Apr 25, 2020

Behind the Scenes with LRK3DE Organizers Lee Carter and Vanessa Coleman

By Claire Kelley - USEA Staff
Andrew Nicholson and Quimbo with Equestrian Events, Inc. Executive Director Lee Carter and Arthur Pottier, groom for Quimbo at the 2013 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. RedBayStock.com Photo.

Did you know that 80 percent of the attendance at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event comes from outside the state of Kentucky? Did you also know that Equestrian Events Inc. (EEI) is a nonprofit organization that has organized the event since the start in 1978? Learn more about the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and the organization that puts it all together from Lee Carter and Vanessa Coleman of EEI.

USEA: What is your primary role for the Kentucky Three-Day Event?

Lee: I joined EEI in April of 2012 as Executive Director (ED). I came from outside the equestrian industry, having previously spent the majority of my career in the hospitality and tourism industry. As ED, I work closely with every staff person to make sure we meet the goals of our organization. These goals are set by our Board of Directors. Our 26-member Board of Directors has been very supportive and set for a great vision for our future. What many people don’t realize is that EEI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We pride ourselves in giving back to our local community, and to the larger sport of eventing.

Vanessa: As the Director of Competition, I am responsible for all things related to the competition and I coordinate with my co-workers any pieces that interact with competition such as sponsor activation on field of play. I also oversee obtaining medical services for the competition, spectators, and volunteers (1,800). We have two fabulous Volunteer Coordinators who work with our 35 amazing Chief Stewards. The Chiefs gather their respective groups and the Volunteer Coordinators support them. They also oversee all of the tickets, parking passes, swag, and lunch tickets that the volunteers receive.

Lee Carter, Executive Director of EEI. RedBayStock.com Photo.

USEA: How long have you been with EEI and involved with the Kentucky Three-Day Event?

Lee: April 2012.

Vanessa: I was a volunteer from 1984 to 2008, and then became a staff member in November 2008.

Vanessa Coleman (left), Director of Competitions for EEI. RedBayStock.com Photo.

USEA: How did you become interested in working the biggest three-day event in North America?

Lee: As a Kentucky native, and living in central Kentucky, I was always aware of the Kentucky Three-Day Event, but didn’t know much about it. After Jane Atkinson’s retirement, I came across a local advertisement for the position. I felt I had the necessary non-profit and events background for the organization but was obviously lacking the equestrian knowledge. When speaking with the search committee, I focused on the fact that the Kentucky Three-Day Event was, in fact, a major tourist attraction for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. With over 80 percent of our attendance coming from outside the state, they had a significant impact on the local economy. I believed then, as I do now, that if we continued to produce a top-level competition (as we do), then we could also enhance our non-competition elements in order to attract a wider, more diverse audience. At the end of the day, we want each of our constituents (competitors, volunteers, spectators, sponsors, etc.) to walk away having had a great experience and anxious to return next year.

Vanessa: I was a member of Keeneland Pony Club and we were asked to volunteer for the event. My first assignments were dressage score runner and mounted steward. We also did drills for Sunday opening ceremonies and carried flags. Then Jane Atkinson asked my mother Helen to run the horse inspection, which she did for nearly 30 years, and I volunteered for her as well as we both volunteered for awards.

USEA: When was the very first time you attended the Kentucky Three-Day Event?

Lee: 2012.

Vanessa: The first time I volunteered [in] 1984.

"The international horses all go together into a separate barn, also with 24-hour security. This barn has to be disinfected and then inspected by the USDA prior to their arrival," said Vanessa Coleman. Pictured is Cooley Master Class with groom Jessica Mckie. RedBayStock.com Photo.

USEA: Can you share any ‘behind the scenes’ facts about the Kentucky Three-Day Event?

Lee: Again, we are a nonprofit – a lot of people don’t realize this. Our organization was formed to run the World Championships in 1978 that were held at the Kentucky Horse Park. From there, we started running the Kentucky Three-Day Event. We employ eight staff year-round, but then add another four in seasonal positions, along with numerous interns and contractors. It really does take a village.

Since 2011, EEI has gifted nearly $750,000 to organizations. This has been through either their volunteering at our event or just a benevolent gift on EEI’s part. The EEI Board decision to add the Kentucky Invitational Grand Prix and manage events like the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) was part of a long-term strategy to diversify the organization and take advantage of the resources we currently have in place.

Vanessa: The steps that are taken in the interest of safety are vast. For example: control for cross-country – everyone knows we have the broadcast as well as the CCTV around the park in various places and on the Jumbotrons. I am not sure everyone knows though that it is mandatory for a CCI5*-L event to have it for the riders at the start and finish (in the rider hospitality tent) as well as in the Control Tent. These TVs show the feed from every camera that is on the cross-country course. The riders are able to get real time feedback by watching in the hospitality tent. In Control, there is at least one Ground Jury member (usually the President), medical for horse and rider, commentators and their assistants, the Controller, as well as [course designer] Derek [di Grazia], other officials, and myself that are in and out depending on how the day is going. We have a telephone line directly to the TV broadcast truck that can replay anything on a separate monitor.

