Horse Nation’s junior reporters Emily Kelly and Katy Beirise are living large in Kentucky, visiting Keeneland, touring KESMARC, and soaking up all the Rolex madness.
From the Rolex Diary of Emily and Katy:
Thursday, April 26th
EMILY: We finally made it Horse Nation! After fourteen hours packed in the car with five of us, and many more bags than that, we crossed the bridge and saw the first signs of Kentucky! My favorite thing about this state is how everything is always horse related. There is a painting of thoroughbreds racing and one of Man O’ War in our hotel room, and I walked into the bathroom to find a painting of a horse on the Rolex cross-country course! (I’m still trying to decide whether the cleaning staff would notice if I tucked this one into my suitcase to use in my bathroom at home… probably not, right?)
Every year the car ride seems to take less and less time, although this may be attributed to the increasing amount of time spent on homework. We stopped Wednesday evening in Champaign, Illinois, and left the hotel again around 7:45 Thursday morning to finish the last leg of our journey! After having forgotten about the time change (thank goodness for smartphones!) we arrived in Louisville an hour later than expected and headed to Versailles for our tour of the KESMARC (Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center).
The people at KESMARC were amazing! This was our family’s second tour there as our Pony Club had toured a few years earlier on our way to Rolex, but it again was a very memorable experience! KESMARC is one of the country, if not the world’s, leading equine rehabilitation centers. People send their horses to KESMARC for pre-sale treatment, rehabilitation from injuries, and conditioning to help increase their achievement possibilities. While we were looking around the different stalls, there were 17 hand thoroughbred eventers being conditioned for their next event, semi-retired Grand Prix dressage horses just looking for a nice home, and Quarter Horse reiners that had just been given to the facility.
We spent an hour or so with the owner, Kirsten Johnson, and she told us all about each of the horses, the different therapies they have there (including a jogging track, an aqua-treadmill, a swimming pool, a hot walker, and a vibrating platform!) and stories of different treatments and how she came into owning the facility. It was a wonderful tour, and something I would definitely do a third time! Kirsten seemed hugely passionate about her job, and obviously loves the attention she is able to give to helping each individual horse! After leaving KESMARC, we headed to Keeneland racetrack to catch the last two races of the day; however, I will leave that adventure to be told by Katy, as she finds my “moment of good luck” much more amusing than I did! I will let her explain….
KATY: Well, Emily’s stoke of luck happened after watching the jockeys jump on in the saddling paddock (very intriguing by the way, it made everything seem more real getting to see the horses and jockeys up close). Then while grabbing a bottle of water before heading to watch the next race, a bird pooped on Emily’s head! After I realized what happened I just stood there and laughed! Emily’s dad was the fastest to respond and helped to wipe away the lovely white present, yet I was the great friend and simply laughed. I did inform Emily that this good luck could be passed on to two of her favorite riders Becky Holder and Lainey Ashker so in my defense I helped her psyche. After Emily’s “present” we went to watch the race horses strut their stuff. There is something totally breathtaking about watching horses move at top speed with another horse only inches away from them! Little did I know this was nothing compared to what I would experience at dressage the next day!
Friday April 27
Emily: Dressage day is definitely one of the highlights for me at Rolex! The test itself may not be as difficult, in my opinion, as many of the pure dressage tests, but the amazing part for these eventers is how well they are able to manage these horses who are fit to run the cross-country course.
When I was little, I had the same opinion as most young eventers, that dressage was the boring prissy part of our sport that we put up with just to get on the cross-country course! But now I’ve really come to appreciate the skills a good dressage foundation provides you with. The best way to have fun on dressage day is to know what to expect and what you’re looking at. Once you understand the test and what the judges are looking for in each movement, it becomes so fascinating and you can analyze what the rider is doing to prepare their horse each and every step of the way.
As of yesterday (Thursday), the best score for dressage was still in the forties, which comparatively is quite a high (eventing dressage is scored by penalty points, so the lower the better) set of scores. However, some rider always seems to take over the lead on day two of dressage and this was definitely the case this year. Allison Springer put in a lovely test on Arthur and jumped up into the lead with a 39.8 with a tight group of excellent riders following her. Most of the horses were relatively relaxed and calm today, which is quite a feat especially for horses green to this level, as the big crowd clapping and the cameras can cause an intense atmosphere for the horses and riders that are not used to the pressure that is experienced at an event of this caliber. All you can hope is that the riders remember to take a deep breath, as they all are obviously amazing to have even made it to this point!
Lainey Ashker, one of my favorite competitors who came to do a fall clinic with my Pony Club in 2011, is staying at the same hotel as us, so my mom was able to stop and chat with her a bit this morning as well as during the coursewalk. She explained her thoughts on the cross-country course overall, saying that it appears quite difficult because of the various technical combinations throughout the course–that often causes the riders to slow down too much and come in too slowly with many time penalties. Lainey told us to watch for the riders tomorrow that are able to slow up enough for each combination, but kick out of it and keep moving onto the next part of the course and that these are the truly good riders at the event this weekend.
Cross-country day is always the main highlight of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and I am always pumped to get out on course right away in the morning! So we shall be leaving the hotel early to hopefully get a good seat at the Head of the Lake, the main water complex on course, and I will continue to take deep breaths and stop bouncing up and down in anticipation of being out on the course!
Katy: Wow, dressage day, how do I even begin to explain the awe at which I experienced? When we first entered the park I was still in shock–I couldn’t believe after all these months of planning I was actually here, I was actually at Rolex!
The first few tests were filled with a running commentary by Emily; I was so thankful. She helped me understand and comprehend the beauty I was seeing unfold before me. I did have a few cheat sheets (scoring, rider information, etc.) made beforehand but I forgot them at the hotel (I’ll have to make sure I have them tomorrow for the cross-country jumps!). Still, there was nothing like having Emily by side to help explain. My advice for all newbies out there, bring someone with you! It became clear after the first few tests that the extended trot and flying lead changes were my favorite elements! I now have more videos and pictures of them then I will ever know what to do with!
Next, lunchtime brought shopping!! Walking through all of the booths was fascinating. I had Emily there to explain a lot of things to me (such as the very attractive Dubarry British guy standing in a puddle of water). Being around all of the horsey stuff even gave me the itch to want to buy (and I don’t even have a horse!) But the prices kept me at bay. The amount of money eventers need to spend is amazing, but I can tell it’s well worth it! After our shopping excursion we headed back to watch some more dressage tests. I managed to catch on to the dressage tests fairly quickly (not that there isn’t still lots to learn). Having ridden a few times gave me a huge appreciation for the riders and horses that I never would have had without it (thank you Emily!). Adding to the excitement of cross country day tomorrow, we went on a coursewalk with Lainey Ashker. It was particularly interesting to hear about the approaches, options riders can take, and what Al, Lainey’s horse, will most likely do in front of particular jumps. Thankfully I have Emily by my side to help me through all of this! She is being a saint and explaining everything to me. Only time will tell the new and exciting adventure that will unfold before me tomorrow!
Stay tuned for more updates from Emily and Katy. From Emily: Kick on Horse Nation!