Kentucky Horse Park Chief John Nicholson to Retire April 30

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John Nicholson.
John Nicholson.

LEXINGTON, Kentucky, Jan. 15, 2014–John Nicholson who oversaw a rebuilding of the Kentucky Horse Park to host the World Equestrian Games in 2010 and a finalist to stage the 2018 Games on Wednesday announced his retirement as executive director April 30.

John has run the horse park for 17 years, longer than any executive director in its 35-year history, and won worldwide acclaim for the quality of the facility that hosted the eight international horse sports of dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining, vaulting and para-dressage all within walking distance of each other.  It was the first time the event, held once every four years since its creation in 1990, was held outside Europe.

The horse park also stages the annual Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, a global top-tier competition.

“With our recent 35th anniversary,” John said, “I started to think about my own history with the park and all that we have accomplished during this tenure.

“It has been a difficult decision to consider retirement because I love the park and highly value the team of people I work with, but after 17 years, this is the right time for the park and for me personally. I am looking forward to exploring new opportunities.

“I leave knowing that the park is now a serious and relevant player in equestrian sport around the world, and that it provides an international calling card for Kentucky, not just in attracting and hosting major events, but also acting as an important cultural and economic driver for the Commonwealth.”

Gov. Steve Beshear said, “John’s leadership has made the horse park an international destination for visitors across the globe. As president of its foundation, he helped make the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games a tremendous success for Kentucky.”

Under John’s leadership, the Kentucky Horse Park has a long list of notable achievements, crowned by the 2010 WEG. He also served on the board of the World Games 2010 Foundation which organized the event, televised internationally to 500 million viewers, and had an economic impact of $201.5 million on the state’s economy.

He oversaw $80 million in capital improvements, including the 5,500-seat indoor Alltech Arena; the 7,300-seat Rolex Stadium; new stabling; a new $10 million, 8,500-square-foot museum wing and, numerous new buildings within the park’s National Horse Center, the center of several 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 John’s tenure, including the governing body for most equestrian sport in the country, the United States Equestrian Federation.

In 1997, the park hosted one of the largest exhibitions ever to come to the United States from China. Stipulating that no tax dollars be used to fund the project, he led efforts to raise $1.2 million from the private sector to fund the exhibition, “Imperial China: The Art of the Horse in Chinese History,” valued at valued at $100 million.

Other international exhibitions followed, including, “All the Queen’s Horses,” in 2003, and “A Gift from the Desert,” in 2010.

“The park is at the crossroads of a remarkable past and an extremely promising future,” John said. “I am proud of the legacy I leave and am pleased to participate in a great and model transition, which will be the latest example of how the park has always tried to conduct business in a forward-thinking and exemplary manner.”