There's a lot going on here at WEG. I hope you decided to friend me on my Facebook account because I've been sending pictures there by mobile uploads. If you're not my buddy you're missing it!
I'm here with my friend Cindy, and we weren't able to make it here until Saturday at 4:00. Which means we missed both reining sessions for the day. Sucks. Anyhow we opted for on site parking for $20 a day. I wasn't going to go with this option since the lot is a far walk to the main gate, but just a few weeks ago they added shuttle service.
We went through security, which really wasn't that bad. I've read on some bulletin boards how tight security is going to be, but it's not like they strip search you or anything. They do look through your bags though, so don't bring anything you shouldn't!
Since we had already missed the reining we headed over to the trade show. It was one huge building and then four rows of tents with all kinds of horsey vendors. There were hay steaming machines (to sterilize your hay for horses that have heaves or allergy issues), ceiling mounted hot walking machines, thermal imaging machines, and treadmill machines. There were super nice horse stalls, jewelry, tack, riding apparel, artwork, and I could go on and on. Lots to buy.
Then we went over to the Maker's Mark bourbon Village tent. This was not AT ALL what I was expecting. See, I thought when I got the passes from Purina that is was a ticket for a shot of bourbon at a small roadside tent. I had NO idea that this was a high end hospitality tent, offering full breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus open bar. Oh yeah. And the place is incredible. It was a large tent that looks like a nice restaurant inside. Even the bathrooms are awesome. No blue water portapotties here. It's a trailer with wood paneled bathrooms. I'd never seen anything like it before.
We ate dinner and then went to opening ceremonies. It was three hours long! I'll try and do a quick summary, but it's going to be a long one no matter what. Here goes.
First, there was an intro with people doing a ballet number. Then, some Native Americans came in on horses and did a quick blessing, wishing all the competitors good luck. It was kind of neat.
Then the University of Kentucky cheerleaders came and did a routine to some live country music. I have to say that I don't think the music matched very well with a cheerleading routine. Then the Culver Academy Black Horse Troop and Color guard raised the flag and we had the National Anthem. Then things really started cooking.
They began a Salute to Kentucky. They brought in World Champion saddlebreds, both ridden and driven, and William Shatner himself drove one of his horses in the exhibition. Then they brought in standardbred trotting horses with sulkys to trot around the arena. Then, which I still can't believe, they brought in the trumpter from Churchill Downs and actually had three thoroughbreds race around the arena! The winning jockey was none other than Chris McCarron, fantastic jockey and United States Racing Hall of Fame inductee.
Then Wynonna Judd sang the Kentucky anthem, and there was the parade of athletes. There were 58 countries represented, so it took quite a while. Then came a salute to the Arabian horse, which I just thought was ok. I'd have liked to have seen more of the versatility of the breed, personally. They just had western english, and native costume horses out there. No dressage Arabian, or endurance? Not impressed.
After that was the Fresian Train. I'm not sure why it's called that, but it started out with two Fresians doing a dressage-type performance which then increased to four, then ten horses. I finally had to put my camera down when they did their walk work because I was starting to tear up, it was so beautiful. You'd think the walk work would be the most boring but something about the music and the horses was powerful.
Next some really neat carriages came in carrying the dignitaries, who then made speeches. That was a bit boring, but I understand why the President of FEI and the mayor of Lexington needed to say some words here. As a reward for sitting through the speeches they sent in what they called “Fanfare” which was a musical ride with 24 horses (or more, I couldn't get an accurate count). Then another ballet performance, this time with an Andalusian among the people doing Spanish walk and other cool moves.
At this point I was starting to wonder how long this was going to go. I think lots of people were getting a bit tired of sitting, and the next performance didn't make things more exciting. They had an operatic performance that was ok, but there was no accompanying horse performance. Lots of people left, but they missed out because Tommie Turvey and Dan James came out to do some trick riding.
The next thing was Cadence of the Country, where different acts representing different parts of the country came out. The American Cowgirls did trick roping, then more trick riding, and Stacy Westfall did a bridleless bareback reining ride.
After that came the second place where people got up and left en masse. They had the American Spiritual Ensemble sing some southern inspired gospel-type music. I think the music was fine, but it became clear that people didn't want to just have music, no matter how good it was, unless there were horses in the arena. Certainly good music plus good riding is great entertainment, but good music alone was not enough to hold the attention of the majority of the audience.
During this performance, twenty children from Haiti were brought out onto stage. They didn't really do anything but stand there and wave while the ensemble sang. It was all very puzzling, since our feeling was the instead of bringing the kids all the way to the US to see a horse show, they could have used the money or resources to, lets say, build homes for them back in Haiti to replace the ones destroyed by the earthquake.
It was getting really late now, and lots of people had bailed. But it still wasn't over! They did this salute to New Orleans which included ornate carriages, mini horses, and a really funny stubborn mini donkey. Clearly this donkey wanted nothing to do with this ceremony, and the only reason why they got it to cooperate is because it was a MINI donkey. A full sized one would have sat on it's butt and said “Go ahead. Move me.” But the mini's handler outweighed him so he got dragged around.
So you'd think, this is it, It's GOT to be over now. No! How about this? Lets bring EVERYONE (well, almost everyone. I think the Native Americans bailed during the opera too. And most of the Fresian Train) back into the arena to run around! I tell you, it was MADNESS.
But then it was over, and it was time to fight the crowds back to the parking lot. However I took a moment to meet up with Nina Akerly, one of the winners of “The Contest”. We chatted for a bit and then we decided we really needed to get back because it was getting late!
The ceremony was three hours! Now, since the tickets were $150, I can understand wanting to pack the event with lots of performances to give you your money's worth. But I thought it was too long, and many of us could have done without the musical performance that had no horses in them. I think most people are here to see horses, not listen to music. That's my main complaint about the ceremony.
Since we stopped to chat after the ceremony, we ended up almost in the back of the line for the shuttle back to the parking lot. However we met some very nice volunteers that filled us in on the Haiti kids thing. It seems that the President of Alltech, Mr Lyons, spent a lot of his money in the relief effort in Haiti. While he was there he saw a need in their music programs. So he recruited University of Kentucky graduate music students to go to Haiti to help develop a music program. To give them something to strive for, he told the students if they learned the songs they would perform at WEG. Unfortunately they were so overwhelmed at Opening Ceremonies that they couldn't perform their song. But still a nice experience for them.
Something else quite alarming happened as the Opening Ceremonies was ending. Etian Beth-Halachmy, famous for this cowboy dressage, had a heart attack and fell from his horse on his way out of the arena. They rushed him to the emergency room. We spoke with a volunteer the next morning who said that he was doing well. Apparently they removed his spleen too.
So the volunteers seem to be the ones in the know. If you're down here, strike up a conversation. You might just get the inside scoop on something!
Next up, WEG Day 2 – Reining all day!
Our New Girl
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