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Pavla Nygaard

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Weighing in on the Proposed WEC Jockey Club Development

The view from the clubhouse at the Ocala Jockey Club. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Eventers are well familiar with the former Ocala Jockey Club, a 1,028-acre property in Reddick, Florida that hosted FEI events through the CCI4*-L level from 2016-2019. It was purchased from the Nygaard family in 2021 by the Golden Ocala Equestrian Land (GOEL) organization, to be rebranded and expanded as the WEC Jockey Club. Former owner Pavla Nygaard weighs in on the proposed WEC Jockey Club development plans in advance of a zoning meeting to be held today at 2 p.m.

On March 1st, Marion County Board of County Commissioners is set to hold a public meeting to discuss, among other items, the proposed development a farm complex on Highway 318 in Reddick, known during my family’s 16-year ownership as the Ocala Jockey Club farm (“OJC”) and now being rebranded as the WEC Jockey Club by its new owner, Golden Ocala Equestrian Land, which is also associated with the expansive World Equestrian Center in Ocala (“WEC”).

We sold the farm complex to WEC in August 2021. Horse Farms Forever, the non-profit organization working for preservation of farmland in Marion County, quoted me extensively in its recent statement of support of the WEC Jockey Club development plan. My statements, as publicized in the Horse Farms Forever statement in local media, were taken from a 2019 article in Eventing Nation regarding our family’s decision to find strategic partnerships or to sell the farm. While my statement was accurately quoted, my words were used out of context to buttress support for the WEC plan for the farm as currently presented. In light of the use of my words in connection to the proposed development in a way I would not make today, I feel I owe it to the communities of Marion County and 3-day Eventing competitors to provide my stance on the plan and how I believe it may affect the farm and the County.

I believe that this farm complex is unique from other large farms in the area. Its topography, with its rolling hills and some of the highest elevations in Florida, provides viewing and beauty unparalleled to other large tracts of land which may be successfully chopped up into small lots or 10-acre lands without destroying the character of the whole. Unlike many other farms in the area, the land has not been home to only horses but also to scores of other wildlife, from deer to turkey seen elsewhere in the County, to majestic birds from large flocks of white egrets to pairs of cranes, hawks and even bald eagles nesting on the grounds. The farm, thoughtfully and gently developed to highlight its beauty and rustic farm charm, can retain such valuable wildlife for the enjoyment of Marion County and visitors from afar. Overdevelopment, on the other hand, would force the farm to lose its greatest unique strengths and become yet another nondescript home community with McMansions devoid of the farm character that gave the property its original charm.

During the inaugural 2016 Ocala Jockey Club International 3-Day Event, I observed happy relaxed horses with ears pricked as they went over a challenging but naturally beautiful cross country course. I also heard eventing competitors one after another gush over the old oak trees, Spanish moss and overall natural beauty of the property. One of them stabled at North Carolina’s Tryon Equestrian Center and I asked him to compare the facilities there to our farm’s facilities. He thought for a second and said, “they are both great, but they are different, like you can go for a vacation at Disneyland or at a national park, have a great time at both but each has different strengths and different reasons to go.” He explained that, to him, Tryon was the Disneyland of the equestrian facilities, and OJC was the national park. This comparison came to my mind frequently, as it described the strength and allure of the farm. Now, with WEC having already created the grandest Disneyland equestrian experience in the South with WEC in Ocala, I believe that WEC Jockey Club should not follow this Disneyland style but instead offer the counterpoint with the grandest enhanced national park equestrian experience. I believe that our 4 years of running the 3-Day Event from nothing to an Olympic qualifying Event, which became one of the national favorites on the eventing calendar and the winner of the Florida Sports Small Market Event of the Year in just its second year, was a testament to our commitment to stewardship of the land. I believe it is that foundation that WEC and the community will be well rewarded to build upon.

Horse Farms Forever cited a few reasons in their article for their support for the WEC Jockey Club development. Those reasons were that: a) WEC agreed not to develop the former Crupi property and the former Plumley property to greater density than one unit per 10 acres in exchange for greater clustered density at WEC Jockey Club, b) that there is history of clustered homes at the property with 35 townhomes in the back of the farm already, c) that 60% of the farm complex would remain undeveloped, that equestrian use would continue, and d) that since WEC bought the land for $10.5 million, the modest price per acre compared to current Marion County land values meant that the property may have been vulnerable to less favorable development options.

