Highlights of Saturday's events:
- Watching John Lyons' clinic at the KY Horse Park breed barn. I have followed Lyons' methodology since he came onto the training scene 15 (?) years ago. I applied alot of his training principles with my 3 year old Paint baby several years back, and they helped to turn a pushy, dominating, immature youngin' into a gentlemen with which it was a real pleasure to interact. John Lyons really underscores in his clinics that horsemanship should be relaxed and devoid of heated emotions. Stay calm, stay neutral, and recognize that your horse won't learn everything overnight but is always learning, and will process what you have taught him once the session is over.
- Session 2 of the team reining competition. Fast spins, showy stops, and some of the most luxurious manes in the business. Reining truly has become a global phenomenon, and it was fascinating to watch competitors enter the arena from countries that don't have a strong cowboy or gaucho tradition. I did notice that the American reiners seemed more broke and relaxed (and happy?) than some of the European horses, who seemed stiff in their spins and rollbacks. Perhaps that level of ease and engagement is what will continue to set our reiners apart. The US certainly had the recipe for success this year, as it took Team Reining gold on Sunday.
- The "Kentucky Experience" tent. Really gave visitors a taste (quite literally, if you happen to like bourbon or KY wine!) of the many regional flavors of the state. There were KY gift items for purchase from local artisans, bourbon/ale/wine samplings, KY candy samplings, a live bluegrass band, and several booths set up that detailed the history and geography of the state. A great idea, and one which made my family feel quite at home!
- The opening ceremonies. Really well orchestrated demonstration of the wide variety of ways that horses have become partners in our lives. I admit to being quite swept away with emotion when Wynonna sang "My Old Kentucky Home" as a ring full of Saddlebreds pranced around, and very nearly lost all of my composure as I watched Stacy Westfall and Roxy do their bridleless "thang." Those two together is pure harmony, pure trust, and about as true a love as I have ever witnessed between human and horse. Their connection is also direct demonstration of the power and simplicity of her training philosophy. Other great parts of the show included four retired racehorses going around the arena at a gallop for a few laps of friendly choreographed competition (they all looked incredibly excited to be back at their previous vocations), the Fresian dressage drill team from the Netherlands (so many gorgeous black steeds one almost didn't know where to look), and the pinto miniature horse hitch in the Mardi Gras parade segment.
- First off, the park signage and maps are pretty poor. It took my family and I forever to figure out that the "Clinician's Corral" is actually the KY Horse Park Breed Barn demo ring, and the "Village Arena" is right next to the Equine Village. Neither of these things are marked on the main WEG map, making for some frustrating moments as my family and I trekked to and fro across the park trying to find the demonstrations that we wanted to see.
- To add to this, there needed to be more volunteers in clearly marked uniforms, that could help direct visitors. Every volunteer that we asked for info on how to get where were were going had no idea what to tell us, and fell back on "we don't know either, it's just the first day!" That's a real problem from an events organization perspective. There should have been knowledgeable staff available to help visitors navigate an event of this magnitude, and volunteers should have been better trained far in advance of Opening Day.
- The food! Again, there was little signage telling visitors what type of food they could purchase from where, and the KY Horse Park standard sandwiches were pretty chintzy. Considering all the visitors from so many different nations, why not have something like a "Taste of Lexington" tent where spectators could purchase small plates from area restaurants? There were very few healthy or vegetarian options (I am vegetarian and this was a difficulty for me), and the food tents seemed ill-prepared to handle the volume of visitors.
- Not near as much shopping as I expected. Both Equine Affaire and QH Congress feature significantly larger trade stall areas. Same with the "Equine Village" which was set up with booths about various breed and discipline organizations. Only a few booths set up, which could perhaps improve as the Games progress.
- No good trolley or shuttle system for moving visitors with mobility issues (or who are just plain tired of walking) around the park. The park stretches on for many, many acres, and if you aren't prepared for or capable of a great deal of walking, you might find this to be a problem.
If you are headed to the Games, enjoy yourselves, and I'd be interested to hear your perspectives!