EN Today: ‘Rolex Changed My Life, Pt. 2’

For some people, Rolex is more than just an annual event. For some, like guest writer Amy Wells, it’s a game-changing, earth-shaking, mind-blowing, life-altering revelation.

From John:

It was 2000, I was 11 years old, I used at least seven rolls of film and one of the greatest memories of my life to this day is sneaking into the Sunday competitors party and getting a ton of autographs including one from my idol, Mark Todd.  It was my first taste of eventing at the highest level and it has been a privilege to get to know many of the great people I met for the first time that day.  Amy Wells took the eventing world by storm with part 1 of her Rolex Changed My Life series and today she returns with part 2.  Thanks for writing this Amy, and thank you for reading.  Go Rolex!  www.rk3de.org [Entries]


From Amy Wells:

In my previous post I ended it by explaining how I’ve become an internet eventing stalker, an Eventing Nation regular, and an ‘eventing wanna-be rider, but allow me explain why the riding part is a bit of a challenge.  I wish that I could call myself an eventer by just being an skilled Eventer stalker researcher via the internet.  My vocabulary alone has changed, which reminds me of the time I told my western trail rider friends that I was taking my horse out for a “hack” – hoping that they might think my new ‘English’ vocabulary was cool. They looked at me, and I kid you not, said, “Does that mean you’re going to go spit off the back of your horse?’  I just sighed.  This was going to be a long, long road.

Before Rolex my riding consisted of rides around the block, rides around the nearby fields, occasional holiday parades (with one year my horse adorning Christmas lights), and of course the party-heavy organized trail rides.   If you’ve never gone on a Midwestern organized trail ride, here’s a few things that might paint a clearer picture:

–Horses and people camp in fields overnight, with either make-shift corrals, or tying their horses to anything that doesn’t move (horse trailers, truck bumpers, trailer hitches, random logs in the woods, ground stakes, car mirrors, tent poles. – yes, I saw some jackass tie his horse to a tent. (and the result was not good) Ugh.  You get the idea.

–A nightly country band conjures up false romances.  I remember a cowboy asked me, “Hey pretty lady, want to shine my belt buckle?”  Every 5 or 6 songs the event coordinator cowboy dude takes over the band’s mic and announces, “We have a loose horse in Corral #2, if you are camping in Corral #2, and your horse is chestnut color with a hot pink halter on, please go get your horse.”

–You learn how much beer and mini-shots fit in your saddle bag.

–You literally ride for hours and hours, and there’s lovely volunteer EMT’s around every bend. There hasn’t been a ride yet where someone hasn’t been seriously injured.  (How can someone not get injured though, really?  1300 horses, lots of alcohol, and a gamut of experienced and inexperienced riders = mayhem.

–You and your friends adorn the cutest western outfits you can find – sometimes coordinated, sometimes not. Big, bling-bling belts, pointy boots, button up shirts with a bling bling tank underneath, and of course tight jeans are on every cowgirl wanting to look like Miranda Lambert, or Tanya Tucker – depending on your era.

–You see ALL species of horsemanship or lack thereof.  Some things really break your heart (aka tent pole dude).

I sound like a hillbilly.  (Insert the Larry the Cable Guy accent here, and I’m all set.) Westerners out there – do NOT get offended – I still have my cowboy hats and my bling belts – it will always have a place in my heart.  A little bit of trivia for you regarding the trail ride of 2010 – out of 1350 riders, I asked the trail counter volunteer to count helmets being worn – just for fun.  I later found him in the giant party tent and he actually did count. Only 36 helmets – mostly on young little girls – 36 smart people in my opinion.  That was the first year I ever wore a helmet – and the looks I received could have knocked me off my horse.


Anyway, over the years I grew from a person that knew nothing about horses other than the fact that I loved them, to a pretty cool western trail rider. Then I went to Rolex, and it changed everything.  This gives you a closer look into how hard it is to change from western to eventer wannabe once the bug bites you.  And bite me it did.  After coming back from four Rolex’s, I wanted something more….


“Pre-Rolex” – I had one saddle, two bridles, a couple decorative saddle pads, and the other basic equipment.  I would obsess more about my outfit I was going to wear to the dance/trail ride than I would about what my horse would wear – although he did look fantastic I must say. I didn’t worry about blanketing, clipping, special shoes, turnout, stalls, saddles, bits, bridles, wraps, splints, side reins, lunging rope, shipping halters, coolers, knits, helmets, protective vests, gloves,…oh the list of crap goes on and on. Granted, I had a lot of equipment, but I can seriously say not even a fraction of what I have now .

