Horse Nation junior reporter Emily Kelly and her new-to-eventing friend Katy Beirise sent us this report on their way home from Kentucky.
Good Monday morning Horse Nation! We are back in the car again and headed home after our fantastic trip to the Kentucky Horse Park!
We’ll start out with a cross-country day recap. This was Derek di Grazia’s second year as course designer for the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event and he definitely stepped it up. Last year, he proved his ability to add technical combinations throughout the course that would require very accurate riding, yet gave a good balance of forward, galloping fences to keep the riders kicking on and not getting stuck in their “coffin canters.” This year, Derek took these same concepts but created a true test for the 4* riders.
As we pulled into the Horse Park an hour before the first rider was supposed to leave the start box, we quickly made our way to the Head of the Lake, the most difficult water complex on course, and grabbed a spot right up near the front. About 20 minutes before Buck Davidson was supposed to set out, we heard the announcement that Buck had withdrawn both horses (later we found out it was because he was still having trouble with his previously broken collar bone). What a bummer for Buck, but we were poised and ready for Andrew Nicholson, the next rider, to head out on course so we could start getting some action through the water! All too quickly, we get another announcement that Andrew had crashed through a fence in the coffin (fence #9–neither he or his horse was injured) but the frangible pin holding the log up had broken and there was to be another 20 minute delay while the jump crew fixed the fence. Andrew, needless to say, retired his horse and we were once again without a horse on course. Not exactly the exciting start to cross-country day we were hoping for!
However, Karen O’Connor was up next with Veronica, and we all believed that she would complete the course without a problem… until the announcer tells us that she took a cold bath in the water complex at fence #5. This was only the beginning of a very tough day of cross-country, and I’m sure each rider became more nervous after the next. Next to start was Rolex veteran, Becky Holder, with her experienced OTTB Courageous Comet. Even though Karen had had trouble earlier, she had been on a green horse, and I sincerely thought that Becky and Comet would navigate the course without a problem. They were the first pair we finally saw come through the Head of the Lake, and they looked fantastic! Becky looked rock solid and Comet looked like he was really enjoying being back out on his Rolex course after his time off last year. Yet we soon hear that she has taken a spill on the last element of the Normandy bank and all I can think is “not again!!” The Normandy bank includes a big jump up a bank, a bounce over a vertical log, down a hill with a right or left hand turn to a fence at the bottom. It turns out that Comet had gotten a bit sticky over the log, pushing Becky ahead of his motion, and had a rare stop at the C element, which tossed Becky right over his head.
A huge disappointment to the whole eventing world, as by now four of the most experienced riders of the sport had not even finished the course. Yikes! Major nerves for the newbies set to head out on course next! Marilyn Little-Meredith was the first rider to come home again and managed it in a clear ride.
Throughout the day, this same pattern continued with only 27 riders continuing on to show jumping on Sunday. Such a difficult course can be hard to watch (we eventually just stopped watching the jumps in the second half of the course because so few riders were even making it to that point!) but I think it truly gave the Olympic selectors a taste of who has the skills and the guts to be ready for the London games and who does not.
After the first three riders not making it to Head of the Lake my anticipation kept building. I was still trying to imagine how a horse and rider were going to make it through Head of the Lake. When I heard the whistle signaling that Becky Holder was coming my heart began speeding up, and all of sudden there she was. Comet was flying over logs and fish and diving through the water. It was pretty much a blur. After they went galloping away I just stood there in awe. I was amazed, then I realized I had stopped breathing and decided I should probably start doing that again (I still had more horses to watch!). No matter how many riders I saw jump or gallop by I was always taken aback by their beauty, by their concentration, and by the horse and rider’s love for the sport and their love for one another. Words can never truly explain what it is like the first time you see a horse and rider clear a set of jumps four feet tall.
After the cross-country rides wrapped up for the day, my family headed out to the Head of the Lake again to cool off in the water and take a closer look at the massive jumps! And just for you, HN, we spent a few minutes attempting planking on the duck in the water.
I still don’t know how these horses can jump these jumps as gracefully as they do! Our attempts at jumping it were not quite as graceful….
That evening we walked (yes walked, we had just eaten McDonald’s, the walk was definitely needed!) up to the Alltech Arena to check out the Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup Freestyle Reining championship! This was the second year that Rolex has hosted this competition and the first time that I had attended the freestyle. It was definitely worth it! The riders were allowed to use costumes and put their reining routines to music. We had two celebrity riders; Karen O’Connor and Gina Miles both tried their hand at reining for the evening! The love for the eventers was definitely felt as Karen had the loudest cheers that I heard all night! I love this idea of having the top eventers compete amongst the top reining riders, it really shows how interdisciplinary we really should be as riders, and how much we can all learn from one another! Next time you hop on your dressage horse try a couple reining spins, or try a few half-passes on your reining horse! It’s amazing how much mixing things up a bit can help your training.
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