The Kentucky Horse Park opened its 5,500-seat, $45 million indoor arena Wednesday with several hundred observers watching demonstrations of reining and vaulting.
Those are two of the eight events that will take place at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the park. The $25 million outdoor arena for other WEG events opened in April.
But officials are betting that the games and the new arenas will bring more than recognition to Kentucky and the horse park.
Kentucky's tradition and economy are "based on the very identity of the horse industry" in the state, said Gov. Steve Beshear, who spoke at the opening Wednesday.
Beshear said the indoor arena will help secure the horse park's place as the top equine facility in the world.
First lady Jane Beshear, a horsewoman herself, said the arena will help boost state business.
"These events don't just bring horses; they bring people," she said.
And those people will come to stay in Kentucky's hotels, eat at Kentucky's restaurants and visit Kentucky's businesses, giving the state a chance to capitalize on the industry, she said.
Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry said the arena will have a profound impact on the Bluegrass for many years to come.
"I'm looking forward to the next 436 days or so with great anticipation," Newberry said, speaking of the number of days until the games begin.
The games — from Sept. 25 to Oct. 10, 2010 — will be a defining moment for the new arena, but many more events are in the works for the next few years at the Horse Park, said John Nicholson, its executive director.
"We haven't even broken a sweat yet," he said.
Park officials said the arena already has booked nearly 30 events in coming years, the first being the WEG Reining Test Event, July 20-23.
Nicholson told the crowd that the planning for the indoor arena had been in the works for more than a decade.
"This was not an overnight success," he said.
Beshear recalled his visit to the park in April, before the the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.
"Man, oh man, what a lump in my throat," Beshear said of seeing the outdoor arena on his previous visit. "Today, that lump is back."