Welcome to the World Wide WEG!

The 2010 World Equestrian Games — or, to use the official moniker, the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games — are coming to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington next September and October. Public ticket sales kicked off Sept. 25 (get yours through ticketmaster.com), exactly one year prior to the opening ceremony. And so TheHorse.com wanted to start its own WEG countdown in blog form in the same time frame, to give us lots of time to discuss the preparations, planning, disciplines, and players.

I’m happy to be blogging for TheHorse.com again, my previous project having been the 2008 Olympic equestrian events in Hong Kong. But mano a mano, the WEG dwarfs the Olympic equestrian events as an undertaking. I’ll get into the details in future blog posts, but consider: the WEG will feature eight equestrian disciplines to the Olympic Games’ three (a fourth, para-equestrian dressage, was held separately, as part of the Paralympic Games).

If you don’t happen to be a fan of the International Equestrian Federation’s (FEI) eight English-leaning disciplines, you might be wondering what all the WEG fuss is about, or why you should follow the WEG preparations (or this blog, for that matter). To which I have a simple answer: The awarding of these equestrian world championships to the United States is a historic first, with the potential to do more for all horse sports and the U.S. horse industry than anything that’s come before. The Western-riding side of the equestrian fence is rooted here in the USA, no doubt about it. Thoroughbred racing: strong both here and abroad. But Europe is the powerhouse of much on the English side.

For decades American competitors have transported themselves and their horses to train and compete in Europe, where the Europeans have conveniently scheduled all preceding world championships. But the folks in Lexington evidently did a heckuva sales job and managed to convince the FEI powers that be to award the 2010 WEG to Kentucky.

For the first time, we’ll be the home team and the Europeans will have to get on a plane to come here for a world championships. Imagine if the Super Bowl were to be played in, say, Paris. Or if the All American Quarter Horse Congress were to be held in Rome. Preposterous? That’s what a lot of people probably thought of the idea of holding a WEG in the U.S. And that’s just how monumental Lexington’s successful bid was. The eyes of the equestrian world will be on Kentucky next fall.

The WEG organizers are hoping to welcome many foreign visitors as well as Americans, and that’s why they’ve announced plans to include exhibitions showcasing all facets of the US horse industry. If everybody plays their cards right, the WEG is a tremendous opportunity to introduce the best the U.S. horse industry has to offer to the world.

I learned something important in Hong Kong last summer: In Europe, equestrian sport is big business, with major media coverage, big-ticket sponsorship, and large audiences. There will be an arsenal of foreign press — magazines, TV, Web sites, you name it — in the Kentucky Horse Park, covering every move. The WEG is our starring role, and we’d better be ready for our close-up.