Central Kentucky is already a glorious mecca for horse people, but it becomes even more so the final week of April and first week of May. The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event kicks off the excitement, which runs this weekend along with the Kentucky Reining Cup. Then, next week all things Kentucky Oaks and Derby take over.
I was able to talk horse health with international four-star eventer Lynn Symansky during the 2014 Rolex Ride The Course event yesterday.
Photo: Rolex/Kit Houghton
I imagine these weeks are for locals a bit like Mardi Gras is for the residents of New Orleans or, perhaps, Groundhog Day for people in Punxsutawney—we become accustomed to the influx of people and may not get as excited as we once did about the annual traditions, however much we enjoy the animals and the sports.
In my going-on-15th year living in this locale, which possesses a beauty I know I sometimes take for granted, I asked myself this week: Has the magic of the greatest two weeks in central Kentucky really faded for me? Has my pilgrimage to the Kentucky Horse Park become rote, never more to glimmer again, or do I just need to look at it again from a fresh angle?
Yesterday I took in the Rolex Three-Day Event cross-country course from a new vantage point—as it was meant to be seen, through the happily pricked ears of a horse—when I participated with several other equine-focused journalists in the Rolex Ride The Course event. These grounds are sacred for many, especially those of us who cut our teeth on the sport of eventing as young women and men, idolizing the likes of Karen and David O’Connor and Bruce Davidson and their superstar sport horses. I remember practically skipping around the United States Pony Club Championships course walk with joy as a teenager, excited that my 3'3" obstacles stood in the shadows of the behemoth Rolex fences in their off-season … my course was epic by association.
Bruce describing the Land Rover Hollow as my mount listens to something very interesting over to the left.
Photo: TheHorse.com/Stephanie L. Church
So when you consider that our tourguides yesterday were international four-star eventer Lynn Symansky (whom I used to compete alongside in the Pony Club ranks in Virginia many years ago), and Olympic Gold Medalist Bruce Davidson, quite honestly, I was grinning from ear to ear at this new take on an event I had started to take for granted.
We rode our sweet Kentucky Horse Park trail horses (some of which seemed pretty jazzed about their moonlighting gig for the event) around to several combinations, most notably for me the Head of the Lake, the Offset Brushes, and the Land Rover Hollow.
Lynn (on horseback) and Bruce at the Head of the Lake fence.
Photo: TheHorse.com/Stephanie L. Church
Our M.O. at TheHorse.com when taking in Rolex is to gather horse health information related to the high level of competition. Over the years we’ve covered everything from footing (both dry/hard and wet/slippery) and event format changes to frangible pin (breakaway fence) technology and conditioning. This year it was fun to sit back and listen to some of the comments that Bruce and Lynn had about the course and the “questions” being asked of the riders and horses in the form of large obstacles and complex combinations. They talked tactics and the precision it’ll take to get around course clean (without time or jumping penalties). Because of our health bailiwick, I asked Lynn a few questions about shadows (which can be tricky on course for horses’ vision), complementary therapies, and how she gets her horse ready for the final jog the morning after cross-country.
The thing that struck me the most about riding around the course was how different the obstacles looked from horseback than they do from the ground, all dressed up and ready for show time on Saturday morning. I almost got a little bit of vicarious adrenaline, harking back to the years when optimum times were scrawled on my hand with a Sharpie, and my gelding Icy would squeal in the start box as the timer counted down and said, "Have a nice ride."
While it was a far cry from actually riding Rolex, I can now say that I rode Rolex (as Lynn aptly pointed out). And in the process I was able to claim the excitement and fascination back that the sport—and this event in particular—has always held for me.
May the riders have safe and successful rounds tomorrow!