It was the power of the people–competitors and fans–that put the cancelled Land Rover Kentucky 5-Star Three Day Event back on the calendar this afternoon after a mighty seven-day fundraising effort.
“I’m pretty stunned,” said eventer Sara Kozumplik Murphy about the results of the campaign she led with her husband, show jumper Brian Murphy and some others, that brought in contributions from so many who were determined the competition had to go on.
“It’s not just about the money, it’s about the reaction, the passion that some people didn’t realize was there. The passion has done as much to move this as the money,” commented Sara when she learned the April 22-25 event would run after all, even though there is no way of knowing when the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Covid protocols will allow spectators.
After Equestrian Events Inc. was approached about the possibility of a rethink that would enable the event they called off on Feb. 2 to be held without the vital funding brought in by ticket sales, the organizer set a target of $750,000 that would have to be raised over a few short days in order to reconsider running the 5-Star.
The exact figure realized from grassroots contributions and private donors isn’t available yet, but it was close enough to get the 5-Star a green light. It is coupled with a new partnership with the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation and economies that brought the cost of the event down from $1.5 million to something over $1 million.
“It’s an Olympic year, it’s an Olympic qualifying event and we just had to find a way to make it happen,” said Clay Green, the foundation’s chairman.
There had been criticism on social media of EEI for cancelling without having a plan B that would allow the 5-Star to run no matter what the circumstances, but the organization’s executive director, Lee Carter, said organizers had believed until recently that they would be allowed to have spectators at 50 percent of capacity at the park. Then emergence of a new Covid variant scuttled that possibility.
“It’s difficult times and everybody’s showing we want to have this event, which is like the lifeblood of our sport because it appeals to everybody. The sport would not be the same in this country if it didn’t go ahead. ” said Phillip Dutton, who in 2008 was the last American to win the event. He urged organizers to find a way that events are not dependent on ticket sales, so they can go ahead no matter what the circumstances.
“We’re all indebted to the outpouring of support to do it, but it’s not sustainable to do every year.”
He added, “Not having a 5-star would have counted out a lot of potential people for the (Olympic) team A lot of people have plans that they were going to show how good they are at the 5-star. That would have been their chance to get selected,” said Phillip, who earned an individual medal at the last Games.
As Sara noted, “If we are going to get better (in eventing) as a country, then we need to have the highest level competitions here in the U.S., not have to travel to Europe to do it.” And this year, it’s particularly important since travel is so difficult.
Prize money will not be the usual $400,000, but Lee doesn’t believe organizers will have to ask the FEI to drop the $150,000 prize money requirement for a 5-star, pointing out if that is done, it would have to apply to other events as well.
A new five-member entity will run the Kentucky event, as EEI works with the foundation, which will handle financial, management and marketing support. A 4-Star Short will also be part of the weekend, which will be getting additional support from presenting sponsor MARS Equestrian and Rolex.
“We’re just glad to get over the finish line. It’s been a marathon, as you might imagine,” Lee said.
“The people proved they loved this event. They spoke and we’re going to make this thing happen and it’s going to be fantastic,” said Clay, noting someone has just stepped up with a $125,000 challenge matching grant.
“In many ways, the Kentucky Horse Park is where it is today because of the three-day event that started in 1978,” he continued, referring to the world championships that made a name for the fledgling park.