EN Today: Rolex changed my life

Reader Amy Wells used to be a perfectly content western pleasure rider. Then, her friends convinced her to join them on a trip to the Rolex, and it was all over–she didn’t know when and she didn’t know how, but suddenly knew that she HAD to event.

From Visionaire:

It was 1997, I was 12, I had my mom’s camera and used up seven rolls of Kodak film; I was captivated for life.  I’m sure most of us remember our first trip to Rolex, and how it left an indelible impression on us in some way.  Amy Wells has put that experience into words and sent it to our EN mailbox to share with the rest of Eventing Nation.  Never been to Rolex?  After reading this essay, you’ll be dying to go.  Thanks to Amy for writing, and thank you for reading.  Entries opened yesterday– Go Rolex!  www.rk3de.org

Rolex Changed My Life. – Part One

By Amy Wells

Here’s me in the Spring of 2008:  I’m a wife, a new mom, have a decent 9-5 career, and I’m a resident of a newly built hobby farm on 10 acres with a cute little red barn with three horses.  Riding consisted of organized trail rides, 4th of July and Christmas parades and the occasional ride around the fields by my home in my trusty little western saddle on one of my trusty little quarter horses. Life was good.

I get a call from a good friend who is as crazy about horses as I am.  She wanted to get together a group of horse enthusiasts to go to this thing called “Rolex.”  Me: “Isn’t that an expensive watch or something?”  I had no idea what ‘Rolex’ was…. where it was, who it was, but she told me it involved horses and jumping so I thought, why not, I used to watch Katie Monahan (now Prudent, of course) on NBC sports on Saturday mornings in the ’80s, not knowing a THING about jumping, but it was horses, and all I wanted was a horse, so I sat there glued o the TV anyway.  I digress. Me: “What? It’s WHERE? To get there we’re doing WHAT?”  “Um… sure…. count me in to split a hotel room in Georgetown, Kentucky with four other girls.  And yeah, I’ll eat out of a cooler (to save money for the trade fair I knew nothing about of course), and I’ll sleep on a pull-out couch in a hotel room. And…. sure, I’ll fork over $90 bucks for a ticket that I don’t even know what the ticket is for.  Oh, and yeah, I’ll drive 650 miles through the night on Wednesday from central Wisconsin to get there by 9 a,m. on Thursday. Oh, and you want to take my car? Um… yes, I guess?!”  All I can think of is, “Suckerrrrrr!!!!”

So we drive through the night and arrive at the hotel to get a couple hours sleep before we arrive at the park. We watched most of the dressage diligently all day Thursday and Friday. Now, mind you, I had never seen a dressage test in my life, in fact I didn’t even know what it was. I asked a bazillion questions to the incredibly patient friend saint sitting next to me. I was like that annoying mosquito buzzing around your ear at night, that you just can’t smack. Me: “What’s an extended trot? What’s shoulder in? What’s the difference between a free walk and a medium walk? Was that a good trot? Oh, you want a low overall score, but you want high individual marks?  What?  I don’t get it.”  As discreet as I was being, I’m sure the people sitting behind us wanted to kick me in the back of the head (you know, by accident, when you cross your legs in a bleacher-type setting). I couldn’t have whispered any more quietly. Me: “Is this it? Is this what we’re watching all weekend?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Could someone PLEASE give me a plastic fork that I could poke my eyes out with?”

However, by the late afternoon on Friday, I really started to get it, and could actually start to recognize good scores before they would appear on the big green board.  I figured out the difference between a “6” on the extended trot vs. an “8.”  Me: “Okay, I’m starting to get dressage, but when are they going to start jumping over semi-trucks and dog-houses?”

Saturday morning finally arrived, and so did the crowd.  There’s a reason why the attendance grew by the gajillions. Droves of people were filtering into the park geared up with fannie-packs, water bottles, and mini lawn chairs.  Most people adorned some sort of horsey-attire, whether it was a straw bent cowboy hat, a pair of Dubarry’s, a horse T-shirt, an Ariat jacket, etc. Oh, and the dogs, lots and lots of dogs.

My friends positioned me perfectly at the Head of the Lake.  MaryJean said, “Sit right here, and when it starts, look right over there.”  Then it was all about waiting for the big moment that everyone talked about.  I heard things like, “It’s amazing.” ” It’s insane.”  “Wait until you see what these horses can do.” Sure, I saw the jumps on the other side of the white roping, and yeah, they were big, but until you see a horse jump over them, they look like pretty park ornaments.  Crouched down on the wet ground in the midst of a boatload of people, I kept looking down at my watch.  Between overheard conversations about  weather, riders I had never heard of before (Phillip Dutton, who?) dressage scores, and stranger’s personal stories that started out similar to, “One time, at band camp…” it just built up this incredible anticipation that made my heart pound, but I had no idea what for. My friends were busy looking at the map of the course deciphering where we were to go next.  I just sat there waiting for the unknown and thinking, “Man, I hope I’m not disappointed… I just sacrificed three vacation days and a whole lotta miles on my car to see this.”

