Signage With Horse Sense

Ruggles Signs and TGI collaborate to create graphics to brand the World Equestrian Games.
Dec 10 WEG 1.jpg

In our increasingly automated world, it’s easy to forget the vital societal role horses once played. Whether through farming, commerce, combat or countless other enterprises, empires were forged on equine backs for millennia. Although horses are now perceived by many as valuable only for sport, entertainment or a hobby for the well-heeled, close proximity to a horse creates a sense of awe that reflects our innate connection to them.

Although thoroughbred racing enjoys a long history as an adrenaline-pumping, spectator sport, other equestrian events – such as dressage, vaulting and show jumping – display a horse’s many attributes besides speed, and a rider displays a more intimate relationship with a horse than simply using a jockey’s crop.

Since 1990, the World Equestrian Games (WEG) have served as the quadrennial international championships for eight of the 10 disciplines within the Fédération Equestre International (FEI), the governing body of equestrian sports. After the first five Equestrian Games were held in European cities, 2010 witnessed the first, U.S-based competition. Eight years ago, FEI’s leadership selected the Kentucky Horse Park, which is set on 1,200 acres in central Kentucky near Lexington, as this year’s site for the competition, which took place from September 25 to October 10.

Given the state’s importance within the equine and horse-racing world (horse farms abound within the Bluegrass State, and the legacy of the Kentucky Derby is well-documented), it proved worthy for the Equestrian Games’ U.S. debut. Although horse racing’s demise is often predicted or lamented in many corners of sports media, the WEG reported attendance of more than 500,000, which affirms the sport’s healthy following.

Of course, such a landmark event requires distinctive environmental graphics that give sponsors their requisite brand recognition while not subjecting visitors to visual clutter. Bear in mind the equestrian-sport demographics differ significantly from a National Football League crowd.

Ongoing economic challenges forced event officials and Alltech, the Nicholasville, KY-based producer of animal health and nutrition products that sponsored the Games, to somewhat curtail the competition’s sponsorship and promotional graphics.

Persevering through the budget cutbacks and inevitable change orders that accompany large events, TGI Worldwide (Chicago) produced the Games’ digital graphics, and Ruggles Sign (Versailles, KY) produced primarily 3-D signage for the facility’s indoor arena.

TGI’s Rusty Lawrence, a project manager for the company, and Tim Cambron, Ruggles’ general manager, discuss their process.
TGI TCB (taking care of business)
TGI produces signage and graphics for stadia that host such diverse, sporting events as the NFL’s Super Bowl, FIFA soccer, college football and tennis, among others. Lawrence said, “Our goal is to create an engaging, sports-branding culture that serves the needs of our client, event sponsors and the visitor. Sponsorship graphics need to provide a branding message without being so in-your-face that the viewer blocks them out as visual noise.”

TGI, which operates a 10,000-sq.-ft. facility with 20 full-time employees, earned the job through a review process. Lawrence said he appreciated Alltech officials’ hands-on approach with branding.

“Pearse and Deirdre Lyons [Alltech’s president and his wife] were involved in every phase of the planning and development of the Games’ signage,” he said. “Deirdre designed the logo herself. They wanted Alltech’s $10 million sponsorship of the Games reflected throughout the Horse Park, but they wanted it done in a tasteful way.”

Simon Brooks, an Alltech consultant (whom Lawrence admiringly referred to as a “brand bulldog”), said, “Signage doesn’t only provide information for visitors, but it also impacts our ROI for the event. We want to reflect the event’s personality. I think event signage works best when it’s visually pleasing in a subconscious way that makes the viewer feel positively about the brand.”

Lawrence said, “At the outset, they [the sponsors and WEG officials] had very ambitious plans for the Games’ environmental graphics. They wanted the pavement at the park’s entrance covered with vinyl. However, as the budget contracted, the pavement wrap was axed. We also originally planned for 12 to 14 directional towers, but scaled back to six.” Despite a few modest cutbacks, TGI worked within the allotted $400,000 budget, and bedecked the Horse Park with approximately 100,000 sq. ft. of digital graphics.

However, TGI convinced the clients to not compromise on the Games’ signature, digital-graphic element: an approximately 13,000-sq.-ft. wrap that encircles one side of the Horse Park’s open-air arena. Like other graphic elements, Alltech wished to brand the graphics subtly. The company applied its logo to the fence that corrals the horses – keeping the emphasis on the graceful Arabians, Dutch Warmbloods and other equine breeds famous for their athletic prowess. To provide additional ambience, the wrap includes a pair of birds sitting comfortably on the fence – a winsome scene typical to any horse farm. TGI teamed with Ed Hackley, a freelance designer, to develop the graphics.

