Interview with Jane Atkinson, August 11, 2023

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History


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00:00:28 - Life with horses / Education

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Partial Transcript: Now I want to start off with just talking about your life with horses--

Segment Synopsis: Jane Atkinson describes her experiences with horses from adolescences to adulthood. Atkinson says that her life with horses began at the age of three, and that ever since she was a child she wanted a horse and would routinely seek out horses with her father. Atkinson the describes owning her first horse named Christiana Pixie, a four year old American Saddlebred mare born in Lafayette, Indiana which she bought at the age of fifteen for three hundred and fifty dollars. She then explains that she would later learn eventing in 1962 at the University of Kentucky, and was taught by horsemanship instructor Cobb Ryan. Atkinson says that after graduating at the University of Kentucky, she attended graduate school at Rutgers for Equine Nutrition, but later received a masters degree in Animal Science.

Keywords: American Saddlebreds; Animal Science; Christiana Pixie; Equestrian events; Equine Nutrition; Equine events; Eventing; Horse racing; Horsemanship instructors; Kentucky; Lexington (KY); Mares; New Jersey; Rutgers; Ryan, Cobb; Saddlebred horses; Thoroughbred horses; Thoroughbreds; University of Kentucky; Veterinary Science; Horses

GPS: University of Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 38.026562, -84.505920
GPS: Rutgers University
Map Coordinates: 40.500820, -74.447395
GPS: Washington D.C.
Map Coordinates: 38.893452, -77.014709
GPS: Lexington (KY)
Map Coordinates: 38.046360, -84.497017
00:03:17 - Career in the horse industry

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Partial Transcript: And then you came back to--

Segment Synopsis: Atkinson reflects on her life post-graduation from Rutgers, where she returned to the University of Kentucky to work in the Veterinary Science Department, focusing on horse reproduction. Atkinson then describes her to move to Washington D.C., because she wanted to work with the American Horse Council, who were lobbying against a tax act that would negatively affect horse farms. Atkinson describes her role within the American Horse Council as a representative for a wide variety of horses and racing. Atkinson says that after working in D.C. she wanted to return to Kentucky, and did so in 1972 to work for the Blood Horse Magazine, also known as Thoroughbred Weekly. Atkinson says she worked for the Blood Horse Magazine for two years where she gained new knowledge on the Thoroughbred industry, after these two years, Atkinson moved on to work as the Executive Director for the Kentucky Horse Council. Atkinson describes this role as working as a state agent, increasing equine events, performing equine surveys, advocating for all types of horse breeds and producing a monthly newsletter that pushed the boundaries of the horse industry.

Keywords: American Horse Council; Equestrian Events; Equine events; Equine surveys; Eventing; Farm indusrty; Farm industries; Horse industry advocacy; Horse reproduction; KY Horse Council; Kentucky Horse Council; Lexington (KY); Mares; Tax acts; Thoroughbred Weekly; Thoroughbred industries; Thoroughbred industry; University of Kentucky; Veterinary science; Washington D.C.; Blood Horse Magazine

00:17:53 - Horse park concept

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Partial Transcript: And that also involves the formation of the horse park--

Segment Synopsis: Atkinson reflects on the formation of the Kentucky Horse Park and her role in engineering its model during her time working for the Kentucky Horse Council. Atkinson states that the idea for the horse park came from an influx of fires at farms across Kentucky, which caused many farms to close down. Atkinson notes how these fires upset owners and was an issue for tourism, and caused John Gaines to create a model of a thoroughbred horse farm that could attract tourists. Atkinson then expresses, in a letter addressed to Governor Louie Nunn, that she had concerns about the Thoroughbred model, believing the farm needed to be broad, having all breeds and all disciplines. After receiving this letter, Atkinson says that Governor Nunn approved of changing the concept of the park and took action to start building. She says that to acquire the land the state of Kentucky bought two parts of the Walnut Hall Stock Farm.

