World Equestrian Games Overview

Excitement mounts for the biggest-ever equestrian competition on U.S. soil.

Think of the biggest sporting events in the United States, and which ones come to mind? The Super Bowl, of course. The Kentucky Derby. A handful of mega-competitions, such as the two-week-long tennis U.S. Open. Two months from now, for the first time in history, the United States will host a 16-day sporting extravaganza that will approach the U.S. Open (which drew 700,000-plus spectators in 2009) in attendance size. It will command more than six hours of network television airtime, and it will bring together athletes from 60 nations.

It's the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG), and the eight-discipline equestrian world championships kick off Sept. 25 on the pastoral grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park, near Lexington.

The World Games 2010 Foundation, the Lexington-based organizer, anticipates selling 600,000 reserved tickets. The Commonwealth of Kentucky has been building arenas and stabling, expanding infrastructure, widening roads, and more since 2005, when the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body of equestrian sport, awarded the 2010 WEG to Lexington. In return, Kentucky hopes to realize the projected $150-plus-million influx of visitor dollars.

Whether you're eagerly awaiting the trip to Lexington to watch the WEG competition in person, or you plan to follow the Games from afar, here's a sneak peek at what to expect.

The Global Spotlight

The significance of these Games being held in the United States cannot be overstated. Never before has a WEG been held outside the equestrian sports stronghold of Western Europe. Despite America's size and recent success in international equestrian competition, we're still widely perceived as the underdog in the global horse sports juggernaut. With its bid to host the 2010 WEG, Lexington at last convinced the largely European-composed FEI to give the United States a crack at the big time. Naturally, the foreign athletes, officials, spectators, and press all will be keen to see how "our" WEG stacks up.

Aware that every detail of the competition will be scrutinized, the World Games 2010 Foundation has expressed a desire to make the event not only a stellar competition, but also a love letter from the U.S. horse industry. WEG organizers plan to entertain and educate attendees with demonstrations, lectures, and other non-competition-related features. Breed registries, equestrian organizations, and celebrity horsemen ranging from John Lyons to Lynn Palm will help promote the best of America's horses and American horsemanship. Kentucky also will get plenty of exposure, with an interactive exhibition called the Kentucky Experience showcasing the best of the Commonwealth, from bourbon to bluegrass.

The Disciplines: Eight Is Enough

The 16-day WEG will feature eight world championships. That's a lot of high-powered competition going on in a short period of time. Here are the disciplines that will be handing out medals:

Eventing The triathlon of the horse world, eventing consists of three phases: dressage, cross-country jumping, and stadium or show jumping. Horses (and riders) must be supremely fit, with the stamina to gallop and jump cross-country, then come back the next day to jump an arena course. All this fitness can make a horse a bit hot, so starting off with dressage proves a challenge of obedience and relaxation.

Jumping This high-profile sport gets lots of media coverage and is a spectator favorite because it's fast, exciting, and easy to follow. Horses and riders navigate arena courses of impressively high, wide, and colorful (often fanciful) obstacles whose panels, planks, and poles rest precariously in shallow cups; more than the barest touch of a hoof and they fall. Knockdowns incur "faults" (penalties), as does failure to complete the course in the time allowed. Thrilling timed jump-offs determine the winner.

Dressage It's ballet on horseback; it's the horse as gymnast. Whatever comparison you use, dressage is the ne plus ultra of horsemanship--a test of the highest level of the horse's gymnastic ability and of the rider's ability to give "aids" (cues) so subtly that they are nearly invisible. The most crowd-pleasing part of dressage competition is the freestyle, in which horses and riders perform original choreographed routines set to music.

Para-Equestrian Dressage This is the FEI's newest discipline, and this will be the first WEG to include it at the same venue as the other events. Para-equestrians are skilled riders who have physical disabilities. They compete in a dressage competition all their own--not quite as difficult as Grand Prix-level dressage, but still impressively complex. Put another way, para-equestrians compete at a higher level than many able-bodied riders.

Driving Imagine eventing with carriages and you'll get an inkling of what the sport of driving is about. Instead of a horse and rider pair, the competitive driving entity is comprised of a driver, a groom (who rides on board the vehicle and assists the driver), and a four-in-hand (a team of four horses). The teams contest a driven-dressage phase in an oversized dressage arena; a marathon, which is a cross-country course sans jumps, but including obstacles known as hazards; and a cones phase, in which the team must navigate an arena course of narrowly spaced cones.

Endurance If eventing is the equestrian triathlon, then endurance is the marathon. Endurance horses and riders traverse a course of 100 miles in a race that demands the utmost in timing, pacing, and fitness. Veterinarians check horses' condition during at least five compulsory stops. With their legendary stamina and surefootedness, Arabians have traditionally dominated this sport, in which competitors can face challenging terrain.

Vaulting In this unique sport, the horse is, literally, the platform upon which the human athlete performs. With superior balance, tempo, and evenness of gait, the horse canters, metronome-like, on a circle at the end of a longe line. The longeur (the handler) controls the horse, leaving the vaulter free to perform amazing feats of balance, strength, and acrobatic ability, leaping and somersaulting on and off the horse's broad back. Male and female vaulters compete as teams and individuals.