It is true that WEC bought the farm at low land value typically associated with land developer pricing. It is not true, however, that a developer was the logical likely buyer if WEC hadn’t come to the table. We felt strongly about the type of next owner who we would contract with as our interest was to pass the ownership to a party more resource-rich and capable of proper stewardship of the land than us. We had entertained interest from various parties in the time the property was available for sale, for proposed uses between an equine therapy sanctuary to work with war veterans, horsemanship school, botanical gardens and other ideas to work with the land, mostly from those with far more passion than money. We had concerning proposals from those looking to launder cash or to convert cryptocurrency into land. We consistently turned down interest from those looking at the farm solely for development value, including one just around the time of the WEC offer. We were also in process of discussing a possible equestrian development plan in partnership with a developer which would have conserved most of the land as green space and provided equestrian trails through the entire farm complex.

When the WEC offer was brought to us in June with 48 hours for us to accept or reject, it was shrewd. It was for land value only, justified by the inflated prices of lumber and therefore the higher cost it would take WEC to make fencing and other facility repairs. The offer gave us zero compensation for the world-class 3-day eventing facilities we already established at the farm, or the value of business assets, the brand or previous USEF license attached to the facility due to having run top-level FEI events and therefore being eligible to apply for World Equestrian Games or other high-profile equestrian events in the future. We were willing to accept a far lower price from WEC than the asking price of $16.5 million for the farm because we were told they wished to continue it as an equestrian property for eventing and polo use. We knew that they had the resources to accomplish what would have been a challenge for us to do on our own. Due to WEC’s existing commitment to equestrian sport in Ocala, we felt they were the best likely steward of the property for decades to come. No word was uttered by the buyer to us about plans for low density development at any part of the farm, plans for a hotel, a 9,000 seat stadium or plans for an RV park. While it would have been foolish for us to expect no development at all on WEC’s part to improve and monetize the facility, we had confidence that the existing A-1 zoning, the farm’s inclusion in the Farm Preservation Area and Horse Farms Forever’s watchdog role would protect the integrity of the farmland in WEC’s hands. My hope is that these safeguards and the community’s passionate feedback will still protect the land I loved.

It is true that there is a cluster of 35 townhomes in the back of the middle third of our former farm. It is also true that the original plans for the farm, far before our ownership of it, called for two further similar clusters on the other two thirds of the farm. However, home community plans always put the land and green space as the center of attention. I believe this approach is not only crucial to the integrity of the farmland, but also the most likely way to properly monetize a future development.

Is it possible to build a hotel on the property and to keep the farm character intact? I believe that it is, as the answer to a hotel plan is more about the size, type, architectural design elements and whether the hotel would be intended to blend into the land or the land forced to conform to the hotel and related parking areas. One of the strongest viewing elements of the eventing cross-country course has been from the existing clubhouse, the intended location of the proposed hotel. Will this almost-360-degree view from the location be enhanced with the proposed building or destroyed? Will this new proposed hotel fit into the land and history of the location, or simply add a large concrete block to house participants? If it is merely the latter, I am aware of available properly zoned location closer to I-75 that would be close enough but not need to disturb the farm’s integrity. If the former, it may very well enhance the awe-inspiring experience of those visitors who choose to use the hotel.

I don’t believe that an RV park is in any way compatible with the character of the property. Yes, it may be convenient and, yes, it may cut down on some traffic. But having a permanent RV park in some of the prettiest section of the land devalues the beauty of the property and brings potential environmental issues due to possible oil, gas or sewage spills affecting the pure aquifers under the land. There are other nearby existing RV parks or far less iconic tracts that could or should be used for such use.

Is a 9,000 seat stadium compatible with the farmland preservation status of the farm or necessary for its highest and best use as an elite equestrian facility? I doubt it is necessary, and I am concerned that, unless executed with mastery and skill to blend into the land, it risks turning a natural treasure into just another sports arena that could be built on any flat uninteresting piece of land. A valuable model of a facility that is part of nature and yet is capable of attracting around 130,000 visitors is the Burghley House Preservation Trust and adjoining land in England, which is the host to the 5-star Burghley Horse Trials. The annual report and accounts of the pre-pandemic 2018/2019 year show clearly that it is possible to maintain character of historical beautiful land while attracting prestige, visitors and profits. I would encourage WEC, the County Commissioners and community members to peruse this report (“Burghley House 2019 Preservation Report“) to imagine what could be possible for our former farm.

