Pink and orange streaks of a beautiful sunset provided a perfect backdrop as Wynona Judd sang a stirring rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home,” backed by the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, to kick off the Opening Ceremonies of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games Saturday Sept. 25 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky.
As I sat in the stands watching the elaborate gala ceremonies, I reflected on the first day of the 16-day event, which will decide the world champions in eight equestrian disciplines. After a week of record-setting 90-degree days, a cold front moved in Friday night and Saturday was a beautiful, sunny, fall-like day with temperatures in the 70s. That set the stage for what turned out to be a great day for all involved.
After watching from the side as family, friends and acquaintances poured a huge amount of hard work and energy for months and years into preparing for the games — the first ever held outside of Europe — and then waited with anxious anticipation for the opening day — someone likened it to the anxiety of waiting for a newborn — it was very gratifying to see the nearly universal acclaim from the more than 23,000 people who flocked to the park on Saturday.
More than 800 top equestrian athletes from 58 countries are participating in the games, and there was a mini-World’s Fair atmosphere Saturday as people from around the country and several foreign nations mingled and took advantage of the many things to see and do at the games in addition to the competition.
Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, and the thousands of volunteers helping with the games were, to a person, open, friendly and helpful. There were even volunteers that opened the trash receptacles and wished you a good day.
I spent most of my time at the Kentucky Experience, a three-prong venue created by Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. The Exhibit Pavilion is a minitour of the Bluegrass State, with each of the state’s tourism regions represented by large panel displays with photographs of major scenic, historic and cultural attractions; large-screen televisions with videos about the regions; and items from several museums around the state.
There is Gen. George Patton’s sweater from the 1912 Olympics; an outfit worn by George Clooney in his latest film, “The American” and a dress worn by his aunt, Rosemary Clooney, in “White Christmas”; white fence from historic Calumet Farm; Shaker furniture from Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill; a red Corvette you can sit in courtesy of the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green; and on and on.
The Entertainment Pavilion features a stage with live entertainment throughout the day by Kentucky musicians. I relaxed listening to the Ritch Collins Three-O from Ashland and the bluegrass band Rick Oldfield and Company from Mount Sterling.
The Product Pavilion is loaded with quality Kentucky-made items, from funky folk art to exquisite jewelry and pottery selected for the show by the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea. One side of the tent is a long bar where you can purchase samples of Kentucky wines, Kentucky bourbons and Kentucky Ale beer. I watched as Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear dipped a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon into a pail of hot red wax.
I took a quick tour through the large pavilion of Alltech, the Nicholasville, Ky.-based animal feed and supplement company that is the sponsor of the games. Several different areas explain the many fields Alltech is involved with around the world. I will have to save a more in-depth exploration for another visit, along with the Equine Village with its demonstrations of many horse breeds, and the expansive tradeshow.
The games run through Oct. 10.
Sampling Kentucky-made Rebecca Ruth bourbon balls at the Kentucky Experience.
An imaginatively decorated horse at the Alltech Pavilion is part of Lexington's Horse Mania.
A brilliant sunset over the outdoor stadium lent a perfect backdrop to the WEG opening ceremonies.
Sit in a Corvette at the Kentucky Experience.