Reining This is the only Western discipline to earn FEI recognition. With its all-American origins, it's sure to be a big crowd pleaser at the WEG in Kentucky. This sport, dubbed "Western dressage" by some, tests the stock horse's speed, obedience, and athletic ability through a "pattern" of movements, including flying lead changes, spins in place, rollbacks (reining's counterpart to the dressage pirouette), and the exciting sliding stop. You'll know right away you're not at a subdued dressage competition when you're in the stands for reining: Audiences are encouraged to clap and cheer for their favorites or when they see something they like.

Every Four Years, But Not an Olympics

For those in the eight FEI-recognized disciplines, competition at the elite level revolves largely around four quadrennial championships.

Olympic Games span practically the entire spectrum of athletic competition. Summer and Winter Olympic Games each are held every four years, at two-year intervals. For horse sport fans, Olympic Games are actually quite limited, with only three equestrian disciplines (eventing, jumping, and dressage) included.

The Olympic equestrian competition rules might differ somewhat from those in the FEI rule book. That's because Olympic Games are a complex intermeshing of each sport's international federation and the International Olympic Committee, which governs the entire Olympic universe.

World Equestrian Games, by contrast, are governed solely by the FEI, which allows all eight FEI disciplines to be included. Although the WEG isn't a household word like "Olympics" (at least not in the United States), for those in horse sports a WEG gold, silver, or bronze is just as prestigious as an Olympic medal because it's at the same elite echelon of competition.

Continental Championships

For athletes in the Americas, those are the Pan American Games. They feature the Olympic sports only. Pan Am Games have traditionally been a stepping stone to the highest level of international eventing, jumping, and dressage competition because they have been held at slightly less-difficult levels.

The timeline goes like this: WEG one year; Pan Ams the next; Summer Olympics the next; then a "rest year." So we'll have a WEG in 2010, a Pan Am Games in 2011, and a Summer Olympics in 2012. The three-year cycle will begin anew in 2014.

A Trip to the WEG

We don't have a crystal ball to predict whether tickets to the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games will still be available by the time you read this. At press time, when we visited, the official WEG ticket vendor, tickets were available for every discipline, as well as for opening and closing ceremonies.

Even harder to come by than tickets might be transportation and accommodations. Lexington, charming city and fabled Thoroughbred nursery that it might be, has a small airport (freshly renovated) that can handle only limited commercial and private aircraft; and not all airlines offer service to LEX. As such, few air travelers can fly nonstop to Lexington's Blue Grass Airport ( Even though it's a small airport, flights are quite reasonable by locals' standards, but on occasion it can be easier and less expensive to fly into the much larger Louisville (SDF for Standiford Field) or Cincinnati (CVG for Covington) airports, each of which are roughly 1½ hours' drive from Lexington. Louisville ( and Cincinnati ( are served by most major airlines.

Hotel rooms might be in the shortest supply of all. We Web-surfed the hotels and inns in the greater Lexington region and found that most are booked solid during the WEG. The official 2010 WEG travel partner, Short's Sport and Event Logistics, is the World Games Foundation's suggested go-to for hotel inquiries:

If you're planning a trip with a group, an alternative might be to rent one of the many private homes that have been offered up by enterprising Lexingtonians and Central Kentucky residents. Some are being marketed through real estate agents; others are posted privately on sites such as Craigslist. Get Googling; at the time of this writing, there were many rentals available, albeit at high prices.

Regardless of where you stay, be aware that unless you pony up for a very pricey VIP package, you're not going to be able to park on the Kentucky Horse Park grounds. Instead, shuttle buses will serve designated park-and-ride lots. Visit the official 2010 WEG website ( for information and locations.

Staying Tuned from Home

Thanks to the Internet, even those who can't go to Lexington will be able to follow the WEG competition as it unfolds.

Start with and the Kentucky Horse Park's site, You can follow the WEG's official blog, become a fan of the WEG on Facebook, and follow the WEG on Twitter (links are on the WEG website).

The staff of The Horse and, of course, will be covering all aspects of the competition. This writer is keeping a WEG blog as part of's Blog Stable (

As the national U.S. ruling body, the Lexington-hubbed United States Equestrian Federation ( will be keeping a close eye on the competition, particularly the American horses and riders. The FEI will provide the international perspective at The Chronicle of the Horse, weekly bible of English equestrian competition, produces a detailed WEG preview issue and files competition reports in print and on And each discipline's own national organization will follow its competition in detail:

The World Is Watching

The United States has hosted high- profile equestrian competitions before, including successful FEI World Cup Jumping and Dressage Finals in Las Vegas in 2005, 2007, and 2009 and recent Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. But there has never been anything like the World Equestrian Games in this country. Producing these Games is a mammoth undertaking. Besides cheering on their favorites, horse-sport enthusiasts the world over will be watching to see how well America does the WEG.

About the Author

Jennifer O. Bryant

Jennifer O. Bryant is editor-at-large of the U.S. Dressage Federation's magazine, USDF Connection. An independent writer and editor, Bryant contributes to many equestrian publications, has edited numerous books, and authored Olympic Equestrian. More information about Jennifer can be found on her site,

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