Finally, I heard an announcer come over the loud speaker saying that a rider was in the start box (whatever that meant) and of course reminding people to keep dogs on leashes.  A few minutes later I heard a whistle blow, and an eerie  silence fell over the crowd.  My friend whispered, “Just put your camera down for this first one and just watch…. trust me… just watch.”  I heard a faint gallop and heavy breathing get louder and louder and closer (insert goosebumps here).  I looked at the crowd to see which direction they were all looking and suddenly this amazing animal with a rider atop leaped over the biggest log I’d ever seen and plunged into the water.  (I wish I could describe a cool water word here, but all I can think of is Sploosh!)  Water gets sprayed everywhere as they gallop through the lake, and they float over some other massive object in the middle of the lake (I think it was a duck), take a couple more strides in the water, leap out, jump another huge ‘thing’ and gallop off to the next one (or something like that, it’s still a blur).  I just sat there with my mouth wide open and I unconsciously clapped because everyone else was, but it was like I got hit with a tazer (not that I know what that feels like), because I was stunned.  I looked at my friend, and with the biggest smile on her face, she waited for me to say something.  I couldn’t speak.  Finally, I said, “I HAVE to do that.”

Jump after jump, and the galloping lanes, and the whistles, and the horses breathing, and hearing the riders say, “Good Boy” and the crowd cheering and saying “ooh” with a close call – ALL OF IT, was simply amazing. We made it to nearly every jump that day, and even managed to watch a couple combos race into the finish line area and get cooled off.   Every single jump, every galloping stretch, and watching the fury of the grooms dumping buckets of ice water on the horses was next to amazing.  I couldn’t say anything intelligent other than, “Holy $%&*!” each time I saw a horse jump.  After the last horse was through the course, we walked the entire course again and rubbed our hands over the nick marks on the logs, and set our feet into the hoofprints of where the horse landed at the Normandy Bank.  We took pictures of the five of us standing next to at least a dozen different jumps.  “What do they call that 90 million foot log, a Trakehner?”  “Who does this?”  “Are they nuts?”

We managed a quick bite at a restaurant near the hotel on Saturday evening (because if we ate another ham and cheese sandwich from the cooler we’d throw up).   I’m like a 4 year old asking question after a question, after question…. again to my patient and informative friends.  “What does it mean to come under the time?  What happens if they fall off?  What’s a refusal?  How many miles is it?  How can a horse gallop for so long?  What is that white arm thing they have on and the yellow watch all about?  Why is there Crisco-looking stuff on the horse’s legs?  What are those grey things on their nose? Has anyone ever been killed doing this?”  By nine o’clock we were all comatose in the hotel room from the awesome day we just had.

Sunday morning we head to the Trade Fair.  I don’t normally shop.  I hate shopping.  But this kind of shopping?  Me:”Hello little credit card, it’s nice to see you. Are you warmed up?  If not, you will be.”  I kept saying to myself, “My husband is going to kill me.” I came home with two pairs of Kerrits breeches, a Kerrits jacket, a lovely pair of Ariat half chaps, a crop, a saddle pad (even though I didn’t have an appropriate saddle), and a helmet – all this English stuff without even sitting my butt in an English saddle before. Ever. I just started buying…..

Sunday afternoon came, and I finally understood what “You could have heard a pin drop” really meant (insert goose-bumps  here).  The way the crowd fell silent immediately once a horse began the course, and let out a subdued “Awww” after a rail fell was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  Then my questions started, but this time, not to disturb anyone, they just circled around and around in my head. “How do they know which jump to jump?  How do they know when to take off? Why are some of the horses wearing little bonnets?  Why do some riders wear red jackets, and some wear navy?  How can the rider still be in the air and already be looking at the next jump?”  So many questions.  I barely remember who the top ten riders were that year.  I barely remember who even competed.  But I remember how I felt during the ride back home.  I had to learn how to do this.  I wanted to learn everything I could.  I have so much to tell my husband (minus the shopping incident).  I didn’t care if I jumped a log, a fence, or my dog’s rubber toy that was lying in the middle of our yard.  I had to jump something, and soon.

I returned to Rolex three more times after that.  Each time I knew nearly every horse and rider combination from stalking research I’ve done on the internet.  I began listening to The Eventing Radio Show faithfully every week, and Glen and Chris even invited me to be a guest one year at Rolex. I started obsessing over following “EventingNation.com” religiously.  I’m one of those people that risks getting fired to watch some of the great videos posted.  I researched other events like Rocking Horse, Pine Top, Jersey Fresh, The Fork, Southern Pines, the event at Rebecca Farm… you name it, I looked it up.  I found out where riders trained, who their horses were, who the owners were, who their grooms were, and what their plans were for the upcoming season.  I even do it today. To say I have the “bug,” isn’t even fair, I would call more like a terminal disease.

So now what?  I’ve since moved from my little hobby farm in WI to Minnesota where people actually know what eventing is.  Western tack – SOLD!  My three quarter horses have found homes with friends who know what trusty trail horses they are, and I now have a fantastic little Thoroughbred who loves to jump. I’m slowly but surely affording enough lessons and equipment to really get started.  My journey has officially begun…

…to be continued.

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