In addition to the Vet Delegate, Assistant Vet Delegate, Veterinary Control Officer, and Treating Veterinarians, we also have approximately 25 fully equipped veterinarians around the cross-country course and warm-up.

The University of Kentucky sponsors medical services, and they are there for the competition as well as for spectators. Their services are in addition to Mediport and the Air Methods medical helicopter that is on grounds on Saturday.

All and only competition horses are stabled in the fenced, 24-hour secured, FEI stabling. All other horses, including non-competing horses, go into regular stabling. A photo ID is required to get into FEI stabling and the gates are monitored by security 24 hours per day. Riders are also limited to the number of badges they will receive for their support crew. People are constantly trying to sneak in and if they are caught, they will be escorted from the grounds. I am not sure everyone understands that the guidelines are strict for the competitor’s protection. Additionally, if we were to have an incident, we need to be able to say who was granted access and what athlete they are representing.

The international horses – the horses that come in from Europe specifically – they all go together into a separate barn, also with 24-hour security. This barn has to be disinfected and then inspected by the USDA prior to their arrival. As well the USDA will provide daily checks to ensure that everything is being handled correctly. The reason they are managed this way is so that they can return home without having to go through a long quarantine. As with the domestic FEI stabling, only those granted permission by the EEI will receive a photo ID for entry into this stabling.

CEM (Contagious Equine Metritis) Waiver horses - mares and stallions - that come from Europe must have veterinary oversight every time they leave the fenced enclosure [which means] someone, either the vet that is overseeing them or someone the vet appoints, must sign them in and out of stabling with law enforcement that is at the gate and follow them the entire time they are out. This includes hacking, hand walking, grazing, and competing. The vet services for this barn are donated.

Lee Carter (far left), Stewart Perry (second from left), and Vanessa Coleman (third from left) with Oliver Townend (center) in the sponsor tent of the 2019 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. RedBayStock.com Photo.

USEA: How has the competition changed over the years?

Vanessa: To me, the most obvious change is the classic long format with steeplechase and roads and tracks being removed.

The venue has changed a lot – the year I ran dressage scores, the dressage arena was where the covered arena (LRK3DE Trade Fair) is now. The main arena used to be grass with a sunken road feature in it on the Rolex Stadium side. Cross-country ran through the now Alltech Arena and parking lot, and they crossed the road via ‘Jenny Lane Crossing’ [which is] a very cool grass topped combination that some horses banked and others jumped entirely. The current ‘Mars Sustainability Bay’ water jump used to be the iconic ‘Lexington Bank’ complex.

With technology advancements for the past few years, access to scores has vastly improved. For example, not only are the scores live, but you can also go online to the leaderboard and click on good marks for dressage. There you can see every score from all three judges for every movement. Additionally, the master jump scores are available live, above the leaderboard, as the horses are going cross-country and also for show jumping.

USEA: What are some of your favorite memories from the Kentucky Three-Day Event?

Vanessa: Every year there is absolutely nothing like hearing the horses gallop by and the crowds cheering when a pair has successfully completed the Land Rover Head of the Lake or really, any other obstacle [on the cross-country course]. This is the same feeling when the first pair and every pair, cross the finish.

[Also], when the crowds sing with Dr. McCorvey on Sunday - having [over] 20,000 people doing this is quite amazing, and while it might be fairly common at ‘regular’ sporting events, you don’t see it at horse shows very often, if ever. [Lastly], the crowds cheering for every rider on Sunday.

One year the storms were so bad we had to run the horse inspection in the Big Barn’s barn aisle! [I’m] not sure how much of a favorite memory this was, but the crowds were huge and everyone piled into the barn.

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Dr. Everett McCorvey sings the US National Anthem at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event Presented by Land Rover in Lexington, Kentucky. Presentation of Colors provided by the Kentucky Horse Park Mounted Police. RedBayStock.com Photo.

USEA: Can you share a little on what people can expect for next year?

Vanessa: This year was going to add some fun new elements to the cross-country including the beautifully carved fox jump that Tyson Rementer created as well as a different take on some existing ones. However, with this year being unprecedented, we really won’t know how the next 12 months will play out. However, with Derek’s vision and Mick Costello leading the team of builders, I am sure it will be amazing as always!

USEA: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event?

Vanessa: We have the best volunteers. I cannot express my gratitude enough for them and the time and energy they put into every single detail. They are invaluable, experts in their area, and dedicated.

We do everything in our power to make LRK3DE the ‘Best Weekend All Year’ for everyone that is attending, and we look forward to 2021 being the ‘Best Ever Best Weekend All Year’ LRK3DE!

Interested in the USEA’s coverage related to the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event? Click here.

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