Lexington, KY - Anticipation and excitement is at an all-time high as the Alltech Arena at The Horse Park in Kentucky receives its final make-over ahead of this week's Alltech National Horse Show. In just days, a new era in the history of the oldest indoor horse show in the world will begin, and fresh life will be breathed into a story that began over 128 long years ago. But it is its distinguished past that makes this event stand out from the rest - and the tale of the alliance between two remarkable men from opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean whose foresight, drive and ambition had led to an unique, and lasting, link between the USA and England, and to the sporting tradition of both countries.
America's Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt and Hugh Cecil, the 5th Earl of Lonsdale whose English estate was at Lowther in Cumberland, were giants of their day and had a lot in common, including fabulous wealth and a passion for sport. The colourful Vanderbilt - father of artist, author, heiress and socialite, Gloria Vanderbilt, who went on to develop the whole concept of designer jeans - was a keen horseman and President of the Association of American Horse Shows and the Hackney Horse Society. Lonsdale, who was also known as the "Yellow" or "Sporting" Earl, was once described by King Edward VII as "almost an Emperor, not quite a gentleman"! ThE flamboyant character was an arctic explorer, friend of royalty, an avid follower of hounds, and a lover of all sporting activities including boxing, to which he left a lasting legacy in the shape of one of its great honours - the championship trophy known as the Lonsdale Belt.
Lonsdale created the London International Horse Show which first opened its doors at Olympia in 1907, and which continues today as the Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead. But America's National Horse Show was long-established at that stage, having first taken place at Madison Square Gardens in New York 24 years earlier, in 1883. These were the only two indoor horse shows in the world during the early years of the 20th century, and as Simon Brooks-Ward, Managing Director of HPower Group and organiser of the world-famous Olympia horse show said this week, the Alltech National Horse Show "is of historic significance, not just to the American equestrian world, but to the international equestrian community at large - it is an event that should be nurtured, acknowledging its history and foundations but moving forward to respond to the demands of the 21st century through leadership and innovation".
Brooks-Ward, son of legendary British commentator Raymond Brooks-Ward who revived show jumping at Olympia in 1962, is working as consultant to the Alltech National Horse Show. His organisational skills are world-renowned, and he has been brought onboard by Alltech to "help the show adopt some theatricality in the long term - to help make the National Horse Show what it once was in the heady days of the early 1900's, and to demonstrate its huge history in the years that followed its establishment".
A Day At The Office
Creating moments of theatre is just a day at the office for the 47 year old Briton whose home and business are based in the grounds of Windsor Castle in England. He has made a big name as a skillful organiser of national celebratory events filled with pomp and ceremony, including the Queen Mother's 100th birthday celebrations in 2000, the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002, and the marking of the 60th anniversary of the end WWII in 2005. Next week he launches his latest production - a 90-minute show entitled "Around the World in 60 Years" - which will take place in the private grounds at Windsor Castle next May in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. He knows a thing or two about putting a show together.
He believes the connection between London Olympia and The National is something to be cherished. He is the proud custodian of a note that confirms the inter-relation between Vanderbilt and the Earl of Lonsdale during those early days, with addresses in both New York and London on the letterhead. They worked to produce events of the highest quality which reflected the best of horsemanship and sportsmanship on both sides of the pond, and brought the two countries closer together as a consequence. And they did it with a dash.
Brooks-Ward is working closely with the man who has made it his mission to restore America's longest-running show to its former glory, Alltech National Horse Show President Mason Phelps Jr. Charged with the task of delivering a world-class event is Show Manager Hugh Kincannon, and there is no doubting the determination of all those involved to raise the profile of the Alltech National Horse Show, a once-mighty fixture that has lost its place amongst the majors in recent years but which has survived against the odds. As it moves to its new home, it is looking toward to a bright new future, and as the Brooks-Ward says "with Alltech's help, this great event is on its way back - so watch out!"