Keywords: Gaines, John; Governor Louie Nunn; Horse park model; Horse parks; Horses; Kentucky; Kentucky Horse Council; Kentucky tourism; Louie B. Nunn; Thoroughbred horses; Thoroughbreds; Tourism; Tourism industry; Walnut Hall Stock Farm; Kentucky Horse Park

00:22:14 - Designing and building the Kentucky Horse Park

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Partial Transcript: That was in 1972 when that happened, so they were--

Segment Synopsis: Atkinson explains that her interest in designing the Kentucky Horse Park came from a want to host a World Championship, which was made possible by previous winner Bruce Davidson, due to a rule allowing the winner's country to host the next championship. Atkinson then explains as the Executive Director of the Kentucky Horse Council she formed a team to design the horse park, and this team created jumps for events such as 'The Sinkhole.' Atkinson reflects on how perfectly the building of the park came together, and that everything they needed to build for the World Championship was already part of the horse park's construction. Atkinson also notes how the group received support from Jim Holloway, who increased sponsorship for the horse park, and from Governor Nunn who approved Atkinson's idea, giving her a council for her organization, later named Equestrian Events Incorporated. Atkinson says the organization would then hire course designer Roger Howler and course builder Richard Newton, who crafted the 'Wishing Well' jump. Atkinson talks about the internal building of the horse park, explaining how she recommended Edith Connors as the Head of Equestrian Events / Executive Director of the World Championship.

Keywords: Connors, Edith; Davidson, Bruce; Equestrian Events Incorporated; Equestrian events; Eventing; Governor Louie B. Nunn; Haller, Roger; Head of Equestrian Events; Holloway, Jim; Horse events; Horse park designs; Kentucky; Kentucky Horse Council; Kentucky Horse Park; Louie B. Nunn; Newton, Richard; The Sinkhole Jump; The Wishing Well Jump; World Championship

GPS: Kentucky Horse Park
Map Coordinates: 38.151691, -84.516800
00:38:13 - Events / Bidding to host the World Championship

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Partial Transcript: he was fired. But, in, ok, we had our first event--

Segment Synopsis: Atkinson lists events held at the Kentucky Horse Park prior to the World Championship, naming the first event at the horse park as the 1976 Horse Trial. Atkinson then says she worked as Chief Dressage for the 1977 National Pony Club Rally, mentions the North American Junior Three Day Championship, and says that all of these acted as practice events for the World Championship. She describes the competition and support the horse park had regarding bidding to host the World Championship, explaining that farms such as Radner Farm in Pennsylvania, Ledger Farm in Massachusetts, and Bruce Davidson's farm Chesterland were also under consideration. Atkinson says Neil Air, President of the US Combined Training Association (now known as the USEA) greatly supported the horse park and the courses Atkinson's team set up, and mentions that they also had support from Kentucky Governor Wendell Ford and his predecessor Governor Julian Carroll. She says that Governor Carroll was a driving force in winning the bid due to his willingness to advocate for the Kentucky Horse Park, but personally feels that the horse park would likely have ended up as the host anyway.

Keywords: 1976 Horse Trials; 1977 National Pony Club Rally; Air, Niel; Carroll, Julian; Chesterland Farm; Davidson, Bruce; Dressages; Ford, Wendell; Governor Julian Carroll; Governor Wendell Ford; Horse Trials; Horse parks; Ledger Farm; Massachusetts; National Pony Club Rally; North American Junior 3 Day Championship; North American Junior Three Day Championship; Pennsylvania; Radner Farm; U.S. Combined Training Association; US Combined Training Association; USEA; United States Combined Training Association; World Championships; Kentucky Horse Park

GPS: Kentucky Horse Park
Map Coordinates: 38.151691, -84.516800
00:55:11 - 1978 World Championship

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Partial Transcript: Now, so the world championships, you got those--

Segment Synopsis: Atkinson talks about how the horse park was made with the intent to host events. Atkinson mentions that even John Gaines, who had the original idea for the horse park, was happy with the changes Atkinson made and the overall result of the Kentucky Horse Park. Atkinson explains that the 1978 World Championship was a large event hosting an estimated 50,000 people, comparing the events turnout to the Kentucky Derby. She believes that so many people came to the event because people had not seen a World Championship before, some people were spectators of the sport, and that the overall difficulty of the events is what brings people to watch the events. Atkinson mentions the state police's involvement in the championship, issues with parking, and the large number of people that helped promote the event. She notes that the hardest part of hosting the event was dealing with spectators, but also mentions smaller issues such as issues with weather, losing whistles, and the difficulties the contestants faced on the course. Atkinson says that the contestants that won the World Championship were Canadian, and mentions how many of the contestants struggled with the heat and certain parts of the course that were dependent on speed. Atkinson expresses her opinion on how the sport has modernized, saying that she does not like the shortened programs and prefers the more intense difficulty that came with older horse riding, and especially misses the steeplechase. Atkinson also mentions the lack of involvement that the Lexington community has with the Kentucky Horse Park, and that many locals don't know it exists.

