25 Sep 2010

Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2010 - Opening Speech

Your Royal Highnesses, Governor and First Lady Beshear, Mayor Newberry, Competitors, Equestrian Supporters from all around the world, Citizens of Lexington, As President of the Federation Equestre Internationale, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to the Alltech FEI 2010 World Equestrian Games. In Kentucky, we stand at the edge of what was once the great frontier. Brave settlers came to this wilderness outpost through narrow trails over the mountains that separated the civilized East from a vast, unknown continent. Some came on foot. The lucky ones came on horseback. From here, they set off to explore, to conquer and to grow a nation. And later, as the land was tamed, Americans found more reasons to give thanks for their horses: For pulling wagons. For plowing fields. For taking crops to market and delivering merchandise from town. For providing a link to the wider world. For the wild mustangs that still roam in parts of the American West.

Were it not for the horse — for his power and strength, for his majesty and friendship, for his vital role in exploring and taming this continent — we would read a very different story of America.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky is an important part of that story. For here, and not just on the first Saturday in May, our equine friend is a cherished part of life. Few places in this world so tightly embrace the majesty of the horse. Nowhere else in this world can you find, the unbridled spirit of Kentucky.

Over the next 16 days, we will see some of the world’s best riders and some of the world’s best horses test their skills in eight distinct disciplines. And we will have the thrill of watching them in this magnificent facility, in the heart of the Bluegrass State.

This is the first time the World Equestrian Games have come to the United States, and there is no better place than the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, to open this new chapter in the history of equestrian sport, both with the Games’ US debut and the debut of Para-Equestrian Dressage as the eighth discipline.

Kentucky has a special place in the equestrian world. Kentucky has a special place in my heart.

I grew up in Amman, Jordan, a half a world away from here, but I knew Kentucky was special even as a young girl. The Black Stallion books left me with a love of horses and a fascination with the Commonwealth. I thought of Kentucky as horse heaven. I have been lucky enough to visit here many times with my family, and now I know I was right.

Over the next two weeks, the world will get a chance to share that feeling through the magic of the World Equestrian Games. This is a unique event in the world of sport. The special bond between horse and rider taps into a timeless universal connection that spans borders, genders and cultures. You can see it expressed in ancient cave paintings and in messages shared on Facebook and Twitter. The medium changes. Our hearts never do.

The FEI World Equestrian Games offer the entire world a chance to share and celebrate that special bond.

Four years ago, we met in Aachen, Germany, a center of horse sport that traces its roots to Charlemagne. Today, we are in another center of horse sport, in the New World. Competitors and spectators have come from every continent.

Thank you, Kentucky, for welcoming us to horse heaven. I know that the thousands of guests who will be visiting Kentucky to enjoy these Games will be very moved, as I have been, by your warm hospitality and breathtaking landscape. I especially want to thank the World Equestrian Games Foundation and the many volunteers who have worked so hard to make these Games a success.

All of us who participate in the Games as spectators, whether here in the arena or watching on television, cannot help but envy the riders who will demonstrate their remarkable ability in the coming days. To them I say: Congratulations.

You have reached the top of equestrian sport. You have earned the right to compete on a global stage against the very best that the world has to offer. I know you will represent our sport well, without seeking unfair advantage — both human and equine — and with respect for your fellow athletes. If you do that, you will all leave here as winners, regardless of the final standings.

Your passion, your determination and your spirit are inspiring. We all wish you the best as your pursue your dreams at these Games. This is an exciting and historic moment in the long history of horse sport. We are about to open a new window to the world. For the first time, the World Equestrian Games have crossed an ocean to bring the best of our sport to another continent. We are witnessing a new beginning that will help spread the magic of horse sport and inspire young riders to aim for the top.

If these Games can do that — and I am sure they will — they will have been a great success.

And now, it is the greatest honor for me to say, the words I know you have all been waiting for…I declare the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Open.