Merlene Davis: Markey gala honors horse lover

Betsy Fishback helped found the equine program at Midway and coached a UK riding team.
Betsy Fishback helped found the equine program at Midway and coached a UK riding team.

Betsy Fishback loved showing pony hunters and jumpers, and also inspiring others to love the sport.

She co-founded the equine program at Midway College in 1979, and she later coached the University of Kentucky's riding team. And through it all she taught horseback riding lessons to people of all ages.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, her husband, Dr. William D. Fishback, didn't believe the disease could conquer the vibrant woman he knew and loved. But it did, four years later in January 2009.

"It doesn't always work out," he said.

When William Fishback was approached by his boss Dr. Andrew Clark, chief executive officer of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, about honoring Betsy Fishback's work with the sport horse community and with the Kentucky Horse Park, he agreed.

A gala was proposed to help raise money for the Markey Cancer Center, where she had been treated. Although organizers warned William Fishback that a fund-raiser often loses money its first year, The Betsy raised more than $100,000 for Markey last year.

Now in its second year, The Betsy is hoping to do even better.

The event features cocktails, dinner, an auction and the opportunity to watch the $50,000 CSI-W Hagyard Lexington Classic World Cup Qualifier Grand Prix, an event that will help riders earn points toward qualifying for the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games, set for Normandy, France.

Trish Jaracz, vice president of the Markey Cancer Foundation, said the events are usually scheduled for September, but because of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games being held in Lexington this year, the gala and qualifier were rescheduled for this weekend.

If you can't make the gala, come to the World Cup Qualifier, which starts at 7:30 p.m. Entry to the horse park after 5 p.m. and to the qualifier are free.

Also free is the Welcoming Waters Ceremony scheduled shortly before that competition. At that ceremony, first lady Jane Beshear will receive water from the nine regions represented by the competing riders at the upcoming Games.

The water, sent from Germany, the site of the Games four years ago, will be united with water from Kentucky. It will be stored in a Gathering Vessel and, at the end of the Games in October, sent on to Normandy. The vessel was created by Kentucky artisan Wayne Bates of Murray.

A new twist was added to the fund-raiser this year, Jaracz said. Those attending the qualifying competition or the Welcoming Water Ceremony will have another opportunity to honor Betsy Fishback.

"We'll be selling awareness bracelets for $5," Jaracz said of the wristbands that have "The Betsy" printed on them. Purchasers will have their names entered in a raffle to be drawn at the gala for a cash prize of $2,500. You must be present to win.

Members of all aspects of the horse industry — the Thoroughbred, sport horse, Rolex and World Cup — are coming to the gala to "honor such a neat woman," Jaracz said.

William Fishback said his wife would be happy with the event.

"She would approve," he said. "We're raising money for Markey, which she appreciated, and she would enjoy the horse show," he said.

"She'd be quite pleased."