Why the Secret Service Escorted Show Horses Through Central Park
The second annual Central Park Horse Show coincided with a historic papal visit—making for some complicated logistics.
Secret Service escorting horses and their groomers through Central Park isn’t a sight often seen. But when an equestrian show a year in the making coincides with a historic papal procession through the same green space, event organizers have no choice but to roll with the punches.
Such was the scene at the second annual Rolex Central Park Horse Show, which ran from September 23 to 27 at Wollman Rink. International Equestrian Group C.E.O. Mark Bellissimo and Jim Wolf of Wolf Sports Group tapped noted event logistics veteran Elliot Winick of Winick Productions L.L.C. to oversee the day-to-day details of the intricate undertaking.
“The pope’s visit definitely had an effect on the operation of the show on [Grand Prix] Friday but, overall, there weren’t too many obstacles that we couldn’t work through,” said Winick, who worked closely with the parks department.
Among the chief interruptions were vendor-provided basic services—refueling of generators, dumpster picks, bathroom servicing—that all had to be rescheduled until after the pope left Central Park. “While relatively invisible, these elements are important to a smooth-running event,” noted Winick, who was simultaneously working on the papal Mass at Madison Square Garden, the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, and the Global Citizen Festival that weekend.
Before last year, show jumping was last seen in New York City’s Central Park in 1981 and at Madison Square Garden in 2001. Delivery of the horses to the park each night had to remain fluid; horse trailers had to leave earlier in the day, and newly arriving horses had to push up their delivery times. Access to the horse show itself also kept getting changed on the production staff.
“Regardless of what we were told by the N.Y.P.D. or Secret Service, there were changes in the plan that we would have to push back on and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t what you told us,’” said Winick. For example, access initially granted to operate on East Drive and Center Drive in the park was rescinded without warning when the pope’s motorcade, whose schedules are not revealed in advance, decided to travel up and down Fifth Avenue.
But perhaps the main challenge was getting the horses from the stable area at Ballfield 3, which was right off the papal route and in the frozen zone, to Wollman Rink—which was not. The solution was to have the Secret Service escort each horse and groomsman back and forth during the walk down the path that connected the two venues. Secret Service also wanted to check each rider and support staff upon every return, but equestrian protocol wouldn’t allow for the horses to stop along the route. So Secret Service had to be briefed on a way that would be safer for the horses while maintaining security protocol. “That was probably the only part of the operation that was totally impacted by the papal park procession,” Winick said.
However, the heavy security presence made certain things easier: Riders didn’t have to deal with the regular crush of passersby moving around the park as the horses went from the stables to the rink and back again.
Overall, the 10-day build went off without a hitch after adjusting some schedules and moving the majority of heavy-duty functions—including a crew of 60 unloading more than 60 dump trucks of dirt—to overnight operations.
“There’s no direct path into Wollman Rink as it’s built like a moat, so it’s all about trucking and keeping it very safe with traffic cones and lookouts,” said Winick. “There are people in Central Park around the clock; it’s not like going to a polo field where you can just drive up.”
Also, Wollman Rink doesn’t have a lot of extra power, so everything from the lighting in the V.I.P. tent to the video board to the TV compound on East Drive was all powered by individual generators.
“Most venues aren’t dealing with an active public like Central Park—both day and night,” said Winick. “You can’t shut down the park.”
Well, unless you’re the Pope.
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