Housing development may very well be part of both a necessary plan to monetize WEC’s investment into the farm complex as well as carry potential for uplifting the overall neighborhood. However, since resources are not of concern to WEC in the way they were to us, any housing development should be made wisely such that ample green space remains, not just on part of the farm complex, but throughout the entirety of the complex with a network of equestrian and mixed use trails, parks, gardens, and pleasant village community feeling. The plan currently shows one third of the property devoted to nothing but homes. I have walked almost every foot of the land and I am familiar with the landscape and the green space potential. I am concerned that the home development plan currently shown will not preserve the greenspace, the wildlife or the overall farm character. It will simply import downtown to this rural part of the county, intended to pay attention to farmland preservation. As Horse Farms Forever states in their newsletter byline, “once erased, our farmland can never be replaced.”

I support the idea of development at our former farm in concept. I know all too well that it is challenging to operate the farm successfully in an under-developed form while it pays out more in expenses than gets back in income. Our legacy of creating the 3-Day Eventing competition and preserving the beautiful farmland has its highest chance of happening if WEC is successful with their ownership. However, it is clear that the time is now for the community, Horse Farms Forever and the County Commissioners to carefully consider what WEC’s plans are for the WEC Jockey Club, and how they add or detract from the community for years to come. It is important to ensure that specific land preservation commitments are made by WEC now that the owner will be accountable to keep. As well, while the development of eventing, driving and polo facilities are a great addition to Marion County, it is also important to consider that there already are other viable and sustainable lower-level facilities currently running similar events, and the intention of the WEC Jockey Club should be to provide a unique world class venue to create more high-profile high-impact opportunities for Marion County, rather than to run round-the-clock events or to divert business from other existing facilities or Mom-and-Pop neighborhood farms.

The preservation of greenspace, farm character and the farm’s ability to wow locals and visitors from near and far cannot be left to chance. Even if it seems attractive to trade agreements of less development at the Crupi and Plumley farms to allow significant development further north of town, a potential trojan horse exists. I recommend for the community and the Marion County Board of County Commissioners to reject the existing plans on the table for WEC Jockey Club and to get back to the negotiating table to revise the development plans in order to keep the substance of some of the proposed development, to completely reject and source more suitable alternatives for some aspects such as the RV park, and to ensure design compatibility with the Farmland Preservation Area of other elements such as the home development, hotel or stadium. Taking the time to do the plan right at this juncture is far better than to approve it fast but lose this important jewel of farmland forever.

Irrespective of whether you support the proposed development as is, oppose it or support it with ideas for modifications, please carefully consider arguments on all sides of the proposed WEC Jockey Club development and make your views known at the March 1st, 2022 Marion County Board of County Commissioners meeting held at 601 SE 25th Ave, Ocala FL 34471. Planning and Zoning is item 15 on the Agenda, starting at 2 pm. There will be opportunity for public comment. The meeting details and agenda packet can be found in the 3/1/22 meeting section here.

Big Event Economics 101, and Why Eventers Should Chip in for Kentucky Before Sunday

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class, winners of the 2019 Kentucky Three-Day Event. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

I am not qualified to speak for the management team of the five-star Kentucky Event or why $750,000 is the number chosen as part of the fundraising drive to allow for the cancelled 5* to get resurrected and run successfully without spectators this April as scheduled. However, as the manager of a 4*-L competition and a past bidder for a 5* at the Ocala Jockey Club, I am uniquely qualified to provide some perspectives to the readers of Eventing Nation on why the fundraising drive is a genuine call for help that should be heeded by the individuals in the eventing sport. If you already know you want to help, here is the website link to do so. If you are not sure why you should care or be the one to fill out a donation form, read on.

The fundraising call is not a ransom note, it is not a sign of mismanagement by EEI, and it is not like other marquee events like the Kentucky Derby that can easily run without spectators. It is simple Economics 101 of costs and revenue. At its most basic, a big event has big costs. It can
run if those big costs get covered. If not, someone is left holding the bag to cover the losses. When the organizer doesn’t have a method for enough revenue, the organizer goes bankrupt, suppliers don’t get paid, or worn-out Board members are writing big checks that they didn’t plan on writing. So, it is a sign of honesty, integrity and responsibility by EEI that they are trying to balance the math before running the 5*, rather than relaxing standards by running a shoddy or unsafe 5* or running on hope only to run out of money and have to fold as an organization after the fact.

