The Rolex Kentucky 3-Day is an international event that fuses, on every level, the past the present, our European friends and all that is the United States. It attracts top athletes and affluent sponsors from around the world to the charming city of Lexington in the heart of the bluegrass state. I found myself in the midst of this greatness when the plane touched down.
Every year, this event gets better and better. On my first trip to Rolex (back in April 2010), I remember flying into Lexington. Truly, I thought I had died and gone to horse heaven. The old stone barns with black doors and endless green fields lined with white fencing went as far as my eyes could see out of the airplane. It was as if I landed back in time. For this horse girl (and photographer) I could not stop taking pictures. Lexington is breathtaking and the Kentucky Horse Park is the perfect venue for this timeless event.
Me and Cisco
Watching the horses and riders trot up for the First Inspection is quite the fashionable event. Tradition dictates that riders are turned out clean, and in this case, for one rider, wearing Valentino heels! Dresses, suits, hats, scarves - this event starts off with class. The crowd eagerly awaits the British announcer to confirm whether the horse/rider combo have been "accepted" by the ground jury, meaning they will move on to compete in the first phase: dressage.
Derek di Grazia (XC Course designer from Carmel) goofing around acting like he's telling us something about the course.
Each phase is truly unique. It starts with testing the horse and rider's ability to communicate and finesse through upper level movements in dressage, and then the endurance and bravery required on the cross-country (XC) course.
The final show jumping phase tests athleticism
This year I was privileged to participate in a sponsored course walk: the Rolex Ride The Course. Granted, we did not walk the 6410m (four-mile) course, but we did get to ride it! Now, before anyone freaks out, the media did not go galloping around, jumping and dropping into the Head of the Lake (which is about a 6' drop into the lake, nevermind other huge, immovable, yet narrow obstacles, like a big wooden duck that competitors had to jump over while in the water). We did however, get to ride around on KHP-supplied horses and get a guided tour of the beautifully designed course with our famous tour guides, Olympic eventers David O'Connor and Gina Miles.
Our attempt at a group shot near the Head of the Lake
It was an incredible experience to (a) ride a horse at the Kentucky Horse Park, and (b) basically go on a ride and chat with such accomplished riders! It's amazing how social boundaries disappear when you go riding with someone. Gina and David were great sports. They answered any and all the questions we had, they were incredibly informative about the jumps and questions that were being asked heading into a combination and out. They even laughed and joked about letting us jump a few obstacles (which I have to admit, I contemplated for about 10 seconds).
Riding around some of these obstacles on horseback definitely made me appreciate that I was behind the lens and not galloping any of these monstrous jumps. At the same time, this ride increased my understanding about the level of tenacity, physical strength and athleticism, courage and possibly even a small bit of insanity it takes to ride at this level. A huge thanks to Rolex for providing the opportunity (and photos) for us to ride and talk with top riders who have conquered this course in the past.
David O'Connor and Gina Miles leading the pack.
No matter what capacity you find yourself in with the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day, whether it's media/photographer, a groom, possibly a rider one day, or a die-hard fan willing to weather anything mother nature might throw at you on XC day just to see your favorite rider gallop past you. Or maybe it's a viewer watching it live on television. Don't let a moment pass you by where you don't take a second to breathe in and experience the greatness that surrounds you daily -- it's a great reminder
of how blessed we are to ride and experience
Editor's Note: Great Britain's William Fox-Pitt earned the Rolex crown this year, followed by Americans Allison Springer and Boyd Martin. Our brave California-based representatives, Deborah Rosen, James Alliston and Jolie Wentworth, did not fare too well on the leaderboard but surely added experiences that will benefit them in the future. For complete event results, visit www.rk3de.org.