As the countdown clocks in Lexington reached 729 days Thursday, organizers of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games celebrated "Halfway There" with announcements of a new sponsor and new events next year at the Kentucky Horse Park's $49 million indoor arena.
"Folks, I've got great news; we are halfway there," Horse Park executive director John Nicholson told a crowd of several hundred that gathered at the arena construction site to mark the halfway point between the 2006 Games in Aachen, Germany, and the 2010 Games in Lexington.
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Later, the World Games 2010 Foundation announced that Ariat International has agreed to be the "Official Apparel and Footwear Sponsor" for the Games.
Ariat also will be the title sponsor for the Games Volunteer Program and will provide T-shirts and other apparel to the 8,000 volunteers and foundation staffers who are expected to work.
Nicholson also announced that three more groups have signed contracts to hold horse shows in 2009 in the arena, which is expected to be completed in May.
The shows are:
■ The American Vaulting Association National Vaulting Championship, July 6-12.
■ Clayton Woosley Hall of Fame Reining Championships, July 23-26.
■ Kentucky Fall Saddlebred Classic, Sept. 30 to Oct. 3.
Those are in addition to five groups that Nicholson said in April had committed to hold shows at the arena, which is being built, in part, to host the 16-day World Equestrian Games in 2010.
"Kentucky's investment in our new indoor arena is already paying off," he said Thursday.
Such groups have wanted to come to the park, but the facilities were inadequate until the arena project got under way, Nicholson said.
Speakers at Thursday's rally at the arena included Olympic equestrian competitors Beezie Madden, whose show jumping team is sponsored by Ariat, and Charlie Jayne.
With the 2008 Olympics over, Madden noted that equestrian competitors are now training for the 2010 Games, even though they are two years away.
"This is the big event that is going to happen next in our equestrian world," she told the gathering.
Madden and Jayne said U.S. equestrians have begun to dominate the sport since the 2004 Olympics. American success continued into the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen and on to the 2008 Olympics, where Madden won a gold medal.
"We are becoming the pinnacle of this sport," Jayne said. And the 2010 Games "is the future of the sport, and there's not a better place to hold it than Kentucky."