Big weekend offers lessons for World Equestrian Games' officials

In a way, the weekend's stormy weather made a perfect practice run for organizers of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Threats of heavy rains and tornadoes Saturday changed many plans at the Rolex Three-Day Event, which took place at the same time as three test events for the World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park. The weather led Rolex organizers to speed up the cross-country competition and forced WEG organizers to postpone Saturday night's show jumping Grand Prix.

"It's been a good test for us," said Rob Hinkle, chief operations officer for the Games. "I think we made the right decisions."

Hinkle and other WEG officials spent Saturday in hourly meetings, talking to the state police, the National Weather Service and meteorologists at local TV stations. Riders often compete in the rain, but the combination of high winds, lightening and possible tornadoes made it too dangerous for competitors and spectators alike. World Games Foundation director Jamie Link made the call to move the Grand Prix to Sunday evening.

WEG organizers have held several other test events at the Horse Park but never with the numbers of spectators Rolex provides — usually about 61,800 from Thursday through Sunday. Those are the kinds of numbers expected at the Horse Park from Sept. 25 to Oct. 10 for the Games.

But most important, Hinkle said, the events provided a chance for all the people who will be at the Games to work together for the first time.

"The weather provides a good test, and the people provide a good test," Hinkle said. "But this has really given us an opportunity to work as a team on the grounds at the Horse Park — that's been good for us."

Kentucky Horse Park director John Nicholson agreed, noting the Horse Park has plenty of experience with holding competitions in dressage, show jumping and three-day eventing. "But the various teams that are involved had a chance to practice interacting with each other," he said. "That was the important thing."

Nicholson said he was surprised by how well everyone got along given "the decisions for WEG are more complicated than any one sport held here."

The lessons learned are big and small, Nicholson said. Be flexible, as Rolex organizers were when they canceled a lunch break on cross-country day and finished before the rain hit. Remember the little things, such as making sure there's a mounting block at every awards ceremony when riders have to dismount to get on the podium, then remount for the victory gallop.

The rain returned Sunday evening, but in a subdued drizzle that didn't stop the field of 15 horses from competing.

The $60,000 Grand Prix was won by Beezie Madden of Cazenovia, N.Y., who has ridden on two gold medal Olympic teams. She won with her mount Danny Boy in front of a sparse crowd after completing a clear round and then clocking the fastest clear round in a five-horse jump-off.

Madden is already on a short list for the U.S. team for the Games and will ride in more selection trials in Europe this summer.

"The arena is fantastic ... the footing is excellent for the Games," she said.

Second prize was won by Beth Underhill, a Canadian Olympics veteran, on Top Gun. Third place went to Laura Teodori of the United States on Kasoar D'Uxelles.

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