Saturday, September 25, 2010

Horses, International Guests, and....Buffalo?

My part of Kentucky is all aflutter. The World Equestrian Games start today. The opening ceremonies are tonight, and according to the local hype, promise to be pretty amazing. While not as well known in the U.S., the games are a big deal in other parts of the world that revere the horse. It's fitting that Kentucky welcome the first ever U.S.-hosted Games. No one reveres the horse more than we do.

But this is not a blog post about the glory of the horse, or the pageantry and history of the Games, or even the new international flavor of my small town (Team Belgium was in WalMart the other day.) No. This post is about a different kind of glory, a strange pageantry all its own, and the flavor...Wild West meets small town USA.

Important, prestigious events like the WEG attract important, prestigious people. They also attract less important, less prestigious hangers-on, much like barnacles on the underside of a majestic ocean liner.

While the finishing touches were being put on all the shiny, new venues at the Kentucky Horse Park, my local outlet mall was preparing for a very special guest as well. Unlike the guests down the road at the Horse Park, this guest was neither equine nor international.

Enter Henry the Buffalo. Yes...a buffalo.

The buffalo (actually the American bison) once roamed the open plains, and according to the National Park Service numbered 60 millon when Columbus landed. They were hunted almost to extinction in the 19th century. Now only 15,000 live free in the wild. Another 350,000 are held in herds by private farmers. And, of course, Henry, now in residence at my local outlet mall.

Georgetown is home to a small outlet mall whose fortunes have declined in recent years. Most of the good outlets have closed, and only a few thriving businesses remain. Jazzercise is among those thriving businesses, and so I have been privy to the preparations for Henry.

Grandstands and stalls line the small grassy area between the parking lot and I-75. Actually, after a long, hot, dry summer, the grassy area is more of a dirt lot. A large section of the parking lot has been painted green. I wonder if it's supposed to represent grass. I wonder if it has been so long since Henry has seen grass that he wouldn't know the difference.

Large, wedding-style tents have been erected in the parking lot as well. I have no idea what's inside, but the "Fat Man's Barbeque" booth between the tents leads me to believe it involves fat men and barbecue.

Henry arrived yesterday. One of my fellow Jazzercisers said he was accompanied by what looked like a SWAT team. Really. Visitors from all over the world, and the buffalo gets a SWAT team escort.

Our instructor, Leanne, was invited to a meeting of outlet mall business owners to let them know about the disruption to parking and such. It was from her that I learned why a buffalo is taking up residence in the parking lot of a struggling outlet mall.

Henry is going to jump through a ring of fire every night for the duration of the World Equestrian Games.

Buffalo are shaggy, and in my mind, more flammable than your average mammal. I said as much when Leanne was telling us about it. I just felt sorry for Henry. Imagine tying several large mops to your head and then being forced to jump through a ring of fire.

In an attempt to make us all feel better about it, Leanne said, "Oh no! It's okay. Henry's trained. Apparently, he was in Dances with Wolves or something."

Dances with Wolves??? Really? Do you know how old that movie is? I do. I was seven months pregnant with my oldest son when that movie hit the theaters, and he'll be 19 in two weeks. (Funny story about a crazy, hormonal, pregnant me and that movie that I'll save for another day.)

Doing the math, Henry would have to be more than 20 years old. What the heck is the life span of a buffalo anyway? I looked it up, and the sources vary, but it's anywhere from 15-20 years in the wild, and 25-30 years in captivity. Either way, Henry is freakin' old.

So...They are not just making a ponderous, more-than-normally flammable beast jump through a ring of fire....they are making an old, ponderous, more-than-normally flammable beast jump through a ring of fire.

Oh, the glory and pageantry of sport! Let the Games begin!

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