Some riders have stated that the 5* cancellation was a sudden surprise. It shouldn’t have been. EEI has been asking for help for quite some time. Eventing Nation ran a story on the funding issue if EEI couldn’t run with spectators (Jan. 15: “Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst: How We Can Help the Kentucky Three-Day Survive.”) I wrote a story for Eventing Nation on this as well (Jan. 21: “Support What You Wish to Keep.”)

The cancellation was a predictable outcome from a “meh, not my problem” response by the eventing world. Now that the chickens have come to roost, we can either be without a 2021 Spring 5*, reach into our own pockets to help, or wait for a big-pocketed savior who may or may not materialize. Hint, there are not many deep-pocket saviors in three-day eventing. The few like that are expected to step up too often, and often not appreciated enough for when they do. There are more of the ramen-dinner, pull-me-up-by-bootstraps folks in the rider, owner and sponsor ranks.

There is strength in numbers, even if each supporter only has a bit to pitch in. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both raised millions by activating small-dollar grassroots fundraising campaigns, so we know it can work if enough heed the call. The big questions I see on social media posts about this come down to “We were betrayed by the cancellation. Why should we help?” Here are the economic considerations from my experience of running a 4*-L event and having worked on a 5* bid. I am hoping it will help folks to understand why help is essential this year:

COSTS: Yuge. Eye-popping, surprising, incredible, holy-cow-really, big costs. To run a 4*-L event, when I ask people what they think it costs and add some more to the estimate, they think it’s about $100K tops. Nope. About five times more, and that’s a shoestring budget where the entire tiny organizing team is tired for six months before the event and three months after the event, the facility doesn’t get a fee, much of the competition is run by volunteers rather than paid staff, and the owners get paid zilch. So, when the 5* organizer says it costs about $1.5 million to run, yes, please believe them.

FUNDING: There are a few ways to bring in income for an event, depending on whether it is competitor-driven or fan-driven:

