Horses are welcome here

Lexington has gone to great lengths to make humans comfortable, too

Herald-Leader ColumnistSeptember 19, 2010 

Welcome to Lexington. We thought you would never get here.

We have been getting ready for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games for five years — and thinking about them even longer.

The Kentucky Horse Park opened in 1978 with the World Championship Three-Day Event. Each year since then, the park has played host to what is now called the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Years of improvements have made the Kentucky Horse Park perhaps the world's finest equestrian facility. It is a big contributor to the local economy, with museums, horse shows and other events. But we have always had something bigger in mind, and that is what brought you here.

After the first World Equestrian Games were held in Sweden in 1990, we considered going after the second Games four years later. We competed for the 2006 Games but lost to Aachen, Germany. Our 2004 bid for this year's Games was chosen over Normandy, France, which will host the 2014 Games.

Over the past few years, Lexington's city motto may as well have been, "Clean up! Company's coming!" We have raced to complete many long-deferred highway, street and sidewalk improvements. Be careful: some of the cement may still be wet.

As you can see, our natural landscape is gorgeous. John Filson, one of the first people to visit and write about Kentucky, described this place in 1784 as a "new Eden." But much like Adam and Eve, we have not always appreciated it.

Lexington has tried for a half-century to control urban sprawl, with mixed success. Only recently have most people in the Bluegrass realized it is not a good idea to continue paving over the landscape that makes us unique. It gives me hope that eventually more people will realize that blowing up Kentucky's mountains to extract coal isn't such a good idea, either.

The Bluegrass has many beautiful, old buildings. The oldest ones date from a time two centuries ago when Lexington was the most progressive city on what was then America's western frontier. We would have many more of those old buildings, but we spent the last half of the 20th century demolishing them, often to make way for nothing more special than a parking lot.

And how, you may wonder, did Lexington end up with a fenced pasture in the center of town? Don't ask; it's too embarrassing.

Central Kentucky is filled with good, friendly people who genuinely want you to enjoy yourself while you are here. There are many fine restaurants, museums, galleries and other attractions, although they are not always easy to find. Ask one of us for recommendations.

Kentuckians are proud of their home, but we have a bit of an inferiority complex. That's partly because many of us are afraid of change, suspicious of new ideas and wary of taking risks. We have always been too quick to settle for second-best.

But that's not just a Kentucky trait; transplants often have a clearer view than natives do of a place's worth and potential. A good example is Pearse Lyons, an Irishman who came to Kentucky three decades ago and started Alltech. His energy and money are a driving force behind the Games you are about to see.

Kentuckians are working hard to show you a good time, but glitches are inevitable. Be patient. And if you get anxious, try a bottle of Alltech's Kentucky Ale or a few sips of Kentucky wine or bourbon. (By the way: 95 percent of the world's bourbon whiskey is made within a two-hour drive of Lexington. Most distilleries offer free tours. Some even give samples.)

So, welcome to Lexington. You love horses. We love horses. This should be fun.

Reach Tom Eblen at teblen@herald-leader.com or (859) 231-1415 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1415. Read and comment on his blog, The Bluegrass & Beyond, at Kentucky.com.

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