The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games ended Sunday a week ago, bringing to a close 16 days of pageantry and competition that focused international attention on the Bluegrass State.
Between us, Jane and I attended all eight of the disciplines at the games, and we saw firsthand the power, beauty and grace of the horse for which Kentucky is so well known. The control and athleticism displayed by their riders were equally impressive.
During the games we met people of various backgrounds from around the world, from riders to fans to CEOs of major corporations. They were enthralled with what Kentucky has to offer, not just in the equine industry but in the way of the state's products, culture, natural attractions and hospitality.
We met the ambassador from Ireland, Michael Collins, and his wife. They had enjoyed Kentucky so much that when they returned to Washington D.C. they shared their experiences with the ambassador from Sweden, Jonas Hafström. Ambassador Hafström promptly came to Kentucky with his wife and several friends. When he left, Jane sent him Kentucky products, since he wanted to start serving a taste of the commonwealth in the Swedish embassy.
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That's just one example of the ripple effect of these games, which will last far beyond their close.
Similar stories abound.
One day, we gave a ride to a press official from Switzerland who could not stop complimenting the state. Readers in Switzerland will hear that praise, too.
When people like this return to Europe and other places hundreds to thousands of miles from Kentucky, they will be passing along their thoughts on our state.
That positive impression is especially important because these games were the first ones held outside Europe.
As Her Royal Highnesss Haya Bint Al Hussein, president of the Federation Equestre Internationale, told the Lexington Herald-Leader, "What Kentucky has brought ... has been nothing short of miraculous."
Competitors from 58 countries took part in the event, which was broadcast by NBC to millions of people around the world. Total attendance for the 16-day event reached more than 500,000 people.
Some people have suggested that figure should have been higher. In a boon year, it could have been. But critics ignore the elephant in the room — a global economic recession that struck without warning halfway through the planning for the games, curtailing many fans' ability to fly across the ocean and afford a 16-day vacation.
It's impressive organizers were able to pull off such an event despite this challenge, which has done such damage to businesses, governments, families and local economies around the world.
Although these games were privately sponsored and organized, I'm proud that Kentucky came to the table with an aggressive investment in infrastructure that not only made this event possible but also will pay off in big ways in the years ahead.
New indoor and outdoor arenas at the Kentucky Horse Park are generating a lot of use outside the games — the arena itself has booked 33 events the Horse Park would not have had otherwise.
And the Legacy Trail between Lexington and the Horse Park has been inundated with visitors.
I thank the General Assembly, local governments and others who worked with me to make sure these investments happened. Like me, they appreciate the ongoing return these investments will make to our quality of life. They also understand the impact these games will continue to have in the years and decades ahead.
Thanks to the 6,000 volunteers who helped put on the games, to title sponsor Alltech and its president, Pearse Lyons; to FEI officials, to the Horse Park, to local organizers and to all others involved.
With WEG, Kentucky proved again that it's the Horse Capital of the World — and that we enjoy this status not just because of history and heritage, but also because Kentucky remains the home of the best in equine events.
Steve Beshear is the governor of Kentucky.