  • Entries and stabling. This is most common for lower-level events where entries provide the bulk of the income. The higher the competition level, the lower the entry fees, the higher the prize money expectations. Why? The reasonable expectation that the high- level athletes who represent our country shouldn’t have to pay to participate, but that they should have an opportunity to earn money for their talents. Few people bat an eye that NFL and NBA players make millions for playing games. It should be OK for top level eventer athletes to expect to make some money by competing. Pie in the sky for now, but a good goal. Besides, it would be astronomically prohibitive to expect 5* riders to cover production costs of a 5*. At 80 riders, each would need to pay $18,750 to cover a $1.5 million production cost. Ouch. Not feasible.
  • Sponsorships. No, Land Rover or other sponsors can’t just write a bigger check. Corporate sponsors provide funds because there is a business reason for them to do so. They write bigger checks when they expect greater returns from a particular crowd, and smaller checks when there is a smaller return on their investment. For example, Anheuser-Busch spent an estimated $350 million on sponsorship rights deals in 2016, but they can do so because typically people drink a lot of beer at sports events, and its annual revenues of $45.5 billion that year were more than enough to justify such investment. For sponsorships to make sense, people involved in the sponsored sport need to buy the things that sponsors sell. How many Land Rover vehicles or Rolex watches need to be sold to justify a hefty sponsorship year after year? Sponsors have told me repeatedly that eventers aren’t particularly loyal to sponsor brands and don’t spend enough to justify big sponsorship deals. Ouch. It’s higher value for a sponsor to present their company and products to a live audience of spectators than to an event without spectators. Many sponsors have also seen their revenues decline in the pandemic. Double or triple whammy for an organizer of a 5* in 2021.
  • Media Rights. I don’t wish to speak out of turn as I am not privy to this for a 5* level, but I don’t believe that even an event as large as the Kentucky 5*. U.S. sports rights were estimated to be worth a total of $22.42 billion in 2019. But this money is only attractive to spend by networks on sports with high viewership, because then the networks in turn sell coveted advertising spots during the broadcast. For sports with low viewership or low advertiser interest, the sports event needs to instead pay the network to be televised. When we last checked, it would be a $500K cost to have the $4*-L event televised. Besides, USEF and FEI own the media rights, the organizer does not.
  • Governing Body Support. For three-day eventing competitions, the governing bodies (USEF, FEI, USEA) license the competition, get paid licensing fees and ensure event quality and safety standards. But they do not provide any direct financial support to competitions. There may be some governing body sponsors who indirectly sponsor some aspects of certain competitions, but the organizer is expected to be responsible for all fundraising. To the best of my knowledge, USET raises funds for rider grants to get to the Olympics and other podium events, but doesn’t fundraise for venue or event grants.
  • Spectator Revenue. It is very costly to attract spectators to low-level competitions, just because it is much more exciting for a parent to watch a kid go around a low-level cross-country course than for a spectator with many choices of what to do with their weekend time. On the other hand, a 5* like the Land Rover Kentucky attracts up to 80,000 spectators for its “Best Weekend All Year” for a simple reason. Even on a typical rainy April weekend, 5* cross-country is exciting, they want to be there to watch, they are willing to pay for a $40 ticket or more, some will pay a $800 VIP ticket, and they all show up to buy cool unique items at the vendor fair. How much funding does this provide?Hard to know exactly but let’s say 40,000 tickets at $40. That’s a cool $1.6 million.Probably a lot more, that’s just my estimate. Yes, it costs money to print tickets, have the technology to deliver them, etc. But it’s a significant source of funding of the rest of the big, expensive production. This year, with no spectators allowed? Poof. Gone. All of that ticket income. All of that VIP income. Along with the vendor fees who would sell to those spectators, or the sponsors who only sponsor because of the live spectator presence.
  • Gambling Income. This has been the reason why horse racing has been able to continue running big spectator-less events like the Kentucky Derby, Breeders Cup or the Pegasus, with multi-million purses and production costs. This is not an available option for three-day eventing competitions of any level.
  • Other Sales. If the venue or event organizer have something else of value to sell, perhaps land parcels, hotel rooms, other event entries, year-round boarding, or other expensive items, they may be able to take a loss as a marketing cost to reach potential buyers of those big ticket items. This may apply to venues like Tryon or WEC, but is not applicable to an organizer like EEI who needs to raise funding to run one 5* per year. Yes, there is a movement on social media for that type of venue to run the 5* this year. Does it benefit the sport overall to put EEI out of business completely, after all it has done for the sport for decades? Riders need diverse venues, not just one or two that can absorb losses because they have other things to sell.
  • Donations. In the world of political campaigns, donations are the main source of income. People expect nothing in return other than the hope that their chosen candidate will win the right to represent them. In the world of sports events, donations are not so common. People expect some form of direct value back, either the ability to compete, the marketing value, or the right to spend time with friends next to the Lady of the Lake complex, wondering who will clear the big jumps and who will end up floating in the lake with their inflatable vest. This year, the willingness of eventers to donate could make or break events until times are back to normal. What will it take to get to a $750,000 goal? 750 eventers who give $1,000 each, the cost of less than one month of full board for one horse. Or 3,000 eventers who give $250 each, the approximate cost of hay for a month for one horse. Or 15,000 eventing fans who give $50 each, about the cost of one ticket to the 5* that they would instead watch on a livestream this year. Among a mix of bigger donations by those who can and smaller donations by others, the grassroots movement can get it done and keep the springtime tradition going this year so it can happen again in the future.

Whose problem is it if the 5* doesn’t run, or if it doesn’t run in Kentucky? Is it just the 5* riders who may not have a place to go play in the April Kentucky mud? No. Everyone in eventing loses if the 5* doesn’t run. 5* riders and owners pay big money for younger horses if they know they
can take them to elite events. Little girls watching 5* events are more inspired to show up at the barn to muck stalls if they have 5* visions to dream of at night. Fans watching 5* events may turn into a competitor, owner or a sponsor. Properly prepared 5* competitors provide national pride in their sport when they compete in big events from the Olympics to WEG and Pan Am Games. It isn’t just the elites in the sport who benefit from the Land Rover Kentucky 5* happening in 2021. It’s all of us with any connection to the sport.

Please, go ahead and support EEI by donating before 11:59 pm on Sunday, February 7th. They need $750,000 to make it happen. According to posts by Sara Kozumplik-Murphy who is leading the fundraising charge in eventing, there is already about $200,000 in private donations secured. EEI has promised to make 2021 donations optionally refundable if they cannot reach the fundraising goal by Sunday. Erik and I just donated, because the Ocala Jockey Club understands both what it takes to run a big event, and the huge value to the eventing community, the Kentucky Horse Park and to the Kentucky community. It isn’t just a donation, it is an investment in the sport. Donate. Be part of the solution.

[Link to the EEI donation page and refundable donation form]

Support What You Wish to Keep

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class, winners of the 2019 Kentucky Three-Day Event. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Last week I read about question marks surrounding the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and the realities of keeping that big boat afloat. Coincidentally, on the same day, I spent the afternoon listening to the Southern California equestrian community come together over a Zoom call in Del Mar, in an effort to save the Del Mar Horsepark from being shut down as millions of dollars are needed to deal with a regulatory environmental issue. I wanted to offer some thoughts to the eventing community about the importance of supporting what it wishes to keep. 

