U.S. Dressage Team Meets and Mingles

Wow, it’s finally here and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  I took the long drive from New York to Lexington, KY.  I started out at 2:00 a.m.  and with just two hours sleep along the way I arrived at 4:00 p.m. and felt good about the timing.  It got me to Kentucky just in time to go to the dinner that Mary, her husband J.J. and Markel hosted at Spindletop for the U.S. Dressage Team.  What made it extra special was having Dr. Pearse Lyons, owner and founder of Alltech, the major sponsor of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and John Nicholson, CEO of the Kentucky Horse Park there to meet the riders and vice versa.

Anne Gribbons, USET Technical Advisor, and Eva Salomon, USEF Managing Director and Chef d'Equipe for Dressage, were there as well as Anne’s husband David.  I’ve known Anne and David since they both originally came from Long Island, which is where I live.  I’ve seen Anne around but this was the first time I’d seen David in a long time.  It’s great seeing old friends.

When Dr. Lyons first arrived to the dinner no one else was there and so he offered to take me and Mary’s intern Stefanie Jones to see the Kentucky Horse Park grounds now in the process of being set up.  It was awesome to say the least and most memorable was the Alltech Experience.  Although Pearse has spoken about it a lot, words can’t describe the four acres of exciting things that will be happening in this area on the Kentucky Horse Park grounds.  There’s an area for kids to play, a beer garden, an area for press to socialize and do their interviews, and so much more.  Let the pictures do some of the storytelling even though the final setup will truly be an experience and I encourage anyone coming to the Games to spend some quality time there.

Dr. Lyons is a ball of fire and always so jovial.  Just seeing his enthusiasm was enough for me to be inspired about the Alltech Experience and the Games in general.  No other World Equestrian Games was ever based on so much spacious and beautiful property all in one location.  Although Aachen (2006) was organized in one location it is a much smaller venue.   I have no doubt that the sport for these Kentucky Games will truly be special.

After having some time to socialize Mary told a story about how in 2003 she met a man in Aachen that asked her questions about the horses and the event when she told him why she was there.  Years later she would discover who that man was – it was Dr. Lyons and it was after that time that he made the decision to sponsor these Games.

Dr. Lyons got up and spoke about how he was approached to be a sponsor and smart businessman that he is, he decided that he would invest $10 million into his sponsorship which he did right away.  That gave him four years to take advantage of that sponsorship to brand his name.  He’s done that successfully and I don’t know of anyone in the horse world (and beyond) that now doesn’t at least know the name Alltech.  Only 4% or his business is focused on horses but he intends to increase those margins in the years ahead.  He’s most proud of a product he calls Life Force, a natural supplement that benefits all horses at every stage of life.  Many people say it is what helped improve their horses health and happiness.  Try taking that product away from them now and you’d have a real battle.

After Dr. Lyons welcomed everyone John Nicholson said that he was so moved he wanted to say a few words.  John told of how five years earlier before the Kentucky Horse Park had been awarded the Games he recalled breaking the grounds for the United States Dressage Federation which was moving to the Park.  “We painted a picture that was wistful and far away,” he commented.   That picture was envisioning the U.S. Dressage team winning the Gold Medal.  

Three of the team members were there to hear John speak along with alternate Catherine Haddad.  Steffen Peters couldn’t make it but Todd Flettrich, Tina Konyot and Katherine Bateson were there.  None of the last three riders have ever been on a WEG, Olympics or Pan American Games team.  John’s comments were a reminder that ultimately the Horse Park did get the Games and here he sat with the team that will try their best to win a medal.

“What an odyssey this has been and shows that dreams do come true.  A special thank you to Alltech and Dr. Lyons who have made our dream come true,” he concluded as we continued with a wonderful dinner and great conversation.

As the evening moved along the riders started to lighten up a bit and their humor started to show.  It’s clear they enjoy spending time together and this is a cohesive team.  I learned a few tid bits along the way such as the fact that it was Todd’s dad’s neighbor that helped pave his way for riding dressage.  

Sitting next to me was one of the riders that didn’t make it but finished in the top 20 on Goubergh’s Kasper.  Reese Koffler Stanfield is from Lexington and she raved about the wonderful changes that have happened because of the Games.  “Downtown Lexington has been spruced up and we needed that.  The Games and the improvements at the Horse Park have brought sport horses here,” she noted.

I’ve been traveling back and forth to Kentucky for the past two years interviewing all the key people, including Dr. Lyons and John Nicholson.  All those features are in-depth profiles of the people that have made these Games happen.  In the days ahead we’ll be featuring one profile a day and these profiles are ones you won’t want to miss.  They are long – most over 3000 words – but they talk about the heart of soul of the people that have put a heart and soul into the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

As the evening concluded, goodies were passed out to the riders.  Mary’s sister Nancy made a special candle and KAM Animal Services gave out buckets to the riders of their latest products.  They are called Cookies with a Clue and the best thing is that they are all natural and easy to feed.  Booster Bites and Chubbies are what someone feeds to their horse(s) on a daily basis to ensure the horse gets all the nutrition he needs and Stress Busters, Belly Bites and Owchees are for those occasions when horses need some extra help to feel comfortable.  All the right ingredients are combined into an oversized pellet (or cookie) which makes them much easier to feed then measuring out powdery supplements.

As the evening ended and we all said our goodbyes it was clear that Mary’s decision to bring these people together was a brilliant move for everyone.  Most had not even met Dr. Lyons and John Nicholson and these were two people they needed to meet.  And they also had not had the opportunity to meet these riders who will be representing the U.S.   Although I’ve briefly met the riders in the past this was a great opportunity for me to get to know them a bit more because I’ll be writing about them in the days ahead.

Kudos to Mary and J.J. and Markel, the sponsors of this event.  It was a great evening for all of us!

So, with that I end my first report but travel with me in the days ahead.  The Games don’t start until Saturday, September 25th but for the next two days with the help of the local Kentucky tourist boards I’ll have a chance to visit different parts of Kentucky.  So, I’ll bring you a bit of the countryside before kicking off with Reining and the Opening Day Ceremonies on Saturday.  In the meantime, feel free to write me with your questions or comments.  It’s always great to hear from you.  (dderosa1@optonline.net)

It’s time to say – Let the Games Begin!