Due South // Nancy Jaffer

Will the World Equestrian Games Return After All?

When the problem-plagued 2018 World Equestrian Games ended, it seemed the event’s death warrant had been signed. Could there be another one in the works?

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By: Due South // Nancy Jaffer

As the problem-plagued 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) wrapped up in Tryon, N.C., one thing seemed clear – there would not be another WEG, at least next time around in 2022. But hold on a minute before you write WEG’s obituary.

Surprise! There already is one entity coming forward and revealing its interest in bringing WEG back for 2022.

First, though, a bit of history before the big reveal. You must understand that the difficulties involved in staging the WEG as a compilation of eight world championships are legion. (The FEI is now saying there are seven disciplines because it is including para-dressage with able-bodied dressage as one, but they ain’t the same.)

The feeling in many quarters after the Tryon experience was that WEG had just become too big and way too expensive. When the WEG began as a one-off in 1990, it included only six disciplines. Reining and para-dressage were not in the picture.

The success of that event in Stockholm led to a decision that there should be another WEG in 1994, though perhaps the FEI should have quit while it was ahead. Paris, the original host, cancelled, and the Dutch stepped in at short notice. Unfortunately, the 1994 WEG in the Hague was a financial disaster.

Next time around, Ireland dropped its bid to stage the 1998 Games and Rome stepped in at very short notice. Its WEG didn’t include endurance, which went to the Middle East, and again, there was no reining or para, so Rome had only five disciplines. That worked, even with little lead time to get things sorted.

Jerez in 2002 added reining, but it also had money woes. The best WEG was 2006 in Aachen, because the organizers hold a multi-discipline show every year and even including the big ask of eventing to their usual roster wasn’t a problem.

The 2010 WEG at the Kentucky Horse Park, the first to have all eight FEI disciplines, was also the first to add para and a lot of extra expense with it. Help from title sponsor Alltech enabled Kentucky to clear what otherwise would have been impossible financial hurdles, but the experience was mixed, with outrage over high hotel prices and transportation problems, among other things. The competition part did go well, however.

The 2014 WEG in Normandy had some issues, but again, the competition came off as planned, even though it was scattered around several different venues instead of one, as the original concept called for in Stockholm. Until 2018, Aachen and Kentucky were the only other WEGs that followed suit with one location.

Inexplicably, for 2018, the FEI gave a second chance to winning bidder Bromont, Quebec, when it was having trouble gaining financial support. The FEI finally called it quits and sent the Games to Tryon with less than two years to go until the competition.

As the Games began, the Tryon facility was unfinished and work continued on the site during the WEG. Endurance was a mess with a botched start and eventual termination. Hurricane/Tropical Storm Florence – not the organizers’ fault – made things worse and the weather led to cancellation of the dressage Grand Prix Freestyle.

After Tryon, the FEI finally sighed and said it would do what many over the years had called the sensible course, accepting bids for individual world championships, or perhaps smaller groupings of world championships.

A meeting was held in Switzerland last month to discuss the situation, drawing those who might be interested in hosting what is now being called the FEI World Championships, with representatives from 30 venues on four continents attending.

While the FEI wasn’t ruling out anyone who wanted to host a WEG, it seemed likely that most representatives would be interested in single- and multi-discipline bids, such as pairing show jumping and dressage. The FEI isn’t giving out details of who was on hand or what they want to do, but Equestrian Events Inc. President Stewart Perry revealed that EEI Executive Director Lee Carter was there.

Stewart stepped up while I was in Lexington, Ky., last weekend and told me his organization wants a WEG and plans to bid on it in June.

EEI puts on the highly successful Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event with the help of 2,000 volunteers. The event drew more than 70,000 spectators to the Kentucky Horse Park this month, and that site is the likely venue for EEI’s concept, though Stewart noted venues outside Kentucky also could be considered.

Stewart said handling large numbers of horses is no problem for EEI, citing this September’s American Eventing Championships at the park, which will draw 1,000 horses.

Explaining why EEI is interested in the WEG, Stewart said, “We’re an organization that wants to grow. Our board’s already voted, we’re going to put in a bid.”

Stewart said a WEG could be done jointly with the Horse Park, or EEI could rent the facility, as it does for the Land Rover Event. EEI’s main focus will be on eventing, jumping, dressage and para, so it wouldn’t quite be a WEG as we have seen it, but knowing the FEI, they’ll probably ask to include one or two other disciplines as well.

Endurance seems unlikely to be a WEG component again, and there is a question as to whether reining will remain an FEI discipline, so with that, things already might be less complicated in terms of what could be added to the mix.

In regard to staging a WEG, Stewart commented, “We feel like we have not only the expertise, but the opportunity.

“We have a track record. If I were the FEI, I’d be looking for people that have a track record.”

~Nancy Jaffer