Keywords: 1978 World Championship; 1978 World Championship; Equestrian competitions; Equestrians; Gaines, John; Horse parks; Horse riding; Horses; Kentucky; Kentucky Horse Park; Lexington (KY); Steeplechases; World Championships

GPS: Kentucky Horse Park
Map Coordinates: 38.151691, -84.516800
01:12:28 - The Gladstone Cup and the Kentucky Rolex / Young riders

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Partial Transcript: So we go from the '78 world championships which was a standalone event--

Segment Synopsis: Atkinson speaks on how the World Championship Three-Day event became a yearly event as requested by the American Horse Shows Association (AHSA). Atkinson mentions the first Three-Day event, named the Gladstone Cup, was held at the end of May. Atkinson says that she had concerns with holding the event at the end of May because of the weather would cause changes in the ground's temperature and hardness. Atkinson says that younger horse riders now would be unable to ride well at the time of the Gladstone Cup, based on her knowledge of Pony Club rule changes that didn't require them to go through as much training or become well-rounded in all disciplines. Atkinson then reflects on taking over as Executive Director of Eventing, at the horse park, saying she found difficulties in this role trying to learn the rules of Three-Day events and finding sponsorships, but Atkinson says she never felt overwhelmed because she had books that helped guide the process of crafting an annual Three-Day event. Atkinson explains how sponsorship was eventually less of an issue once Rolex decided to sponsor the event and the name of the championship changed to The Rolex or The Kentucky Rolex. Atkinson says she believes that the Rolex sponsorship helped bring in competition and foreign riders, explaining that expanding the horse park provided a venue that will help riders get on a team.

Keywords: American Horse Shows Association (AHSA); Equestrian Events; Eventing; Foreign horse riders; Gladstone Cup; Horse riders; Horsemanship; Pony Club; Sponsorships; The Kentucky Rolex; The Rolex event; Three day equestrian events; World Championships

GPS: Kentucky Horse Park
Map Coordinates: 38.151691, -84.516800
01:27:51 - Legacy / Favorite horses, riders, directors, and jumps

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Partial Transcript: Now, what do you think your greatest legacy is--

Segment Synopsis: Atkinson states that her legacy was that she cared about the horses and the riders, she reflects on difficulties that came with hosting Three Day events such as protests about the cruelty of the events, keeping the horses safe, and people that would sneak on to the course. Atkinson praises the workers of the events, saying she is thankful to the dedication from the workers at the Kentucky Horse Park and those that volunteer for the events, mentioning that all the workers and volunteers have a respect for their jobs. Atkinson the expresses her favorite horses, riders, directors, and jumps over her career, sharing many stories about the experiences she had with personalities to events. Atkinson says that her favorite horses were Dr. Peaches, who she describes as her favorite horse of all time, she says she liked Grey Goose, Wilton Fair, Mayor Roxy, Custom Made, and she notes that she was most impressed by Little Tricky. Atkinson lists her favorite riders William Fox Pitts and Bruce Davidson, and states that her favorite directors were Hugh Thomas, Liz Inman, and Mike Etherington-Smith (who also worked alongside Atkinson as a course designer). Lastly, Atkinson reviews her favorite jumps over the years which included the sinkhole, the original bank jump, the mandolin, and the root cellar.

Keywords: Animal cruelty protests; Custom Made; Davidson, Bruce; Etherington-Smith, Mike; Grey Goose; Horse safety; Inman, Liz; Kentucky Horse Park; Little Tricky; Major Roxy; Mandolin jump; Original bank jump; Pitts, William Fox; Root cellar jump; Sinkhole jump; Thomas, Hugh; William Fox Pitts; Wilton Fair; Dr. Peaches

GPS: Kentucky Horse Park
Map Coordinates: 38.151691, -84.516800