Jane Beshear, wife of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, shares with many of her state's residents a passion for horses. A lifelong equestrian, Kentucky's First Lady is still an active competitor in eventing and, in the off-season, enjoys riding with the hunt. As First Lady, Beshear is kept busy promoting many of the state's policy initiatives and, not surprisingly, she often finds ways to link those initiatives to the equestrian world. One of her important roles is keeping preparations for the 2010 World Equestrian Games on track. When not busy with her policy agenda, the First Lady can often be found on her farm, cleaning stalls and riding horses. She took a break from her busy life for an interview with DressageDaily on her life with horses, her policy initiatives and on the upcoming World Equestrian Games.
Q: Did you ride as a child?
A: Yes, but I didn't have a horse of my own until I was in high school. So, I made friends with everyone who had horses. I was born with that passion for horses and I believe it's that way for many people. I've always loved them. When I was a child, I read all the horse books and watched all the movies. I drew pictures and dreamed of horses. When I got my horse in high school, my father always said the horse saved his life from dealing with a teenager.
Q: How active have you been as a competitor in your life?
A: When I started, I just rode for my own pleasure. I'm a competitive person but I didn't want to put something I loved so much into a competitive situation. In college, I went through the riding programs at Kentucky University and took every class offered from dressage to teaching equitation to horsemanship, everything I could possibly take.
And then about 30 years ago, I bought a horse to fox hunt that was unsafe. So, I decided to take him back to the beginning and retrain him. That's when I took up dressage and then I did a mini-event and from there, I really got hooked on three-day eventing. So, I bought a horse about 16 years ago and started eventing and ever since, I've continued to event and fox hunt. Over the years, I've taken three horses to preliminary level. I started a little late in life so I always say that I'm helping to gray the sport. I'm one of the few grandmothers out there doing it.
Q: Does the rest of your family ride?
A: Both of our sons started riding as kids and I had them fox hunting with me very early. Jeff still rides and is now an equine veterinarian and he married an eventer [Emily Beshear]. Our other son, Andy, is an attorney and he doesn't ride anymore but I'm hoping one day he'll come back to it. Or, perhaps when he has grandchildren I'll abscond with them and take them riding. But once both boys started hunting with me, Steve decided he didn't want to be left out so he started hunting with us. It became a family affair and that was great. Steve is actually a very natural rider. He has wonderful balance. He still hunts whenever he has the time.
Q: Now that you're busy as First Lady of Kentucky, how much time do you have to ride?
A: Not nearly as much as I'd like. In the past, I'd ride three or four horses a day before we got back into the political world. Now, I try to ride on the weekends and if I can sneak away during the week for a couple of hours I'll come out to the farm and ride. I’m still very active riding and taking lessons and I hope this spring and summer to do some events along the way. And, I'm fox hunting in the winter. I have two fox hunters and two event horses and one 35-year-old, almost 36, retiree. He's amazing.
Q: Do you still have your own barn?
A: Yes, I have my barn and the farm. I have one boarder who's a friend of mine and has ridden with me for the last 15 to 16 years. She has her own horse and when I'm not around she really helps out and I've got some other help. But yes, I still muck stalls. It's great therapy. You can think more creatively when doing that than anything else in the world. Horse people understand that it's relaxing.
Q: Kentucky is clearly a leading state in the horse racing industry and in eventing. But it's also a big state in other equestrian disciplines, isn't it?
A: We are known as the horse capital of the world and in the past, many thought that only meant Thoroughbred racing. But even I didn't realize how many passionate horse people there really are of all breeds and disciplines in this state. There is a very large Quarter Horse group and in fact, we have very large reining competitions, including one scheduled for the Kentucky Horse Park. The Walking Horse is also very popular in the state and we have some of the largest Saddlebred horse shows in the country. We are truly a state of many breeds and disciplines.
Q: You are involved in the state's Adventure Tourism initiative. Does part of that initiative involve developing the state's trail system for riders?
A: Yes, because another large group of horse people in the state are the trail riders. One thing I'd like to see is that we become known as a destination for horse people interested in trail riding. We are working on the cross Kentucky trail that will be for bikers and hikers, but particularly horses. We are working to locate trails all over the state and then seeing how we can hook them together.
