Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Rolex Kentucky 3 Day -- What it Is and Why I Love It!

Its coming.... nope ... not just Spring .... but ROLEX!!!   Most people in my family and even some of my horse friends don't quite get why I am so excited to attend the Rolex Kentucky 3 Day Event so I thought it would be good to give a primer about what makes Rolex so special.

Rolex is huge.  Not just in size but in the horses and riders who compete there.   Its like attending the Olympics without the need for a passport, long travel and fight for substandard accommodations.   Its historically a qualifier for the Olympic games and thus many horse and riders who compete at Rolex consequently compete at the Olympics.  Horse and riders come from all over the world.  Last year pairs came from Great Britain, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Ecuador and of course the United States.

The first time I went to Rolex in 2005 (which is when I took these pictures) I didn't even know what a 3 Day Event was.  My friend dragged me along on the trip promising it would be fun.   I got a great education on eventing but a little spoiled as the first "event" I attended was the pinnacle of the sport.

3 Day Eventing is a three part sport that requires the same horse and rider pair to compete in dressage, cross country jumping and show jumping over a three day span.  Between each phase, the horse is checked by veterinarians to ensure that they are sound and able to compete in the next phase.  It takes an incredible amount of fitness, agility and well I want to say bravery... but honestly I wonder if its more insanity, to compete in this sport.

I'll hit the other phases in a future blog but for this one I'm going to start with the most exciting phase -- cross country!

The horse and rider gallop over four miles with obstacles scattered throughout.  There is an optimum time they have to complete it and if they go over they receive "time faults".  They also get faults -- otherwise known as points off their score -- for refusing to jump a fence.   If the rider falls off their horse they are eliminated from the competition.  Each year the course changes slightly.  Last years course had 28 jumping situations and had to be completed in 11 minutes 42 seconds to score without a time penalty.

The jumps are BIG!!   You would think galloping on rolling terrain between the jumps would make it hard enough but the jumps are also solid, large fixed objects and sometimes of a shape that would terrify most horses.  Take a look at this jump from the 2005 Rolex course - I know if I asked my horse to jump this he would tell me I was nuttier than this squirrel's meal and I would end up smack in the middle of the bushy tail.

To add to the complexity, the horses are seeing the course for the first time as they approach the jump. The riders do what is called a "course walk" earlier in the day to plan out their approaches but the horse has to have the talent and trust in their rider to complete the jump.

If each jump was the same, seeing it for the first time would not be a big deal but most of these jumps have "questions" -- items that make the jump more complex than it appears on the surface.  For example, a jump may be situated in the shadow of a tree so the horse has to adjust its vision as it enters the shadow spot.   In the jump below a ditch runs under the jump at an angle so the rider needs to decide do they take off towards the right side where the ditch smaller on the takeoff side or to the left where the ditch is larger on the takeoff side but gives the horse the added chance of landing on solid ground on the landing side?

One of my favorite jumps in the "Sunken Road".    When I first saw this jump I didn't believe my friend that a horse could really jump it.  It had to be just a decorative feature.

Its a multi part jump -- first the horse jumps over the white fence you see on the right side of this picture.  They land in in the small piece of grass between the "sunken road" and the fence.    The landing area is so small that the front legs need to be lifting to jump into the pit as the back legs are landing so it takes a huge amount of trust and dexterity on the part of both horse and rider.  They jump into the pit and have one stride before they lift out and repeat the same sequence on the other side.  

Horse and rider entering the sunken road

And after clearing the pit, they continue on to the white fence
And this blog would not be complete without mentioning the "dog watching".   Spectators love their dogs and are allowed to bring them.  There is a doggy day care and people pushing strollers with their pampered pooches inside are not uncommon.

I hope this gives you a quick glimpse into what makes Rolex so awesome.   I'll fill you in on the details of dressage and show jumping next and can't wait to share my 2014 experience with you!


  1. It's definitely a little bit of Insanity that gets riders into Eventing! I have been an Eventer since I started riding and I wouldn't change it for the world. I might make it to Rolex some day but that is a lofty goal. I'll stick with Stuarts Horse Trials for now. Much smaller scale but I still get to compete with the greats like Beezie Madden and Darren Chiacchia

  2. I admire eventers tremendously ... mostly because I know I don't have the guts or the skill to do what you do. I just posted a new posting on Katie Frei who I had the opportunity to interview recently. It was fun to learn a bit about the behind the scenes work leading up to Rolex..... Had the opportunity to interview Katie Frei who will be competing at Rolex Kentucky 3 Day this year. Gave me a bit of her background and what is keeping her up at night worrying about Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.


I love to get feedback and hear about your journey-- please share!