To produce the behemoth wrap, TGI set its two EFI-VUTEk GS3200 printers to their highest-resolution setting, and output the graphics on 3M 160, a heavy-duty, tent-grade material. Lawrence said, “We were dealing with such an enormous scope. Creating the final print file alone required 30 hours.”

To avoid any hard seams and connect key joints, TGI opted for Sickler strips instead of solely using conventional grommets. Sickler strips comprise an adhesive-backed material that’s sewn or welded to banner backs. They contain grommets that can be zipped to the support structure to reduce wind loads and banner weight on perimeter grommets.

Main-entry towers, which provide information about events for specific disciplines, comprise decal-clad, freestanding wood structures. These provided an additional Alltech branding point, and barricade and fence graphics provide sponsor and event information. TGI and its partners also printed the barricade graphics on EFI-VUTEk solvent-ink printers with 3M material that’s affixed to Dibond® composite media.

Lawrence said, “Creating a successful graphics package for any event requires attention to detail and constant communication. Work has to be done at a fast pace, and change orders will come no matter how much you plan ahead. Your signs have to flow and appear to have a distinct flow and purpose.”
Ruggles’ rugged signage
Ruggles enjoyed an existing relationship with Alltech; it created signage and environmental graphics for various Alltech events and facilities. TGI enlisted the shop to handle several custom, 3-D signs and elements. Cambron said, “We work with numerous subcontractors for accounts nationwide, but it’s a little unusual for us to subcontract for someone else. But, it was a tremendous project close to home for us, and we enjoyed a very productive relationship.”

Ruggles, with more than 60 employees and a 55,000-sq.-ft., full-service facility, produced 34 arena signs that encompass more than 2,700 sq. ft. The shop’s first work to promote the event entailed an equine-themed monument sign installed at WEG headquarters in early 2009 (for more information about that sign, visit Like Lawrence, Cambron lauded the Lyons’ and other Alltech officials’ branding acumen.

“If you look closely at their logo, the orange ‘A’ features the shape of a microscope within,” Cambron said. “They invest heavily in research and development that promotes animal health and nutrition, and their logo reflects that.”

As a key component of Alltech’s naming-rights agreement with the Horse Park, the company’s name is rendered large on signage throughout its namesake, 6,000-seat, indoor arena onsite. Alltech furnished the signs’ design, and Ruggles developed shop drawings and made material and finish recommendations. As is the case with most large-scale, event signage, the shop worked on an extremely tight schedule. From Cambron’s initial site visit to the event’s commencement, Ruggles only had three weeks to fabricate the arena’s 34 permanent signs.

To fabricate the building-mounted sign identified the main concourse, Ruggles formed the “A” on its CNC router using 0.25-in.-thick aluminum formed to 18 in. deep, and waterjet-cut the remaining letters from 3-in.-deep, horizontal-grain, stainless steel. The capital letter, which was decorated with Sherwin-Williams urethane paint, measures 4 ft. 10 in., and the others span 3 ft. 4 in. tall. Orange, backlit neon brightens the first letter, and white neon illuminates the subsequent letters.

To enhance the building’s visual components, Ruggles waterjet-cut stainless-steel pictograms of the Kentucky Horse Park logo – an adult horse and young colt trotting side-by-side. To create a focal point for the concourse, Ruggles fabricated a 13-ft.-tall, freestanding Alltech “A” that commands visitors’ attention.
The exterior sign that marks the facility’s south-side concourse required fitting the sign around the arena’s downspouts. To clear the gutters, 8-in.deep notches were cut into the aluminum cabinet that accommodates the letters.
The arena’s wall-mounted, interior signage proved especially challenging. To mimic the facility’s existing soundproof material, Ruggles specified a perforated-aluminum raceway that would be installed beneath the primary sign and feature secondary copy. This required cutting into one of the arena’s integral columns. To do this, the building’s general contractor used an industrial saw, and Ruggles built around them.

Other key elements included 28 ft. 8-in. wide x 4 ft. 7-in. tall, double-line, unlit, stainless-steel arena-ID signage that’s installed above Alltech Arena’s luxury boxes; several, 9-ft.-tall, 3-in.-deep, routed-aluminum productions of the Alltech “A,” which were installed against 12-ft., or 18 ft. 9-in., brick facades; and a vinyl print bedecked with the Alltech logo that stretches across the arena’s videoscreen.