Fayette County

Sand sculptures come to Kentucky Horse Park

Kentucky Horse Park as giant artists’ sand box

Equine course designers Bobby Murphy and Danny Moore bring sand sculptures to the Kentucky Horse Park.
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Equine course designers Bobby Murphy and Danny Moore bring sand sculptures to the Kentucky Horse Park.

There is a beaver drinking bourbon, a cow chilling with a chicken and a raccoon playing a banjo, and that’s just the beginning of the transformation of the Rolex Arena into the first-of-its-kind sand sculpture oasis.

In the end there will be eight sand sculptures made with 125 tons of sand trucked to the Kentucky Horse Park this weekend. And it is the first time sand sculptures have been featured in an equestrian competition, according to the United States Hunter Jumper Association.

It’s all part of the course for the United States Hunter Jumper Association International Hunter Derby Championship on Aug. 20.

Bobby Murphy, who designed the course with Danny Moore, said the horse arena is like a giant sand box and by teaming with expert sand sculptors it can become a “giant work of art.”

Of course, because this art is part of an equestrian event, the safety of the horses and riders were considered first, Murphy said. Traditional jump elements, like hay bales, are still in place.

But, he said, each sand jump has its own theme and touch of whimsy. All of them, he said, were designed to look good in photos of the horse and riders in action. “We want to give people something that looks good when they put it up on the refrigerator back home,” he said.

Patrick Harsch is part of Team Sandtastic which traveled from Sarasota, Fla., to build the sculptures. “A lifetime of bad decisions” lead to his career as a professional sand sculptor, he said, as he began to create a giant first place ribbon out of a 7-foot pile of packed sand. Only sand and water —a lot of water — and stomping — a lot of stomping — goes into creating the sculptures. Moore and Murphy said they were surprised how compact the sand becomes. “You make a pile and you think it’s a pretty big pile and you pack it down and it’s not that big,” said Murphy. A single jump can include about 15 tons of sand once it is packed down.

And that happens the old fashioned way.

“It’s a bunch of guys, stomping, stomping, packing it down, packing it,” said Harsch. “It’s like Lucy stomping the grapes.”

The sand piles are created by packing in two-foot deep sections until the right height is achieved. Then, Harsch said, the sculpting process starts from the top down.

Murphy sketched the ideas for each jump and then Harsch and three other sculptors gave them form.

Visitors to the horse park can see the sculptures until the USHJA event next week, which will feature 72 horses and $263,000 in prize money.

Murphy hoped the art might bring out some new fans to the event.

And what happens to the art work after that?

“Sand is a one-use design,” he said. “We are just going to jump in and make snow angels.”

USHJA Hunter Derby

When: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 20

Where: Kentucky Horse Park

Admission: Parking is $5; watching the show is free