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World's Championship Horse Show brings international competitors to state fair

With thousands of horses and millions of dollars, the WCHS is a staple of the Kentucky State Fair.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky is synonymous with bourbon, Louisville sluggers and horses. 

While many people gravitate towards thoroughbreds, Kentucky is also home to the capital of Saddlebred horses.  

The best horses and exhibitors in the world compete for tens of thousands of dollars in the finals, but there's seven days of chances for you to learn more about this powerful and poetic breed. 

One of Kentucky's most well-known and decorated horsewomen is Dena Lopez, of Double D Ranch.

"When you go down through that ramp and that crowd is on their feet, that whole ground just shakes," Lopez said of the experience showing in the World's Championship horse show.  "It's an amazing, amazing feeling to go down that ramp on Saturday night."

It's quite a different experience than the peace, serenity and donkey bays of her farm in Versailles.  

Lopez will tell you preparing for the horse show is irreplaceable, and starts as soon as a colt or filly is born. She was born into a horse family, following in her father's footsteps as a trainer. Before Saddlebreds, Lopez worked with quarter horses and thoroughbreds as well. 

"Saddlebreds have always been my love because that's what my father did," Lopez said.  "I trained under him growing up before I went out on my own. I love the other breads, but this has always been my first love."

An accomplished equestrian, she invited us to check out a couple of her horses. The first displayed a familiar gate for people who have gone to the show, with the classic high stepping trot, tucked head, and beautiful flowing tail.

Rides like this one are similar to the World's Championship titles Dena Lopez holds, where twice, a five gaited gelding carried her to victory.

"It was just more enjoyable the second time," Lopez said.  "The first time I was so engrossed with how to win, I didn't enjoy it. I was like, 'Wow, OK I did that, it's over.'"

A more recent addition to the Saddlebred world is the option to compete in a western class. The usually pinned back, sleek look of the rider and tack is replaced with flashy and blingy saddles, bridles and rider gear.

"You just have to be so precise with your gaits," Lopez explained what sets this class apart.  

"Your horse has to be so trained. People don't understand how hard it is until they say, 'OK, here's one hand for your reins.'  It's amazing how many people choke because they say, 'I need my other hand' and there is no other hand! Just one hand," Lopez said.

Double D ranch has 11 horses competing this year.  Over 2,000 horses from all over the world will compete for more than $1 million in prize money.

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