Gunning for equine glory in Kentucky
As the Irish team gets ready for the World Equestrian Games, hopes are high that they can take the Stateside event by storm
The countdown has begun in earnest: this year's World Equestrian Games (WEG) get under way on Friday. This is the biggest event in the world for equestrian sport.
Considered by many to rank higher than the Olympics, the 16-day games are admininistered by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) and held every four years -- half way between each pair of consecutive summer Olympic Games.
Up to 1990, all 10 of the FEI's individual disciplines held separate championships, usually in separate countries. The hosting of World Championships for each discipline was awarded to the winner of each discipline, in the same way as the Eurovision moves around annually according to the previous year's winner.
For example, the Kentucky Horse Park was selected by the United States Federation to host the Eventing World Championship in 1978 after Bruce Davidson won the 1974 title at Burghley and, thus, earned for the USA the right to host the event.
The concept of a World Equestrian Games, at which all the FEI disciplines would decide their World Championships at one time and place, was first proposed to the FEI in 1983, but the first World Equestrian Games were held in Stockholm in 1990. Six disciplines were involved -- jumping, dressage, eventing, driving, endurance and vaulting.
The games next moved to The Hague in the Netherlands in 1994 and were due to be hosted in Dublin in 1998. However, in a move that is still remembered bitterly, Ireland backed out of hosting the event at the last minute.
This year's games, taking place in Lexington, Kentucky, will mark a series of firsts in WEG history: the first time the games will be held outside of Europe, the first time that championships for eight FEI disciplines will be held at one location -- the 1,200ac Kentucky Horse Park -- and the first time WEG will have a title sponsor, Alltech, the animal health and nutrition group that employs 1,900 people in 85 countries.
A familiar name at home in Ireland, Alltech was founded by Irishman Dr Pearse Lyons and is headquartered in Nicholasville, Kentucky.