Imagine hosting a party on scale so grand you'll need to ask a neighbor to open his yard for your party.
And another neighbor, and another and ... .
That's what it's been like for Emmett Ross.
Endurance discipline manager for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Ross has led the way in cobbling together a 100-mile course over 24 pieces of private property for Sunday's endurance competition.
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The endurance race — essentially a long-distance race in which the rider must pace the horse so that it remains fit to finish — will begin and end at the Kentucky Horse Park, but it is the one WEG competition whose course will extend beyond the park.
Originally, 65 landowners gave permission to use their property. That proved to be a bit much logistically, so Ross "just drove around all the time" and came up with a more precise route. Still, it's the largest course on private land to be used in a World Championship, according to Ross.
"It's a pretty neat trail," he said. "The big thing is the relationships I've had with the landowners and farm owners."
Ross, who came from Cat Spring, Texas, in June 2008 to begin his task, has been working full-time on the course for the last year. He also played executive roles with the equestrian events at the 1984 Los Angeles and 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
He says Horse Park neighbors have been quick to lend a hand.
"There were two or three that were like this at first," Ross said, ruffling his face in a dubious frown. "But they have become our biggest supporters."
The course extends over Thoroughbred and sport horse farms, as well as corn, soybean, tobacco and beef cattle farms.
It includes 18 road crossings (where police will assist in keeping the road clear) and 15 water crossings, including one at the mouth of Russell Cave.
Tobias Incollingo, farm manager of Castleton Lyons, said the farm's late owner, Tony Ryan, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Games from the beginning. Ryan died in 2007.
"It was relatively easy," he said of their participation. "We mowed the grass a little lower, and we had to add a few gates so the horses could get through the pastures," Incollingo said.
The endurance horses will come up the farm's main driveway, then continue on the west side of the farm along Mount Horeb Pike as part of one of the loops. The Castleton Lyons horses will have to be brought in from those fields as the riders go through.
"We like to be involved in local events," said Incollingo, who said the farm was not paid for its participation but did receive some tickets to the Horse Park.
Caves and water crossings
While the competitors, officials, managers and emergency vehicles will have access to the endurance course farms during Sunday's race, spectators and riders' assistants do not. (Some landowners will host private parties, which will enable invited guests to glimpse the race.)
Spectators will be able to see the competitors at the Horse Park, where horses will stop for vet checks after completing each of six loops.
If you're thinking of scouting for a spot to park alongside a road to watch the competition, don't. No parking is allowed.
The course footing is listed as 80 percent grass trails and pastures, three miles of paved road segments, two miles of gravel roads and some dirt trails.
"I think we'll have fun with all that grass — 80 percent," said Eoné Willemse, 22, a South African who will be riding the Arab-Saddlebred-cross Shamwari. "All the water crossings will be fun as well."
The terrain is rolling, with several steep but short climbs.
The farm owners who provided that terrain "have been very helpful," said Chad Needham, who is part of Ross's crew in preparing the course. "They have some beautiful places and they've allowed us to pass through."
Needham, a former Bryan Station and Transylvania University soccer standout, spent Saturday inspecting the second and longest loop of the course, which covers about 25 miles.
Included on that loop is the Russell Cave water crossing on Mt. Brilliant Farm. That portion of the course also passes alongside Man o' War's Barn, where the horse of the same name once lived.
The second-loop turnaround — and farthest point from the Horse Park on the course — is where only the marble columns of the original Elmendorf Farm mansion have survived.
Ross said he designed the course that way because the mansion's owner, James Ben Ali Haggin, was involved in one of the earliest endurance races in California.
A slow Kentucky Derby
Sunday's race is scheduled to start at 7 a.m. Some competitors will not finish until after dark, so 3,000 glow sticks will be used to mark the course. The cutoff time to finish the course, 11:08 p.m., requires riders to average 8.2 mph, including stops for vet checks; the winner probably will clock about 12 mph.
"It's like running 80 Kentucky Derbys at one-third the speed," Ross said, "but in one day."
According to Ross, no world championship endurance event has had more than 40 percent of the field complete the test. He's hoping for 50 percent here.
The compulsory stops for vets to check the horses' fitness and ability to continue take place at the Horse Park upon completion of each loop. A fit horse that is also able to demonstrate quick recovery gives the rider a distinct advantage, reducing the time spent in the inspection area.
Jan Worthington, at 70 the oldest member of the U.S. endurance team, placed third in a rain-hampered 75-mile test event here last year. Her horse, a 10-year-old Arabian named Golden Lightning, was named best conditioned.
"He did good in the mud. ... But he's a pretty good horse in the heat, too," Worthington said. "So he should do better than the average horse if we make it. He has pretty fast recoveries, and that's a big advantage, and I have a good crew.
"He's got huge nostrils, which the Arabian breed is known for. His are particularly big."