The 2010 World Equestrian Games kicked off yesterday in Kentucky with a star-studded opening ceremony featuring Muhammad Ali, Wynonna Judd, opera star Denyce Graves, and Irish tenor Ronan Tynan. While the WEG are considered on par with—or even more important than—the Olympics for equestrianism, they don't have quite the visibility among outsiders that other international sports competitions do.
Of the 10 disciplines recognized by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the governing body of equestrian sports, eight are currently included in the World Equestrian Games: Dressage, Driving, Endurance, Eventing, Jumping, Para-Dressage, Reining, and Vaulting. (The other two, horseball and tent pegging, hold independent championships.) Before the WEG, there “was never a chance for everyone to compete together,” since only a few of the sports are included at the Olympics.
Competing at the 2010 WEG are approximately 900 athletes and 1,300 horses from 58 countries. One of the competitors, Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan, is almost 70 years old. Known at home as “Oldie Idol,” Hoketsu debuted as a show jumper 46 years ago at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. His second Olympics appearance wasn't for another 44 years, when he competed in Beijing at the age of 67.
The first World Equestrian Games were held in 1990 in Stockholm and were arranged by Prince Philip, the then-president of FEI. In addition to starting the WEG, Prince Philip is also known in the equestrian world for the sport of combined driving. He was instrumental in the development of the sport, which involves four horses pulling a carriage.
This year is a year of firsts for the WEG. It is the first time the event is being held outside of Europe (the previous locations were Sweden, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Germany), the first time that the championships for eight FEI events will be held at one location, the first time athletes with disabilities will be participating (in the newly added Para-Dressage discipline), and the first time the WEG have a title sponsor (Alltech, a Kentucky-based animal health and nutrition group).
Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of Jordan has been “shaking things up” at FEI as the current president of the federation—so much so that two people are opposing her in the next election, making it “the first time an incumbent federation president has been challenged,” according to the New York Times. However, her personal life is just as interesting than the controversial things she's done as FEI president. She's the only woman in Jordan licensed to drive heavy trucks (she earned the license when she was 19), and it's not just for show—she used to drive her horses' tractor-trailer around Europe herself for competitions. Her father, King Hussein, enjoyed hearing about her stops at trucker cafés and the latest jokes about the royal family that she would learn on the road.
The 2010 World Equestrian Games continue through October 10, 2010.