NEVER have I put so much thought, money and planning into horses and my riding as I do now.  Ever.  At my second Rolex, thinking that if I bought an English saddle I’d be all set, I bought a ThornHill Germania II Phase saddle – I didn’t know ANYTHING about knee rolls, twist, seat size, panels, etc.  However, the call to my husband went something like this…. “Hi honey, it’s me, I’m at the Trade Fair at Rolex again, I found this GREAT saddle…..”  Silence fell over the phone…….and more silence…….then a cough…….then a, “How much?” My husband gave in, and I bought this saddle and brought it home and just assumed it would fit one of the three boys, (It didn’t, by the way) plus I came home with a bridle.  It should fit, right? It didn’t.  Cob?  Horse? What?  This saddle is STILL for sale by the way.  So yes, the shopping bug bit me the second time around.

Learning to “Ride.”- the early years

Before Rolex I had been riding western for a few years. I thought that learning to ride English wouldn’t be that hard.  WRONG. But let me back up a bit….  I didn’t grow up with horses, I just knew that I loved them.  You all know the classic pleading with your father, “Dad,  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE can I have a horse? I promise I will use my allowance to feed him, and he can eat the grass from our lawn, and the neighbors won’t mind because we’re friendly neighbors, and he can live in the garage, etc….”  Aren’t we just cute and naïve when we’re 6?  I tried everything to convince my dad that we needed a horse in our little central WI neighborhood, but to no avail.  My Junior Year of college was the first turning point.  As a complete surprise to my parents, I ventured out to Colorado during my summer break to work on a Dude Ranch.  Dream job?  Sort of. They hired me as a housekeeper – because I had no riding experience, just the occasional horseback riding stable when our family headed ‘up north’ for vacation.  Anyway, I cleaned the main lodge and guest cabins from 6am -3pm every day.  When I was off, I headed down to the corral to see if anyone needed my help. Actually, I should rephrase that.  I headed down there stalk, watch, learn, smell the horses, shovel poop, whatever. I was there until I had five minutes to ‘wash up for dinner.’ After two days of watching through the fence, I made deals with all seven wranglers – I’d do their laundry and clean their cabins if they would teach me everything there is to know about horses, riding, care, etc. It worked.   Every waking moment if I wasn’t making beds or doing dishes, I was saddling, brushing, feeding, riding, shoveling, cleaning saddles, and yes, doing stinky wrangler laundry. I returned for a second season, and this time they hired me as a kid’s wrangler….ie, I took kids out on horseback with another wrangler while singing songs, playing riding games, and picnicing.  Better than cleaning toilets and doing dishes.

Western riding was what I learned and what was engrained in my brain.  I returned home in the fall and finished my last semester of college, and did what any sensible person would do.  I moved back in with my parents to save money – in order to purchase my first horse, Gunner.  $100 bucks a month for board.  Nice. Jeez do I wish that was a reality again.  Was everything roses? No.  So apparently I didn’t get the memo that the horses on the dude ranch were so incredibly trained/bored/half-dead, that when I bought my horse (the ex-barrel racer who was supposed to be so quiet) I had a little project on my hands. My little bay quarter horse Gunner was my little pistol.  Pun intended.  It took me several bucks, kicks, falls, bites, pats, neighs, nickers, two broken fingers, and a cracked femur to learn what the hell I was doing. Through the course of the next 11 years, he taught me everything, and helped me make it through boyfriend break-ups, hook-ups, job rejections, career changes, deaths in the family, moving out on my own, my marriage to my awesome husband,  – you name it, he was there for me.

Learning to Ride – Present Day

Fast forward to October, 2010.  My husband are faced with a career change for him and move to MN – 75% of the move was because of his job (we could have turned it down, but…) the other 25% was because there is an amazing eventing community here, and I desperately wanted to learn how to ride and “jump over stuff” as my husband puts it.  I was VERY hard-pressed to find an eventing instructor in Central WI prior to the move – I found dressage, some hunter instructors, but no Eventing.  People would say, “Venting? Enting? What?”  I wish I was kidding.  So the thought of selling our newly built hobby farm, and buying a new place in MN and starting over actually sounded appealing – because the eventing bug had bit me hard.  Thanks Rolex.

So we did it.  It was heart-breaking.  I LOVED my little hobby farm that we built ourselves. My husband, son, and I moved to MN, with only Gunner in tow. We decided NOT to purchase another hobby farm –for reasons that could be an entirely different blog post (boarding vs. owning – the forever debate). I found awesome board at an amazing facility called Jaqcurei Oaks, in Maple Plain, MN, where there is a fantastic cross-country course, two huge arenas, and a great indoor, great footing, and most of all, great people, and great horses (endorsement intended).  I was one of maybe three riders there that owned a genuine western saddle.  (Australian saddles don’t count )  And let’s be clear, I’m not dishing Western riding, or the bling, or the saddle, or any of it.  I just wanted to come to the dark side.

