Kentucky Horse Park's Nicholson Receives Equine Industry Vision Award

Kentucky Horse Park Executive Director John Nicholson is the recipient of the ninth annual Equine Industry Vision Award.

Pfizer Animal Health, a world leader in discovering and developing innovative animal prescription medicines and vaccines, and American Horse Publications (AHP) presented Nicholson with the award at a ceremonial breakfast held June 18 during the AHP 2010 40th Anniversary Seminar in Lexington, Ky.

Established in 2002, the Equine Industry Vision Award was the first of its kind to showcase innovation and recognize ingenuity and service across the entire equine market.

Nicholson has earned this honor for his vision and determination to make unimaginable dreams a reality. Best known for his work as executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park and as president of the World Games 2010 Foundation, Nicholson's leadership has been pivotal in bringing the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games to the United States.

"John Nicholson is an outstanding example of the innovation, leadership and vision that the Equine Industry Vision Award serves to recognize," said Kathy Miranowic, Equine Marketing Manager at Pfizer Animal Health. "His fortitude to bring the Kentucky Horse Park to greatness through the World Equestrian Games and other exceptional exhibits has inspired horse enthusiasts from around the world."

More than 14 years ago, John had the foresight to begin the process of bringing the World Equestrian Games from Europe to the United States for the first time.

"When we host the 2010 Games, it will be the largest sporting event ever held in Kentucky. The eyes of the world will be on our state as the Games will be televised to an international audience of 500 million viewers, and our region will offer its hospitality to 300,000 visitors (700,000 tickets sold), including 2,000 journalists," Nicholson said. "This is going to be Kentucky's 'day in the sun,' and with the help of the people of our city and state, we'll be ready to introduce the world to our unique Bluegrass culture."

Bringing the World Equestrian Games to the Kentucky Horse Park is not the only monumental accomplishment for Nicholson. Under his leadership as the park's executive director, he has helped transform the park into an unparalleled equestrian competition facility, with a new outdoor stadium which seats 7,000 and a new climate-controlled indoor arena which seats 6,000. Subsequently Kentucky is on the verge of becoming the Sport Horse Capital of the World, attracting new sport horse owners, trainers and breeders to Lexington, while introducing the state's die-hard Thoroughbred racing fans to a whole new world of equine sports.

In addition, Nicholson has helped expand the park's National Horse Center to a current total of 34 national, regional and state organizations. Most of these organizations had never previously coordinated their efforts or worked toward common goals to improve the industry, but through their close proximity at the park, their lobbying abilities and educational efforts have increased.

Under Nicholson's direction the Kentucky Horse Park has created programs that give back to the industry. The park has expanded its efforts to assist homeless, abused and neglected horses of all breeds through the creation of the John Henry Memorial Equine Adoption Fair, and through a new partnership with the Kentucky Equine Humane Center in which the park accepts horses from the humane center and retrains/rehabilitates the horses to make them more adoptable.

The park also launched, Horses Help, a program that assists the fundraising efforts of hundreds of nonprofit organizations each year. In addition, the park has recently entered into a massive conservation/energy-savings program, including the installation of a revolutionary muck processing plant which will generate electricity for the park.

Big dreams and what may seem like impossible feats has never stopped Nicholson nor dissuaded him. He once mentioned during a family dinner that he was going to talk to the Chinese government and ask officials to loan the park their terra cotta horses and some other relics that have never been outside of the mainland of China for a special exhibition in the museum. Nicholson accomplished this, and "Imperial China" became the first world-class, blockbuster exhibition at the park.

After the success of "Imperial China," Nicholson mentioned during another family dinner that he wanted to ask Queen Elizabeth to loan the park some of the Royal Family's private collection of equestrian art and artifacts that have never left England. Again he made this happen, and during the opening of "All the Queen's Horses," Princess Anne commented that there were items in that exhibition that even she had never seen prior to that evening.

This year, the park unveiled the latest blockbuster exhibit, "A Gift from the Desert: The Art, History and Culture of the Arabian Horse." This is the largest and most extensive collection of Arabian horse art and artifacts ever assembled anywhere in the world.

In 2008, Nicholson received an unexpected gift--the news that the park had been selected to receive the Special Eclipse Award from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the National Turf Writers Association and the Daily Racing Form. The Eclipse Award is the highest honor in the Thoroughbred industry.

Born on Sept. 23, 1959, John grew up in Winchester, Ky., with his two older brothers, Joe Browne, president of Nicholson Insurance, and Nick, president of the Keeneland Association. His parents are both deceased, however his mother, Peggy and father, Dr. G.E. Nicholson, an optometrist, have both left a legacy that Nicholson is proud of. As a youngster, he dreamed of becoming a fireman, an astronaut or a policeman. He exchanged three dreams for one much dearer to him the first time he connected with a horse.

Bill O'Neill was a horse trainer and John Nicholson's father's best friend. To Nicholson, he was family. He invited Nicholson to spend time at his farm, so as a fourth-grader he began riding his bike to Bwamazon several days a week and got to know every race record, pedigree, and personality of each horse on the farm. This is where the dream's started.


At the moment, Nicholson and his two sons, 11-year-old Chris and 7-year-old Colin, and their cat, Mr. Wiggles, call the Kentucky Horse Park his home.

Nicholson cherishes the relationships that have helped get him to where he is.

"I am very fortunate to know that I'm where I am supposed to be. When I walk the fields of the Kentucky Horse Park, I know I'm on hallowed ground," said Nicholson. "The intangible takes on the shape of the tangible when horses and humans connect. There is something very soulful about this place and the relationships between man and horse that are experienced every day. You can't be on the park and not feel it; it's other-worldly. You get a strong impression that this special bond is the result of--and still enjoys--the approval of God."

The other finalists for this year's Equine Industry Vision Award included Susan Harris, Michael Blowen and the late Denny Hales. Nomination information for next year's award will be available in the fall at the AHP website at

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