$250K project to seal major hunter/jumper deal at Norris-Penrose
New general manager pleased with Langer

       Johnny Walker was barely in the saddle as the new Norris-Penrose Event Center general manager last fall when along came one of the great partnership opportunities since the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foundation took over the center in 2005.

A rider clears a hurdle during a 2007 jumping event in the Norris-Penrose Event Center's Indoor Arena The sport will become more prevalent at the facility, under a new agreement with the Langer Equestrian Group.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The California-based Langer Equestrian Group, possibly the largest hunter/ jumper organization in the country, will be moving its Colorado event site from Parker to Norris-Penrose, Walker said in an interview this week.
       Evidence of the agreement will be visible in a few weeks, when the Pikes Peak or Bust Foundation will begin a roughly $250,000 expansion next to and near the Indoor Arena along the east end of the Event Center property off Lower Gold Camp Road.

Johnny Walker, the Norris-Penrose Event Center general manager since Nov. 1, stands below the sign outside the stadium's main entrance facade.
Westside Pioneer photo

       “Langer spent six months looking at facilities in Colorado, and we got them,” exulted Walker, who took over the helm after eight-year manager Bill Miller retired. “It's a really good fit, and meets the foundation's overall vision to increase the cash flow of the center.”
       Even better, Langer's involvement will help attract to the center smaller but similar shows that involve horses navigating courses and jumping over obstacles. “There's a lot of carryover from this,” Walker said.
       According to website information, “hunter” events differ from “jumper” events in that the former includes judging of riding style while the latter is based purely on the success in clearing jumps.
       He isn't sure why Langer decided to relocate from Parker, but has found that the company is impressed with Colorado Springs as a “destination location,” he said.
       The first Langer event at Norris-Penrose is slated May 26-June 2, with up to 500 horses in the competition. Another is planned later in 2012. Starting in 2013, plans call for six Langer events a year, Walker said.
       In keeping with Langer desires, the expansion project will:
  • Create a new, square, 120-by-120-foot enclosed building just behind the existing, rectangular 300-by-120-foot Indoor Arena and connected to it. The new space is intended for use as an indoor warm-up area,
  • Add two new outdoor rings just northeast of the Indoor Arena (one for show judging, another for warm-up).
  • Expand the open-air Lower Show Arena, which is a short distance south of the Indoor Arena. The Lower Show Arena is currently 245 feet at its greatest length and 125 feet at its greatest width. It will grow to 300 feet long by 170 feet wide, allowing it to become the main venue for Langer's May 26-June 2 event. The added length is key because of the long run-up needed for riders to scale jumps up to six feet high, Walker said.
           The shows will be free and open to the public. Still available for spectators will be a moveable set of 300-seat bleachers, which can be set up mechanically at either the Indoor Arena or the Lower Show Arena.
           The income to Norris-Penrose will come from its share of hunter/jumper entrance fees, while the community will benefit from competitors' spending money at local hotels, restaurants and stores, Walker explained.
           As general manager, Walker oversees operations at Norris-Penrose, a 60-acre parcel at 1045 Lower Gold Camp Road that also includes Penrose Stadium and a boarding stable. Events are scheduled year-round, headed by the annual Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo in June. Non-horse events are also common, ranging from concerts to circuses to dog shows to home shows and, lately, a BMX course sponsored by the American Bicycle Association in the Indoor Arena (it's been open for the last few weeks, but Walker said the dirt mounds will be removed Jan. 30 to make room for Little League baseball tryouts; the BMX course will return March 19-April 6).

    In a view looking west on Event Center property near Lower Gold Camp Road, the facade can be seen at rear right. In the foreground at left is the back of the Indoor Arena, against which a new building will be constructed this spring. Two new outdoor rings will be built in the front-right area. An expansion is also planned to the Lower Show Arena (not shown, south of the Indoor Arena).
    Westside Pioneer photo

           In existence since 1946, the Pikes Peak or Bust Foundation uses profits from the center to support military charities.
           A long-time friend of Miller, Walker had worked the previous 19 years in real estate and had no prior background in running an event center. But he believes he has a “passion” for making it a success. He traces that feeling to a childhood goal when he was growing up on the Lower Turkey Creek Ranch (a four- generation cattle ranch that his brother now runs). That goal was to become one of the Range Riders, a group of horse owners that go on the annual Range Ride and whose mission is to support the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo. With the ranch bordering Fort Carson, Walker and his family have long been supporters of the military. “That's what got me interested in the rodeo, because of the military charities,” he said.
           After finally becoming a Range Rider nine years ago, he learned that volunteer work for the rodeo is a big part of membership. In recent years, with Miller as his “mentor,” Walker has become the group's “ramrod” (director of volunteers). Thus, when Bill retired, “I think the foundation decided that if I was working that hard for free, I might do even more if I got paid,” Walker grinned.

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