Seven months went by, and I was out at the barn every chance I could get. I watched lessons, observed the grooming barns, tried to meet new people, but I was incredibly intimidated. I took lessons with Gunner trying to make him get “on the bit” and make him into a dressage horse. My 18-year old barrel racer turned trail horse wanted nothing of the affair. After 7 months of him refusing every element of arena riding and dressage, he was like, “You’re kidding me right?  Where’s %&*# the trail?”  So hard to write this part without bursting into a completely hysterical flow of tears. I made the gut-wrenching decision to sell him to a wonderful lady that wanted to continue to trail ride and use him as a therapy horse for at-risk youth. BY FAR, one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I was devastated, but I didn’t feel it was fair to him to keep trying to make him into something he wasn’t, and I still had this ‘dream’ that I conjured up since setting foot on the Kentucky Horse Park.  I had a dilemma.  Again, thanks Rolex, for putting the eventing bug in me so bad that I would sell my 11 year partner, because I just couldn’t afford two horses (I know it’s not Rolex’s fault, it didn’t put Gunner up for sale, but it makes me feel better at least).

Stop crying Amy.  Let’s talk about my new horse.  I don’t buy just any horse, I go and buy a Thoroughbred. Nope. NOT a “packer,” NOT a schooling horse, NOT a ‘dead-head’ that I was advised to buy. That’s right….an off the track thoroughbred who most non-horsey people automatically think of “crazy horse.” My dad asks, “If a bell goes off, will he take off into the sunset?  “Are we talking Churchill Downs here?” Is this the kind of horse Calvin Borel rides? “Can you ride him?”  “Is he safe?” “Don’t those horses just know how to run?”

I drove to North Dakota against all sane advice, in a snow storm nonetheless, to look at this little 15.2 horse (I wanted him little because I’m not even 5 feet tall), and I instantly loved him.  He was rather thin and scraggly, but he had the sweetest eyes filled with innocent curiosity and genuine willingness as the owner tacked him up. After a vet check and one more hair-raising icy road disaster trip out there, I bought him and trailered him home.  Now keep in mind that I’m used to riding big, sturdy quarter horses that would walk through fire for me, so needless to say we had an “adjustment period” for the first couple of weeks.  For me, not him.  He did everything right, and I was an epic FAIL.  Leg on constantly? What? Light, easy tension in the reins at all times? What? Sit-up straight? WHAT?!?!?!  I was so frustrated, but so excited – I had a new horse that was going to take me over the moon, er….ah… um… okay, a ground poll……but it didn’t matter, I was going to go over something. My four-year-old son named him “Beans” because “He looks like the color of daddy’s coffee beans, Mom.”  It stuck.

I’m a Clown, Because Juggling is All I Do:

Since last April when Beans arrived, life has been a major balancing act. Sure, I’ve owned horses for 11+ years now, but trail riding when I feel like it vs. actually trying to accomplish something foreign to me is a whole new ballgame. Perhaps I should have called this section “’The William Tell Overature’, the Story of My New Horse Life” (for those of you who don’t know, it’s a song, google it and you’ll know what I’m talking about).   THINGS WERE FINE, before I went to Rolex.  I was a happy hick riding my trusty trail steed.  I never had to worry about a lesson budget, schooling show fees, time away from family to practice riding, two saddles, new tack (and let’s face it, you need a lot of crap), or the gajillion other things I now need to juggle.  “Pre-Rolex” as my husband refers to my past life, did not have the horse/timing/finance issues that I have today.  Not. Even. Close.

Does it sound like I’m whining?  My apologies, I’m not whining. I love my new passion for eventing. It’s just different.  (Here’s the plug for my incredibly patient and understanding husband). He’s unbelievably  supportive – so that helps. Plus, I’m blessed with the cutest little boy on the planet who knows that I love him very much, but I after I put him to bed, I do jaunt off to the barn for a late-night ride.  It’s just a little hard sometimes to finagle swim lessons, t-ball, date-nights, house-cleaning, oh and that darn full-time job, the hour commute, reading a bed-time story, training a puppy, oh yes, and that non-money tree checkbook.  I don’t have one of those ocean-deep checkbooks that allows me to just keep digging. Most of us don’t.   But, the lesson I’ve learned this week?  Buy Suave shampoo and conditioner instead of Aveda for the month and you can afford one more lesson!  (Part three is about lessons.  Lots and Lots of lessons – ugh.)

Some of you may be faced with the same dilemma I’m facing in the next two weeks.  Do I…..a) drop several hundred bucks to attend Rolex which I know will be phenomenal even though I’ve been there four times or….. b)Save those several hundred dollars on tack that I need, lessons that I need, schooling/showing fees that will hopefully come up this summer, etc.  It’s a tough decision, isn’t it?  Do I spend money watching professionals go around or do I spend money getting me to a place where I can without hesitation call myself an eventer?  I’ll sleep in a horse stall if I have to in order to get to Rolex this year on my slim budget.

Rolex is an addiction, but a good one.  For those of you who are heading out to Rolex for the first time….I’m so happy for you, and a little jealous probably.  Be careful, because it could change your life.

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