Tom Eblen: Readers offer ways to build on Equestrian Games' success

Herald-Leader columnistOctober 27, 2010 

WEG-EVENTING

Silvia Szabo, left, and her mother, Margot Szabo, both from San Francisco, watched Kenki Sato of Japan ride Hop and Skip on Sept. 30, the first day of the eventing championship at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

CHARLES BERTRAM

What were the hits and misses of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games? What can we learn from the experience?

That is what I asked readers last week, and more than three dozen sent thoughtful, detailed responses.

Almost everyone thought the Games were a success, and there were several ideas for the future.

Everyone agreed that the competitions were amazing, the Kentucky Horse Park venues excellent and the LexTran shuttles outstanding. Kentuckians were praised as friendly and hospitable hosts.

"It was an amazing experience — the people, the state, the athletes — we took home lifetime memories," wrote Hillary Hulen of Medford, Ore. "My niece is even considering a Kentucky college as a result of this trip."

Kudos went to the International Museum of the Horse's Gift From the Desert exhibit, and the Kentucky Experience and Alltech Experience pavilions. Alltech's drew special praise for its science exhibits, kids' activities and designer Deirdre Lyons' inclusion of Kentucky artists.

Alltech employees received praise from people familiar with how they helped shore up weaknesses in the Games organization. And several readers thanked the company for bringing 64,000 local schoolchildren to the Games.

What could have been done better? Readers complained that many people were kept away by high ticket prices. Stands were often filled at the last minute with discounted and even free tickets, and that angered spectators who had paid full price.

Everyone thought the food was overpriced and mediocre. "There should have been a greater emphasis on local food and regional specialties," wrote Sarah Gaddis of Frankfort. "I agree that Papa John's (pizza) is both local and tasty, but we could have done better."

There should have been more maps and signs at the Kentucky Horse Park. Jane Jacobs of Georgetown had a great idea: Every person who bought a ticket should have received a "daily sheet" with a map and a schedule of events that day.

Games volunteers did a great job of shuttling elderly and disabled people around in golf carts, and a few tractor-pulled wagons were added, but readers thought more public shuttles were needed between venues. And there should have been a drop-off point at the front gate.

The biggest complaint, by far, was about price-gouging by some hotels and car-rental companies. A modest price increase was expected, but when visitors are charged several hundred dollars a night for a room at a budget motel, that's just greed.

Readers had some good ideas about how Lexington can build on the Games' legacy. The Kentucky Horse Park now has some of the world's best equestrian facilities — built at great public expense — and care must be taken to maintain and use them for long-term economic payoff.

LexTran was widely praised for excellent performance and getting thousands of locals on a bus for the first time. Several readers mentioned that Keeneland should partner with LexTran for a similar shuttle service, reducing the need to turn Keeneland's lovely meadows into vast parking lots during racing meets.

"What about a Legacy Horse Trail at the Kentucky Horse Park?" suggested Cynthia Day of Lexington. "It would be great for citizens and visitors alike to be able to actually ride a horse. Perhaps volunteers could assist in the development, building and maintaining a horse trail system at the park."

The Games showed what can be accomplished with good public-private partnerships, readers said, especially when led by local business dynamos such as Jim Host, the Games' first chairman, and Alltech president Pearse Lyons.

Several readers suggested that Lyons would make a good governor, mayor or University of Kentucky president. He might not be interested in any of those jobs, but his vision, energy and ability to get things done make him Lexington's top go-to guy for civic projects.

I thought Lexington developer Tom Padgett had the best idea of all: "The Games gave us a set of goals and, most important, a deadline. Perhaps the city and Commerce Lexington need to come together to establish a list of 10 things that need to be accomplished over the next five years, with various timetables. They should span a variety of categories, from the arts to infrastructure."

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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