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John Nicholson addresses the group at the Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting held Monday, June 22

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Virginia Horse Center Blue Ribbon Task Force Talks Leadership, Community, Finances and Future at June Meeting

Written by: Emily Riden
Client: Virginia Horse Center Foundation
Release Date: 2015-06-26

Lexington, VA – June 26, 2015 – The Virginia Horse Center Blue Ribbon Task Force met for the third time on Monday, June 22, in the Appomattox Mezzanine overlooking the Horse Center’s Anderson Coliseum.

Made up of Rockbridge County residents, local equestrians, business owners and members of the local government, the Blue Ribbon Task Force was created to gather feedback and ideas from those whom the Virginia Horse Center regularly interacts with and influences. The Blue Ribbon Task Force has already been influential in helping to shape decisions made by the Virginia Horse Center management team, and on Monday, the Task Force gathered for an update on the direction of the Horse Center and for an opportunity to voice additional input.

“As you all certainly know, this has been a ride, a real ride, from January of 2013 to now,” Virginia Horse Center Foundation Board President Ernie Oare said in his meeting opening address. “This group certainly knows where we were. This group was recruited to help us get where we are now, and this group is going to continue to be recruited to help us get further down the road. Many of the constructive criticisms that have come out of this group are exactly why we are getting somewhere.”

Oare spoke to the transformation that the Virginia Horse Center has already begun to undergo over the course of the past year – a transformation largely made possible by the implementation of a brand new management team. Oare introduced several of the new key players, including but not limited to Chief Executive Officer John Nicholson, Chief Operations Officer Leigh Anne Claywell, and the newly hired development firm, West Avenue Associates.

“That’s the dream team. We’re really dressed up, and we’re ready to go,” Oare said. “Nobody said this was easy. Our competition is sure not standing still. We’ve got lots of competition in this business, and they’re doing a good job. We have to be sharp. This is a team that can produce. Anybody that’s in the business, our competitors, when they understand what our team is, they’ll realize we really are the competition.”

Following a brief address from Harry Warner Jr. of West Avenue Associates, the meeting was turned over to CEO John Nicholson, who spoke of the positive changes that are already underway at the Horse Center and in the community, the ongoing need for financial growth and the bright future ahead.

One of the highly notable changes of which Nicholson spoke was the improved attitude toward the Horse Center and the relationships that have been bridged or developed within the community and with local hotels, business and government officials. 

“The bridge building has begun. We’re not totally there yet, but we’re moving forward in a big way,” Nicholson said. “What some had called the ‘fortress Horse Center,’ the walls of that fortress have been knocked down, and we welcome everybody to come in. If in fact there was secrecy, we want to replace it with openness, and we want to replace mistrust with trust and guardedness with candor and pessimism with optimism. We’ve already had good examples of success as we move forward and plan for grander successes in the future.”

Part of moving the Horse Center into the future includes beginning to address deferred maintenance and major capital improvements to the facility. While this cannot happen overnight, Nicholson spoke of some of the proposed items to consider in the early stages of the capital improvement plan including ring renovation and new footing, re-examining of the water pipe infrastructure and potential well water usage, resurfacing of the roadways, painting and more.

“It took the Horse Park in Kentucky 10 years before they were awarded the World Equestrian Games. It wasn’t an overnight success. Where we were the first time we made an overture to the FEI to have the games is not unlike where we are today here,” Nicholson said. “On the adventure toward the World Equestrian Games, we learned that when you set your sights high, opportunities present themselves. Strong and good people like those in this Horse Center family are going to seize those opportunities.”

Before turning the floor over to questions and discussion, Nicholson concluded, “This ride that we’re going on, we’re going on together, and it’s going to be wonderful.”

To get involved with the Blue Ribbon Task Force email Emily at for more information. Find out more about the Virginia Horse Center online at


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