A significant increase in the number of elite equestrian show-jumping competitions has led Abigail Wexner to end her New Albany Classic Invitational Grand Prix and Family Day after two decades and more than $32 million raised to provide services to victims of family violence and abuse.
The decision was announced in a letter sent Feb. 13 to past volunteers at the English-riding event and festival, which was founded in 1998 and held annually in September for more than 15,000 guests at the New Albany estate of Wexner, a lawyer and philanthropist, and her husband, L. Brands founder and chairman Leslie H. Wexner.
The event combined Abigail Wexner's dual passions for equestrian sports and domestic-violence awareness.
"The Classic has been a labor of love for all of us involved and we simply could not be more proud of the impact of its success," Abigail Wexner said in an email statement released through her spokeswoman Lisa Hinson, also one of the Classic's volunteer coordinators. "Thousands of families have been helped as a result of the support of so many loyal sponsors, volunteers and guests. We are grateful for the participation of the equestrian community, as well, who came to New Albany from across the country to compete."
About 30 of the world's leading English riders vied for a total $125,000 in prize money at the Federation Equestre Internationale-sanctioned competition. For the past 10 years, the Family Day ended with concerts by such pop artists as Nick Jonas, Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato.
The festival included Columbus Zoo and Aquarium petting zoos, COSI science presentations, dance and theater performances and other family-friendly activities.
Despite the Classic's demise, the letter to volunteers emphasized Wexner's ongoing commitment to the Center for Family Safety and Healing. It was formed in 2011 from a merger of the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence that she started in 1998 and the Center for Child and Family Advocacy founded in 2001 as a partnership with Nationwide Children's Hospital.
The Center for Family Safety and Healing, which received about a quarter of its annual revenue from the Classic, "will continue to engage Classic donors and loyal volunteers in its mission ... through a combination of ongoing fundraising efforts and the establishment of an endowment fund." The center's board of directors, of which Wexner is a member, "will explore and develop new ways to bring the community together through programming responding to and supporting victims of family violence."
Wexner said in her email that the Classic's end "represents an opportunity to develop something new, and I'm looking forward to exploring what's next."
Hinson said the growth of equestrian show jumping has resulted in "a lot of choices for elite competitors" and ultimately was the major factor in the decision to end the Classic. The event's September scheduling already was being crowded by events elsewhere.
It became even more crowded for 2018 because the Federation Equestre Internationale's World Equestrian Games, essentially the Olympics of riding, will be held Sept. 11-23 in Tryon, North Carolina, she said.
"The dates allotted to competitions at this level are designated by the (FEI) governing body," Hinson said, "so changing to another month is not just a matter of choosing another date."
The Classic was popular among riders and the region's visitors-enticement agency. The North American Riders Group named it the top specialty equestrian event in North America every year from 2012 to 2015.
In January, Experience Columbus named the Classic a winner of a 2017 Expy Award because it "put Columbus on the map for international equine competitions."