Question Marks, Dollar Signs and an Update on Kentucky Fundraising

From Team Price’s Facebook page: “We’ve donated, have you? It’s a critical event for us, for Olympic preparation and an integral competition in the world of eventing –let’s get behind Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.” Tim Price and Xacier Faer at Kentucky. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

There has been a lot of speculation about how to make the numbers add up to reverse last week’s cancellation of the 2021 Kentucky Three-Day Event — if only we could raise X amount by X date, could it still run? Whatever the outcome, it’s been a valiant effort on our community’s behalf to support an event that means so much to us all.

There’s also been a lot of confusion and armchair fiscal quarterbacking. From the outside looking in, the dollar amounts involved seem monolithic yet abstract — how much does it cost to put on an event like Kentucky, anyway? What is the revenue? What if we did this, or tried that?

Equestrian Events Inc.’s financials are actually quite transparent. Any organization with non-profit status must make its IRS Form 990s publicly available, and anyone with access to an internet search engine can find them through databases like GuideStar and ProPublica. In addition to tax filings for organizations like USEF, USEA and American Horse Trials Foundation, a number of events and venues hold classification as IRS-recognized tax-exempt organizations, including Equestrian Events Inc.

EEI has been tax-exempt through 1976, and we can view its 990s from 2001 to 2019. The most recent is for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2018 and ending Sept. 30, 2019, which included the 2019 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event as well as the Kentucky Horse Park’s inaugural year hosting the American Eventing Championships.

I’m not an accountant, nor do I have any experience running a multi-million dollar budget for a nonprofit. From my perspective, all I can tell for certain is that it’s complicated and there are a lot of moving parts. EEI has been responsive to EN’s inquiries, we’ve been listening to the feedback from the community, and after combing through the fine print of 45-page tax documents here is our take:

  • EEI is not looking to line its pockets with our donations. It has been bouncing between net losses and gains for the past 10 years, netting as much as $270k (2011) and losing as much as $336k (2017). We need to trust EEI to be a good steward of the Kentucky event, not just this year but for many years to come.
  • EEI, as with the management of any event, does not operate within a vacuum but is dependent upon communication and cooperation between all stakeholders including governing bodies of the sport. When there is a breakdown between stakeholders, it is rarely a one-way street.
  • It is time for our sport to evolve and become fluent in business models that are not solely dependent on factors like physical attendance and trade fairs but reflect a more multidimensional revenue stream. The world is changing, and the way our sport does business must change also. Especially in uncertain times, it’s important that we remain flexible and think one-step ahead. For this reason, it’s important not only to work on saving this year’s event but also on the future of the sport as a whole. What can we do to prevent this scenario from arising again next year, or the year after that? (You can read some thoughts on this from Ocala Jockey Club owner and president Pavla Nygaard here.) 
  • Finances – whether individual or belonging to an organization that represents many interests – are complex, and though it may often feel like it to so many of us, eventing is not the center of the universe. With the U.S. death toll from the Covid-19 pandemic approaching half a million and people everywhere suffering from loss of loved ones and livelihoods, the decision to donate to Kentucky has to come down to your own personal comfort level and ability.

According to the Kentucky Facebook page, the EEI Executive Committee will be meeting late today to review the efforts of the Save 2021 campaign. It posted a fundraising update at 7:30 a.m. to reflect a donation amount of $132,365. The original fundraising goal was set at $750,000. According to Sara Kozumplik Murphy, who has been heading up much of the grassroots fundraising charge, larger amounts have been pledged by a network of owners and other eventing supporters this weekend for a total of $432,000 as of this morning. In a post this morning she indicated that the fundraising deadline had been extended.

You can make your donation to Equestrian Events, Inc. by clicking here. We wish all the best for this event and will keep you posted on any further updates. Go Eventing.