The KY Classique Horse Trials run once a year on the first weekend in September at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky (Area VIII), offering Starter through Intermediate divisions. This year, KY Classique will host the Area VIII Championships for Beginner Novice through Intermediate levels as well as USEA Classic Series Beginner Novice and Novice Three-Day divisions.
The Ha’Penny Horse Trials fall event ran at the Kentucky Horse Park in early September from 1987 until the decision was made to discontinue the event ten years later in 1997. When the date became available, a team of dedicated Area VIII eventers swept in and snapped it up with the intention of taking over the date with a new event. The KY Classique Horse Trials ran for the first time in early September in 1998 and this year will celebrate its 30th anniversary.
Over the years, KY Classique has shifted from mid-September to the first weekend of the month, a date that has not been without its difficulties. “The Kentucky Classique suffered an identity crisis,” said Mary Fike, longtime organizer of the KY Classique Horse Trials. “It was sandwiched between two prominent events and was struggling for years. We knew that we needed something to help us stay viable and at the time Park Equine was looking to get into the sport in a sponsorship capacity. Dr. Park’s daughter Blake is an eventer so it was a natural evolution. The timing was right on both ends and it has been a great boon to the event and I hope the event has represented Park Equine well. We’re very happy to have them on board.” Park Equine came on board as the title sponsor of the event in 2016.
KY Classique has been hosting the Area VIII Championships for all levels since 2013 and was selected to be the home for the Area Championships when the Area was looking to move the championships for all levels to one venue. “We were poised as the right time of year and with the facilities at the Kentucky Horse Park and the way we structured the event it was a good fit,” Fike explained. “We were able to make sure that all the championship divisions finish with show jumping so they get mounted awards. The Area Championships are great fun and have grown exponentially since we put them all together as one competition and Cathy Wieschhoff has been the spearhead of that.”
No event happens without the support of the volunteers, and KY Classique’s volunteer coordinator, Lynn Davis, has been a driving force behind the team of volunteers that make KY Classique possible. “She works very hard to make sure [our volunteers] are well-fed and watered, that the communications to them are clear, and she greets them at every shift change. She is invaluable.”
Fike described Beth Henson as the “General Factotum” of the KY Classique Horse Trials, taking care of anything and everything that needs doing. “We couldn’t do [this event] without her,” insisted Fike. “She takes care of things like ordering the radios and the lunches, she prints the orders of go, she takes care of hospitality. She’s a tremendous help.” Erin Murphy, KY Classique’s secretary, is a new addition to the team and is a protégé of Debbie Hinkle, who has served as show secretary for Fike’s events since the 1980s.
The combination of experienced team members providing support and mentorship and newer team members bringing fresh energy and a new perspective to the team has proven to be a winning recipe for KY Classique. “It’s a team that has longevity; we have some new faces, but a lot of the people have come back year after year after year. It makes it fun and reliable and you know you can depend on the team, which is comforting to me. It also makes it easy for new volunteers to volunteer in new positions and grow into more extensive roles – they have people to show them the ropes.”
When people hear the name “Kentucky Horse Park,” the competition that most frequently comes to an eventer’s mind is the Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI4* held at the Horse Park every spring. But the Kentucky Horse Park is home to seven other events on the Area VIII calendar, including KY Classique. Fike, who serves as the course designer for Starter through Preliminary, shared that permanent cross-country constructions are a bit of a group effort at the Horse Park. “Anything that you put in the ground permanently at the Horse Park becomes available to any competition or organizer who needs to use it,” she explained. “There is a gentleman’s agreement that you don’t alter them without a collective agreement. There is a cross-country committee that represents all the interests and organizers, so if you have a major building project we usually go through those channels to make sure we’re all in agreement.”
In addition to the option to add permanent additions to the cross-country courses at the Horse Park, Fike also shared that each event keeps their own stash of portable cross-country fences to create the courses for their event. “Contrary to popular believe, the Horse Park doesn’t own [our portable fences]; those are all privately owned and built by the event,” she said. “We’re given a two- to three- week window to set the courses and then usually those jumps are all picked up by the Wednesday after the event.” While it may sound like quite a bit of extra work, Fike explained that it actually allows them to really mix up the tracks for each event, keeping things fresh for the horses and the riders. David O’Connor is serving as the cross-country course designer this year for the Intermediate and the Preliminary Championship tracks alongside Fike.
This year KY Classique will make a return to its roots by hosting Beginner Novice and Novice Classic Series Three-Day divisions for the first time. “We tried to think of something that we could do to help keep the event viable and knowing that we know how to host Classic Series events, we thought it would be a great thing to offer.” IEA Horse Trials hosts the only other Novice Three-Day in Area VIII and KY Classique will be the only Area VIII event to host the new Beginner Novice Three-Day this year. Taking on the Classic Series Three-Day divisions this year has required Fike to reevaluate the schedule they usually follow to allow time for endurance day, and they had to wheel out a new set of tracks for phases A and C, the roads and tracks phases.
“I think the strength of the KY Classique is that it is an extension of a long tradition of an event on that date at the Horse Park; Ha’Penny was always a huge favorite in Area VIII,” said Fike. “I also think we have always tried to give the divisions and the levels that help the Area. When there was no FEI two-star [in Area VIII], we ran a two-star. I think we really try to help the riders in our area and the surrounding areas get the levels that they need. I look forward to working with all the people that come together to make the event possible. They are super great people and I always feel energized from working with really good people.”
For the next two years, the USEA American Eventing Championships will be taking over KY Classique’s date on the calendar to host riders from all over the country for the national championships. Mary Fike and her team at KYEvents will be working in partnership with Equestrian Events, Inc. (EEI) to host the championships over Labor Day weekend at the Kentucky Horse Park. The Jump Start Horse Trials will host the Area VIII Championships during that time at their event in early October. “Vanessa Coleman and I have been working hard on a lot of the little details and we both are having a really good time doing it,” said Fike. “It has been fun creating something new and a little different. We’re both really excited about it.”
What would Fike most like eventers to know about coming to compete at the KY Classique Horse Trials? “Despite it feeling like a large event at a huge venue, it’s actually an event put on by eventers and people who love the sport. It is done for the love of the sport and we hope that riders know that we want them to have a good weekend.”
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