The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games promise to be much more than the Olympics on horseback. Get ready for an international festival and non-stop party in our back yard.
So, here are 16 things you should do during the 16 days of the Games:
1. Watch the opening ceremonies
The Games officially begin Saturday evening in the main stadium with a 2½ -hour show that has 40 acts and a cast of 1,500 people and 200 horses. If you don't have tickets, WLEX-18 will have live coverage at 7 p.m. Headliners include Muhammad Ali and Wynonna Judd; opera stars Denyce Graves, Cynthia Lawrence and Ronan Tynan and an ensemble from Jazz at Lincoln Center. Plus a 100-piece orchestra debuting British composer Jamie Burton's "World Equestrian Games Fanfare."
2. See the best of something familiar
The reliable crowd-pleasers of equestrian sports are jumping and cross-country riding, as Kentuckians who attend the annual Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event already know. Those events and the 100-mile endurance race should draw big attendance to the Games on the first two weekends.
3. See something new
Want to see horses and humans do things they don't even dream about at Keeneland? Buy tickets to vaulting, which is human gymnastics and dance on the back of a moving horse. Or reining, in which riders in Western gear guide horses through spins, circles and sliding stops.
4. See para-dressage
This is the first time human athletes with physical disabilities have competed in a World Games. Cheer them on; you might be amazed by what they and their horses can do.
5. Learn more about horses
The Equine Village showcases the variety and complexity of American horse culture. There will be exhibits, performances and demonstrations involving every kind of horse you can imagine, and many you can't. This is likely to be one of the Games' most popular venues.
6. Have the Kentucky Experience
Much of the Kentucky Horse Park's grounds has been turned into an international festival, and the Kentucky Experience pavilion gives visitors a glimpse of the state's highlights. You can dip a Maker's Mark bottle in red wax, sit behind the wheel of a Corvette, listen to all kinds of local music and learn things about this state you probably didn't know.
7. Have the Alltech Experience
The Games' title sponsor, which does nothing in a small way, has a four-acre pavilion showcasing its products and global initiatives, which include trying to solve hunger, climate change and disease. After seeing the science exhibits, enjoy Alltech's Bourbon Barrel Ale or Dippin' Dots ice cream. There is a special kids' area that includes penguins and petting sharks from the Newport Aquarium.8. Eat, but not like a horse
There will be much good eating at the Games, from gourmet dinners cooked by celebrity chefs to special concession-stand fare. The Games are being catered by Patina Restaurant Group, which operates many high-profile venues around the country. "We've been sampling some of the concession food, and it's off-the-charts," Games CEO Jamie Link said this week.
9. Shop non-stop
The Games' trade show will have more than 300 merchants, selling everything from sportswear, jewelry and art to that custom-made saddle you have always wanted.
10. See the unexpected
Many sponsors and vendors have set up cool exhibits to showcase what they do. Among them: the UK solar house, which was displayed on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and the Rood & Riddle pavilion, which showcases the high-tech Lexington horse hospital and will have speakers including Hall of Fame jockeys Pat Day and Chris McCarron.11. Enjoy the Alltech Fortnight Festival
This statewide concert series during the Games is jam-packed with talent: Loretta Lynn, Charlie Daniels, Tony Bennett, Marvin Hamlisch, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and many more. The Chieftains will perform a benefit concert with a Haitian children's choir.
12. Take in the Spotlight Festival
Downtown Lexington will be rocking from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day during the Games with food, arts and crafts vendors and concerts at Cheapside and Courthouse Plaza. Entertainers include bluegrass legends J.D. Crowe and Sam Bush.
13. See horse art
Horse Mania was just the beginning. Equine art of every variety is on display around town, most notably at the Horse Park's International Museum of the Horse, the UK Art Museum and the Headley-Whitney Museum.
14. Check out alternatives
HRTV is presenting its own International Equestrian Festival, with exhibits, vendors and speakers at Lexington Center. And a few miles up I-75 from the Horse Park is the Georgetown Equine Expo.
15. Soak up color
Spend some time just walking around the Horse Park or downtown and taking in the scene. Introduce yourself to visitors and ask them what they think of Kentucky.
16. Say farewell
Singer Lyle Lovett will headline the Games' closing ceremonies on Oct. 10. Although less elaborate than opening ceremonies, it should be another good show. By then, we'll all be exhausted — but at least a little sorry to see the non-stop party end.
Reach Tom Eblen at email@example.com or (859) 231-1415 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1415. Read and comment on his blog, The Bluegrass & Beyond, at Kentucky.com.