National Horse Show moving to Kentucky Horse Park

The Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament lost $240,000 in 2009 but broke even in 2010. Without its top event, it's closing.
The Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament lost $240,000 in 2009 but broke even in 2010. Without its top event, it's closing. John Berry

One of the oldest and most prestigious hunter-jumper horse shows in the country is moving to the Kentucky Horse Park in November, organizers have confirmed.

The National Horse Show, which started in 1883 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, also features the top equitation competition for U.S. riders younger than 18. It judges the rider's form and control rather than that of the horse, and it is known as the ASPCA Maclay Finals.

A contract between the Horse Park and the National Horse Show has not yet been signed, but Horse Park director John Nicholson said the park already is planning to host the show. The two groups have been in discussions for two years about moving the show from its current site in Syracuse, N.Y.

Nicholson said the move confirmed Kentucky's new place as a center for sport horses and was another justification for the millions of dollars spent to upgrade facilities at the park before the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games last fall.

"Like the World Equestrian Games, the National Horse Show moving to the Horse Park is further reflection of the park's outstanding reputation and is further evidence that our city and state is truly regarded as the horse capital of the world," Nicholson said.

The National Horse Show, which has been an indoor show for most of its existence, will be held at the Alltech Arena, the park's new $40 million indoor complex.

Although the show won't be on the same scale as the World Equestrian Games, Nicholson said, he expects several thousand people to participate and thousands more to attend.

The show left Madison Square Garden because of the high cost of putting on an event there. For the past eight years, the show had been held as part of the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament. However, that relationship ended badly, according to organizers and press accounts.

The Syracuse Post-Standard reported that the show lost $240,000 in 2009. Although the 2010 show broke even, organizers said, the show's board members decided to move the show to Kentucky. Syracuse organizers said the entire tournament would be canceled because it could not continue without the National Horse Show.

Mason Phelps, president and CEO of the show, said the contract with the Horse Park should be signed in the next few weeks and the show's board members were impressed by the park's new facilities.

"The National Horse Show is looking to have its own identity and not have a shared identity in Syracuse," Phelps said. "I think we feel like we're going to have a permanent home."

In the past, the show also featured Saddlebreds. Given the popularity of that breed in Kentucky, Nicholson said, there is "serious consideration" to bringing back a Saddlebred competition to the event.

Judy Werner, president of the American Saddle Horse Association, said her group would love to return to the show.

"Part of the history of the National Horse Show revolves around its American Saddlebred presence," she wrote in an e-mail. "For years, the American Saddlebred division at the New York National was strong and vibrant — with horses like CH Wing Commander bringing the crowds in the Big Apple to their feet."

The show was as much a society event in New York as a sports competition, and Nicholson said he thought that restoring the glamour would be an important element.

"It will be different from downtown Manhattan, but it will have a panache all its own," he said.

"There's never going to be another Madison Square Garden," Phelps said. "But as close as we can get, we're going to bring back all the pomp and circumstance we can."