Lexington, VA – May 13, 2014 – John Nicholson, the former executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park, has joined the management team of the Virginia Horse Center Foundation (VHCF) as a consultant. Nicholson’s 17-year tenure represented the longest-serving executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park in its 35-year history, and he served at its helm during its greatest period of growth – garnering world-wide recognition for the facility.
“We are very excited that John is joining our team,” said Ernie Oare, the president of VHCF. “We identified him in March as someone with the necessary background to play a key role in our ongoing plans to bring the Horse Center back to local, industry and financial prominence.”
“It is a privilege to be a part of one of the most prestigious equestrian facilities in North America. I am very excited to be working with Ernie Oare, Glenn Petty and the entire leadership team of the Virginia Horse Center. It is an honor to be working with people of this caliber. I believe we will be successful in our efforts, and I’m optimistic about the future of the Virginia Horse Center,” said Nicholson.
Nicholson retired April 30 following one of the Horse Park’s signature events – the Rolex Three Day Event – and traveled to Lexington, Virginia this week to meet with Oare and interim executive director Glenn Petty.
“I’m looking forward to working with John and having access to his wealth of knowledge about managing a similar facility. He has already been helpful by simply sharing his wide range of experiences. When he agreed to join the VHCF team, I felt like a coach who had landed an all-star recruit,” Petty said.
Nicholson, and his consulting firm Equine Facility Management (EFM), will be active in VHCF’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors in operating the Horse Center and in executing the Center’s short-term and long-term business plans. Nicholson will also pay a key role in conducting the search for the new permanent Executive Director and other needed personnel.
Nicholson had been in charge of the Lexington, Kentucky facility during its rise to prominence which included hosting the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games and the prestigious Rolex Three Day Event. The World Equestrian Games culminated a decade-long effort to plan and recruit the international event which had never been held outside of Europe. Ultimately, the events were televised internationally to 500 million viewers and created an economic impact of $202.5 million. The Rolex remains the only four star three day event held in the United States.
Under Nicholson’s leadership, the Horse Park has been steadily transformed into one of the finest equestrian competition facilities in the world. Nicholson has overseen its expansion to include $80 million in capital improvement projects, including the 5,500-seat Alltech Arena; the 7,300-seat Rolex Stadium; new stabling barns; a new $10 million, 8,500-square-foot museum wing; and numerous new buildings within the park’s National Horse Center – a collection of national, regional and state equine organizations.
Nineteen of the current 33 National Horse Center tenants have relocated their national headquarters to the park or expanded their offices during Nicholson’s tenure.
In addition to growing the park, Nicholson concentrated on improving its public perception and increasing private sector support.
Highlights of Nicholson’s 17 years at the park included the exhibits “Imperial China: The Art of the Horse in Chinese History,” “All the Queen’s Horses” and “A Gift from the Desert.”
Nicholson’s major accomplishments also include recruiting the prestigious National Horse Show to relocate to the Horse Park from its traditional home of Madison Square Garden in New York City.
He recounts among his favorite memories the funeral of retired champion racehorse John Henry and the successful effort to have the leading money winning racehorse and multiple Horse of the Year Cigar retired to the Hall of Champions at the Park.
In 2008, Nicholson’s leadership led to the park receiving an Eclipse Award, the highest honor in the Thoroughbred industry. In 2010, he received the prestigious Equine Industry Vision Award from the American Horse Publications, an award that recognizes outstanding leadership, creativity and meritorious contributions in the equine industry, and he accepted the United State Equestrian Foundation’s Sallie Busch Wheeler Trophy on behalf of the Horse Park for distinguished service in equestrian sport. In 2011, Nicholson was named one of the Chronicle of the Horse magazine’s “Overall Horsemen of the Year.”
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About the Virginia Horse Center Foundation:
The Virginia Horse Center Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization which owns and operates the Virginia Horse Center. The Foundation is proud to be a part of the Rockbridge community, an asset to the state’s equine economy, and a resource to the East-Atlantic competition circuit. The Virginia Horse Center stands at the forefront of Virginia’s $1.2B equine economy. Founded to promote all disciplines of equestrian sport, its 600 acres of picturesque grounds hold a 4,000 seat coliseum, eight barns to accommodate 1,200 horses, 19 show rings including two large indoor arenas, cross-country and combined carriage driving courses, campgrounds, and full catering and café services. The VHCF also hosts many non-equine events like dog shows, BMX, agriculture programs and the Rockbridge Regional Fair & Farm Show.
Emily Riden for Phelps Media Group, Inc. International