John Nicholson, executive director of Kentucky Horse Park, is to step down from the role at the end of April.

Nicholson, 53, who guided the park’s bid for the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games, has been in the post since 1997 and is the longest-serving director in the park’s 35-year history.

He said: “It has been a difficult decision to consider retirement because I love the park and highly value the team of people I work with, but after 17 years this is the right time [to go]. I am looking forward to exploring new opportunities.”

In a statement, Gov. Steve Beshear thanked Nicholson for his “hard work and devotion”.

“His leadership has made the horse park an international destination for visitors across the globe,” said Beshear. “As president of its foundation, he helped make the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games a tremendous success for Kentucky. We wish him all the best in the next chapter of his life.”

Kentucky’s pending bid for the 2018 World Equestrian Games will be unaffected by Nicholson’s departure. The host location will be announced later this year.

The Kentucky Horse Park Commission, chaired by Alston Kerr, will search for his replacement.