Readers are rolling out their favorite Rolex memories like band-camp stories. Except, band-camp stories never go: “This one time, at band camp, I accidentally maxed out my credit card at the trade fair buying new mouthpieces for my trombone.”
Today’s “My First Rolex” story comes from Kirsten Collins, who describes herself as “a middle-aged thoroughbred-smitten eventer-wanna-be.”
My First Rolex
Like so many before me, I was invited to tag along with a group of women riders who were headed to Lexington for some event called “Rolex.” Even after it was explained to me as “three phases–dressage, cross country, and stadium” I still had only a vague idea that I was going to see a really big horse show. But Rolex had other plans for me, and the experience changed the trajectory of my riding — with absolutely no bucking involved.
It was 2003, and we arrived mid-morning in time to catch a few dressage tests. It took a while, but I finally memorized the dressage test and luckily in time to understand why I was getting choked up at the extended trot produced by Pippa Funnell aboard Primmore’s Pride. In fact, I left Kentucky Horse Park with a splitting headache, not because I watched dressage all day, but because I was choked up all day: I had never seen horses of this caliber in my life. These horses were absolutely lit from within.
Cross country day scared the @#$% out of me. First, I stood next to a jump and realized this massive light-blocking thing in front of me was solid wood and wider than my car. Ah, no wonder they are called “obstacles.” Second, I was still staring dumb-struck at the obstacle when the pounding of hooves snatched my attention and I watched a grey horse gallop to the fence and jump it in stride. He bumped his hinds a little going over, but it didn’t seem to faze him whereas I had to remind myself to breathe. I was a nervous wreck for hours but finally relaxed enough by the end of the day to comprehend the athleticism I was witnessing.
As if stadium jumping wasn’t going to get me choked up enough, Karen and David O’Connor had to retire Prince Panache and Giltedge before the test. Three teenage girls sat behind me in the tightly packed bleachers, and I matched them sniff for sniff; I’d never seen a retirement ceremony for an equine athlete, and obviously the ceremony moved me (and several thousand others, no doubt) to tears. Well, Pippa kept busy that day securing the second leg of the Grand Slam of Eventing, and I was busy, too, becoming a fan of a group of horses and riders that I hadn’t even known existed.
Suddenly, it seemed that Lexington was the only place to be in the spring. What else on earth could possibly be more compelling? Over the next year and a half, I did three things I swore I’d never do: eight months after MFR, I had switched barns and took my first jumping lesson; 12 months after MFR I was showing in my first hunter show; and 18 months after MFR I bought my first horse, a lovely Thoroughbred who was a complete and total gentleman.
The glimpse that Rolex gave me was what could happen between a horse and rider, the partnership that was possible. It was what my choked-up heart was trying to tell me all along.