s campground, features a stellar lineup of bands and speakers, with multiple stages and activities daily. “One of the best ways to experience the festival is to camp right there on the grounds,” says Darpino.
As August turns to September, the prestigious Bluegrass Classic Dog Shows a joint project between three kennel clubs come to the park for five days of AKC recognized conformation and obedience/rally classes for all breeds. For $5 per car load, spectators get to see more than 1,500 canines from all over the country, as well as vendors selling unique merchandise geared towards man’s best friend.
Held outdoors since the 1940s, the shows recently moved indoors to the Alltech Arena, rendering them more popular than ever. “It is a real draw for more dogs to attend with the benefits of climate control,” says Lexington Kennel Club President Bonnie Massie. “Many dogs you will see at our show will also attend the Westminster in New York, as well.”
The park’s longstanding relationship with the Kentucky High School Athletic Association is well represented, too, with action packed events in November, December and February. “KHSAA has hosted cross country (runners) at the park for several years. In 2009, after the opening of the Alltech Arena, we began talks with KHSAA to bring the high school state wrestling championships to the park,” says Cindy Armstrong, the park’s director of sales and guest services. “The championships moved to the park in 2012 and we couldn’t be happier. The state youth wrestling champions followed, as did several other events.”
Other interesting events that have made the move to the Alltech Arena are the TNT Motorsports Truck and Tractor Pull, a rollicking January contest that relocated here in 2013 from Rupp Arena; and the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation’s Antiques and Garden Show, which came here in 2011 from Keeneland and takes place in March. Besides a large number of exhibitors, the latter event features a vintage car show, daily lectures and a Kentucky Treasures Exhibit, among other attractions.
And don’t forget the Diamond Rings & Pretty Things Bridal Show in January, the New Home & Remodeling Marketplace, a late February/early March event, and many others more than 165 nonequine events in recent years.