association is raising money for improvements

Dressage fans raising money for improved facility at Horse Park

horse park venue to be renovated for top-level competition

jpatton1@herald-leader.comOctober 31, 2011 

The Kentucky Horse Park might soon be adding another showpiece to its collection of world-class equestrian competition venues.

Dressage enthusiasts, led by the Kentucky Dressage Association, are working to raise about $1.035 million by June 1 to renovate the existing dressage complex at the front of the Lexington park next summer.

If they are successful, supporters say, they will be giving the park a dressage venue, dubbed the Kentucky Horse Park National Dressage Complex, on par with the Alltech Arena and the Rolex Stadium.

Sheila Woerth, Kentucky Dressage Association show chairwoman, said that the current facility is already good, but the plans are to improve drainage, footing and arena usage, as well as give them a new, larger show office and an announcer's tower.

"Footing is of the utmost importance to riders. They want the best," Woerth said. "We've been looking at what we could do to transform the complex into a world-class facility. We want to make this part of the park, really part of the park."

They have the support of the Kentucky Horse Park.

"I'm very excited about it," said John Nicholson, park director. "Show organizers see this facility as attractive, and that if they had certain upgrades, it would be even more attractive."

Dressage has long been a popular equestrian discipline in Kentucky and, after the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, interest in the sport has grown.

And more top-level competition likely will be coming to Kentucky:

■ The KDA's spring show in May already has drawn a new three-star competition next year and the U.S. Dressage Federation regional championships in October.

■ In December, the Dressage Federation will vote on a new annual national dressage competition; the Horse Park is a frontrunner to win it for the first three years.

■ The U.S. Equestrian Federation also is discussing annual national championships in all eight World Equestrian Games disciplines, with the Horse Park again the most likely host.

Woerth said her group has been doing extensive research into which footing would be the best for dressage and for the environment. Their choice: Martin Collins' MC Ecotrack, which is also used at Britain's Royal Windsor.

"That apparently doesn't have to be watered," Woerth said. "That's a big plus."

It certainly could help future shows save money. As a consequence of a consent decree with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government must spend tens of millions to revamp its sewer system. To help pay for that and encourage better drainage, the city, which supplies the Horse Park with water, last year began charging customers a fee based on how much impermeable surface they have. The Horse Park has several large parking lots, as well as roads; higher water costs will have to be passed along to shows.

"That's part of what's going into the decision on what kind of footing to have," Nicholson said. "That's a factor but not the only one."

Best of all, from Nicholson's point of view, the improvements may be accomplished with no public funds.

"Dressage as a sport will just grow and grow, and it's moving inexorably toward Lexington in major competitions," Nicholson said. "You're seeing once again the attractiveness of the Kentucky Horse Park. And this also demonstrates what can happen when we undertake these major upgrades."

Woerth agrees: "I think people will come from all over the world because this is what they're used to dancing horses on in Europe."

Reach Janet Patton at (859) 231-3264 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3264.

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