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John Nicholson

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John Nicholson Named CEO of Virginia Horse Center

Written by: Emily Riden
Client: Virginia Horse Center Foundation
Release Date: 2015-04-08

Lexington, VA – April 8, 2015 – The Virginia Horse Center Foundation Board of Directors has ratified John Nicholson as the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Virginia Horse Center.

Following his highly successful 17-year tenure as the Executive Director of the Kentucky Horse Park, Nicholson joined the Virginia Horse Center management team in May 2014, first as a consultant and most recently as the interim CEO, before officially assuming the CEO office.

For the past 10 months, Nicholson has been an active force in executing the Virginia Horse Center’s short-term and long-term business plans and in facilitating the launch of a new era for the Lexington, Virginia facility. Together with Virginia Horse Center Foundation President and Chairman, Ernie Oare, Nicholson has been instrumental in assembling a ‘dream team’ of staff to continue the recent turn-around efforts for the facility.   

“It was clearly identified about a year ago that if the direction at the Horse Center was not changed, the ship would sink,” said Oare. “We now have a team of unbelievable people, including Leigh Anne Claywell as the Chief Operating Officer and John Nicholson as the Chief Executive Officer, to help steer the ship in the correct direction and into a bright future. Nicholson brings to the table incredible experience and expertise in this capacity that is completely unmatched.”

Nicholson added, “I’m honored to have been asked to increase my involvement and leadership of the Horse Center as the full-time CEO. Over the past year, the management team has made significant strides in reversing the challenges faced by the Horse Center, and this is just the beginning. I’m confident in a bright future.”

Prior to making the shift from Lexington, Kentucky to Lexington, Virginia, Nicholson led the Kentucky Horse Park during its rise to prominence on the global equestrian stage, which included hosting the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games and procuring the prestigious National Horse Show.

Hosting the World Equestrian Games was the culmination of a decade-long effort to plan and recruit the international event that had previously 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.

Under Nicholson’s leadership, the Horse Park steadily transformed into one of the finest equestrian competition facilities in the world. Nicholson oversaw its expansion that included approximately $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 that are home to an impressive collection of national, regional and state equine organizations.

In addition to expanding the park, Nicholson concentrated on improving its public perception and increasing private sector support.

In 2008, under Nicholson’s leadership, the park received the 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 B. 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.”   

“Similar to the incredible transformation that John headed at the Kentucky Horse Park, we strive to transform the Virginia Horse Center into a first-class venue capable of hosting events the likes of the World Equestrian Games,” Oare said. “John knows, perhaps better than anyone, what it takes to get that done, and we are thrilled to have him as part of our team.”

Find out more about the Virginia Horse Center at

The Virginia Horse Center is situated on a 573-acre site with eight barns to accommodate 750 horses in permanent stabling. Indoor stabling can be increased to 1,200 horses with the use of temporary stalls. The Virginia Horse Center hosts 19 show rings, including two large arenas and a five-mile Olympic cross-country course. Four of the Virginia Horse Center barns are winterized with close access to the 4,000 seat indoor coliseum. The Virginia Horse Center is recognized for the excellent footing of its show rings and the durable construction of the concrete stalls. The Virginia Horse Center also offers camping facilities and on-site food and beverage services. Find the Horse Center online at


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