We know that people will travel long distances in order to ride and see beautiful countryside and Kentucky has that. I'll trailer my horse anywhere, but I don't stay in my trailer. So we also see this as an economic benefit for communities around the trails. Riders will stay in hotels and eat in local restaurants. We've set a goal of having this accomplished by 2010, but that's probably a little ambitious, but my feeling is that if we don't set high goals, we won't achieve them. But I hope that by 2010, we'll have a number of trails identified and we'll promote them. With all of the mountains and lakes in this state, we just have so many beautiful vistas. As they say, you've never appreciated nature until you've seen it form the back of horse.
Q: You are also very active with the Horses and Hope program. Can you explain that a bit?
A: Past first ladies had started a Celebration of Hope, usually a survivors tea or luncheon. When I became First Lady, I looked at breast cancer initiatives and my interest was connecting it to the state's horse industry. I wanted to help create awareness and education of breast cancer and bring in the horse industry. We joined with the state's four tracks and had a race at each one for Horses and Hope and survivors were invited to come. For many, it was first time coming to a horse race. They learned to appreciate the beauty of horses and the fun of the races. It was wonderful. People came dressed in pink to the races. It was a beautiful visual with pink at the tracks.
It was a great event and we received contributions and sponsorships that we used to provide services to people who work on the backside of the track. Many of them are either uninsured or underinsured. We also took to the backside a mobile unit for breast cancer screening. It was horse people helping horse people. The races for Horses for Hope were only filly races and one of the winning fillies was owned by a woman and trained by a woman. The only man involved was the jockey.
Our hope is to spread this idea to other horse shows and trail rides. And in time, we also hope to expand this to the people who work on the farms and offer them breast cancer screening. If we can catch the disease at an early stage, they too can be survivors. The screening we did at the tracks did result in two people being sent for further testing and those could now be two more survivors.
Q: Turning to Kentucky's preparation for the 2010 World Equestrian Games, has the recession had an impact on that preparation, or, are things on track?
A: The plans are moving ahead. We have scaled back the budget a bit, but that doesn't mean it will be any less wonderful. It will still be a fantastic event. It's just that we're being mindful that we follow a strict budget. And, sponsorships are a little harder to come by right now but feel that as we get closer to games, it will be easier. At this point in time, we feel that we are right on target. The plans are there and we're real excited about how things are going. I feel confident that this will be the best World Games ever. It will not only be great for the state of Kentucky, but also for the country because this really is an international event.
Q: What are the biggest challenges in preparing for WEG?
A: Getting all the facilities together and ready on time, but they will be. But coordinating everything and dealing with changes in the weather, that's never easy. The other real challenge is going to be transportation – moving the crowd in and out of the park. That's being worked on and we've studied what has been done in the past and taking what has worked best and avoiding what hasn't. The plan is essentially to have satellite parking and bus people in. That was done for the Ryder Cup golf tournament and it worked great.
Q: There is a lot of time and money being invested into the WEG. What are the benefits for Kentucky?
A: The economic impact on the state when you consider 600,000 tickets being sold and what that means for economy. It will impact hotels and restaurants, but we also have a real opportunity for every community in this state to show its beauty and what else it has to offer. We are hoping that people stay longer and visit other parts of Kentucky. We have wonderful tourist attractions that will be highlighted at the Games and that will hopefully encourage people to venture out to other parts of the state.
The other benefit is what is being built at the Horse Park. The new indoor arena and outdoor stadium will provide tremendous opportunities for more horse sports to come to Kentucky. There are already several major shows booked to come into that new arena. We really feel the World Equestrian Games is just a beginning. The legacy it will create is that the Horse Park is the finest equestrian facility in the world. What will also be special is that for this World Equestrian Games, everything will take place at one location. We're also planning many events at the Games, not just the competition. There will be trade fairs, breed shows, polo – just so much for people to see and do.
We are also already seeing a real influx of Europeans coming in and leasing or buying property around the Horse Park area. So that tells me there will be a long-term impact. We are an ideal location for equestrian events. Kentucky is only a one-day drive away for three-quarters of the U.S. population. We're very centrally located. And travel to here and through the state is easy because of all interstates. That's another reason why we're trying to reach out to the trail riders.
Q: Hosting a World Equestrian Games takes a lot of volunteers. How is Kentucky doing in getting the volunteers needed?
A: Right now we have 8,000 people who have volunteered to be part of the Games and that comes mostly from the internet and through word of mouth. So right now, they're trying to place them. Some of them want specific disciplines. Some have certain language skills. Originally, we felt we needed 8,000 people. We have the numbers, but whether we have what we need in specific areas isn't known. But, there is no doubt in my mind that we'll have ample volunteers. They're coming from all over the U.S. and the world.