“It’s busting at the seams.”
That’s good and bad news for more than 15,000 horse enthusiasts with the EquiFest of Kansas on their calendars for February 24-25-26 at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka.
Yep, there’ll be more to see than ever before with every booth space filled for the 20th anniversary.
Downside to it is there are nearly three dozen more horse-related vendors wanting in. There’s just no more room.
That brings up another topic EquiFest officials are emphatic about. There’s a shortage of facilities for horse events.
Yet, “all plans are coming together great to make this the biggest Kansas EquiFest of Kansas ever,” said Ann White, Belvue, who’s serving the second year as EquiFest manager.
After being at Wichita 18 years, EquiFest, sponsored by the Kansas Horse Council as their main fundraiser, moved to Topeka last year.
“The cooperation from everybody in Topeka and at the Kansas Expocentre has been just unbelievable. We really appreciate how hard everybody has worked to make the EquiFest such a continued success,” White credited.
For the emerald celebration of EquiFest, one of the largest trade shows in the Midwest, this Premiere All Breed Horse Fair and Exposition has pulled out all the stakes this year, the coordinator assured.
Most important is the educational and entertainment lineup, with no precedence in prestige and quality, everybody affiliated has agreed.
There’ll be renowned authentic horseman Chris Cox making a return EquiFest appearance, gaited equitation expert Larry Whitesell, elite hunter-jumper trainer-instructor Michael Henaghan, equine behaviorist Mustang Maddy, champion barrel racing horsemanship teacher Paul Humphrey and trail meister Robert Eversole.
The weekend full of entertainment includes the Friday night Rio Equestrian Center Jumper Classic, followed by a 20th anniversary celebration-concert with Dustin Evans & the Good Times featuring Ned LeDoux.
A horse versatility competition is scheduled, and Saturday and Sunday are to feature the Jim Hunter Memorial Ranch Rodeo.
Complete schedule of times, location and diversity of attractions can be found at www.equifestofks.com.
“We have booths lined up for a record 185 vendors, sponsors and clinicians from 24 states,” according to Jo Turner, EquiFest exhibitor coordinator.
“That’s great, the largest ever, but we have 31 on the waiting list, who want to have booths at EquiFest this year,” Turner exclaimed.
Now, every bit of the Kansas Expocentre is being utilized by EquiFest. “We also rent all of the nearby Capitol Plaza and Convention Center to further facilitate our booth availability and programs,” Turner added.
“EquiFest has been a success from year one and has grown every year with participation from throughout the country,” White verified.
“With the waiting list for vendors, and attendance expected to exceed last year’s record by 2,000 people, it’s going to be a far and away the biggest ever this year,” White declared.
“Dilemma is we can’t continue to grow, get any bigger, serve horse enthusiasts, and Topeka and the state without more space, additional facilities,” White aired definite concern.
“We need the Expocentre expansion that’s been under consideration for some time. Not only for the EquiFest to continue improving and getting better, but for the horse industry in all of the Midwest,” White insisted.
“That was in the works,” Turner pointed out. “The Shawnee County Commissioners had approved a sales tax with funds earmarked for an equine complex at the Expocentre.
“There are more horse events at the Expocentre than any other activity,” she said. “It’d be new buildings south of Landon Arena and across from Domer Arena.
“But, now the project is on hold, as the commissioners are reconsidering ‘best use’ of the funds that have been collected,” Turner stated.
“The Kansas Horse Council, the EquiFest of Kansas, the Kansas Buckskin Association and many other horse groups have long been trying to convince Topeka officials of the need for more facilities for horse events,” White added.
“EquiFest is just one of the major horse events that would be in Topeka if there was more capacity. National shows, rodeos, all types of horse related activities want to and would come to Topeka,” White assured.
“The Expocentre is booked 46 out of 52 weekends a year, three of those six open days are Christmas, New Year’s and July Fourth,” said Justin Gregory, Expocentre livestock operations director.
Majority of the EquiFest events are horse related. “The half-cent sales tax approved in November 2014 raised $45 million for Expocentre renovation, featuring horse facility expansion,” Gregory clarified.
That was follow-up to a 2009/10 survey indicating a larger modern horse complex would bring more business to the city of Topeka.
Despite architects being hired, plans nearing completion on the drawing board, Shawnee County Commissioners are on hold for the project.
There is concern that moving the American Royal into the east side of the state would take business from Topeka. “That is not true. An improved horse complex at Topeka would still attract many more horse events,” White demanded.
However, the commissioners are intending to conduct another survey to verify business the horse industry would bring to Topeka before moving forward with the Expocentre expansion-renovation.
Adding to the complexity of it all, contract for managing the Expocentre opens to public bids this summer. The Expocentre has been under leadership of SMG Management, Gregory’s employer.
“SMG has been heavily involved in all efforts for the Expocentre renovation, and it could really be complicated if another firm took over management,” White said.
“It’d be possible to move forward, but extremely challenging,” Gregory admitted.