As an owner and breeder in the horse racing industry and the owner of the Ocala Jockey Club, we have found ourselves in the epicenter of some significant crises in the equine world over the last few years. Remember watching the video from the Lilac Fire at the San Luis Rey Downs facility in Southern California when fire raged and grooms opened stalls so that horses had a chance to survive? Three of our horses were in that group of horses released to run. Thankfully they survived, but it took us three days to find two of them while we wondered if they were one of the charred unidentifiable remains or if they were among the lucky ones rescued at one of the nearby facilities.

Remember the Mercer County, Kentucky, horse neglect case? One of the two horses in worst shape there, Z Camelot, was a horse we sold in utero when we sold his dam in foal. 

Remember the Santa Anita horse fatality crisis which almost brought the entire  racing industry to its knees? Battle of Midway, the Breeders’ Cup champion horse whose  breakdown at Santa Anita attracted the main negative spotlight, was a horse we bred, sold as a yearling and remained close to as he raced for his owners. 

Remember the event where three top eventing riders were cited for drug violations and suspended for a year, even though they were later cleared with medical exemptions? That was at our event at OJC. Remember the many 4* and 5* events that were cancelled due to Covid-19 last year? OJC was one of them. 

If you are in California, you may have heard about Del Mar Horsepark closing down. That’s where our daughter goes to show most often, as it’s only a few miles from where we live. It’s been a long couple of years even before 2020, and these are just just the tip of the iceberg we have had the joy to be part of.  

I have learned much from these crises, and from others that I watched but didn’t have anything to do with. I have sat through numerous regulatory meetings for the California Horse Racing Board, listening to animal rights activists vowing to shut racing down. I have met with leaders of  various racing industry groups. I watched a fledgling grassroots horse racing support group come to life to counter the 20,000 negative horse racing media pieces. 

I was interviewed by mainstream media like USA Today and ESPN about the Santa Anita crisis and learned how difficult it is to explain the realities of life with horses to journalists who know nothing about what goes in one side of a horse and comes out the other. In the questions of the reporters and the accusations by animal rights activists, I have learned that, while people in horse sports live in a bubble where horses are all they know and friends live in the same bubble, most of the world has no clue about this beautiful yet tough world. Who better to protect that life than those who benefit from it? 

I have also learned that participants in horse sports themselves know too little about the many moving parts and enormous financial and human resources needed to make horse events  happen, especially those serving the high performance end of the game that rely on fundraising to balance the books and volunteers to fill important roles with. 

The main thing I learned is that problems get solved when people come together to support solutions. When people are too busy, complain more than support, or simply look the other way when organizers need help, equestrian events and venues are too easily lost. Especially the family-run community-based events that don’t have the backing of wealthy benefactors who can support events for fun rather than to support their families. But the current challenges facing the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day event prove that no event, no matter how big or beloved or long-running, is immune from being vulnerable. 

As a country, we were all looking forward to putting 2020 behind us. So far, less than two weeks into it, we have faced an insurrection in the US Capitol and the Covid-19 crisis still looks to get worse before it hopefully gets better with vaccines down the road. But even though the first two weeks of 2021 already feel like a year since 2020 rolled by, maybe it’s still OK to talk about New Year’s resolutions. For the eventing community, I urge it to resolve to support the events and venues it wishes to keep competing at.  

As I listened to the Del Mar community this afternoon eagerly talk about how to come together to raise the $6-$8 million necessary to resolve environmental regulatory issues in order to stay open, it reminded me of the thousands of people in the Del Mar equestrian community who helped the equine and human victims of the Lilac Fire, the many in the racing industry who donated and helped with the Mercer County neglect case horses, or the people who showed up with pro-racing placards on the other side of the street from the animal rights activists calling  for an end to racing. It doesn’t take much for something of value to get lost, and it takes the passion, resources and time of many to keep it. I have been inspired by the resilience of our community, and there will be more needed as we work to rebuild. 

Whether it’s a five-star in need of donations or a local event organizer wondering how to keep going past the pandemic, know that you have the opportunity to play a role in whether cherished events and venues are there for you when you want to compete at them. Support with your talents, time, or treasure. If possible, support with all three. When you get to ride at your favorite event that is still there because you helped it out, you will be glad you did.  

Best of luck with all your goals in 2021.