The Virginia Horse Center announced Wednesday, April 8, that the Foundation Board of Directors has ratified John Nicholson as the new chief executive officer of the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Virginia.
Following his 17-year tenure as the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, 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.
“I’m honored to have been asked to increase my involvement and leadership of the Horse Center as the full-time CEO,” Nicholson said. “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.”
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 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 turnaround 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.”
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, including hosting the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games and procuring the prestigious National Horse Show. The Kentucky Horse Park also bid for the 2018 World Equestrian Games, however lost out to Bromont/Montreal as host city.
“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.”
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 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.