Memoir of a Rolex Newbie: Rolex is For Everyone

Candace Wade attended her first-ever Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and shares her experience — and why you don’t have to necessarily be an eventing fan to experience Rolex.

Candace’s new Rolex friends. Photo by Candace Wade.

Eventing Nation has the skinny on every nuance of why Michael Jung won the 2017 Rolex — for the third time. I will irritate the devotees with my neophyte views like, “I thought FischerRocana FST looked a tad sleepy and uninterested at dressage on Friday.” Pair that with my absolute, jiggy marvel during my first exposure to the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event and you’ll see that Rolex is for everyone.

Going to Rolex wasn’t on my radar. Bill, my horse-husband, was excited about the event and wanted to come with me. He espoused his ideology: “You should always go to experience the best.”

Dressage – She Lost? Really, The Horse Looked Good to Me

I could lick up dressage all day. No, I can’t catch all the required matching angles and number of steps between positions, but I appreciate the quiet artistry, balance and mature partnership between the horse and rider. I struggle to nick the surface of some of these qualities in my own recreational riding. Even though Bill was good for only about 30 minutes of dressage, he was amazed to watch the likes of these world-class riders in person.

Bill and I tried to eavesdrop on the two tony dressed couples in front of us. They looked elegantly horsey. Our hope was to glean a little intelligence on what to look for — but don’t be fooled by a chignon or a navy blazer. Turned out they didn’t know much more than we did.

The Human Experience

I felt raw electricity seeing James Alliston on Parker as they thundered toward my first cross-country jump (the big table at the Rolex Head of the Lake). They took a nauseating spill, catching the top of the tall, wide jump. Spontaneous tears came to my eyes. Bill came back to me with his eyes watering.

Our tears caught the attention of two eventing students from Ohio, Lisa Collette and Danielle Struna, and Noell Sivertsen, their trainer. Noell asked if we were okay. Conversation blossomed from there. Noell competes in one-star events. She had stars tattooed on her wrist waiting to be filled in as she progresses. The three tossed tidbits of their knowledge of the horses, riders and strategy as they escort us across the course.

I have been writing about performance Tennessee Walking Horses. The differences between the Rolex horses and riders and what I’ve seen at the Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee was jarring to me. I shared my views with the trio on the balanced riding, the maturity and stamina of the horses and the riding in concert that I watched during the weekend. Lisa asked, “Do you know about Theo? Are you…?” “Yes,” I replied, “I’m Theo’s aunt.” She educated the others.  She finished with, “I love following Theo’s progress.” I spouted tears once again.

Practical Stuff

Info for next year: our hotel was 20 minutes away in Frankfort, Kentucky. This was the closest I could get reserving in February 2017. Rooms were cheaper and available. We had no traffic issues except getting into the Horse Park, but you are going to have traffic on Saturday no matter where you stay.

Believe the experts — plan for heat, cold, rain, soggy grass and a lot of walking – all in one day.

Stick to a shopping budget. Stephaney at the Dubarry booth smiled me into a “lie down and die” tweed jacket that I didn’t need, but am thrilled to have, in spite of the “ouch” price tag.

Plan ahead. The event is April 26-29 in 2018. Hotels in Georgetown (a few miles north of the park) are already selling out. Arena tickets are on sale. Bill and I ended up in the stratosphere, behind a pole, for the dressage. This eagle’s eye view was wind chilled.  But, scaling up to the “X” row was a good thigh strengthener for the two-point and tush-toner for schooling tights.

Get Into It

Relishing the grandeur of this four star event is not just for experts. I respected the work and partnership that went into riding at the Rolex level. I was awed by the grace, power and concentration. I was moved by the recognition of their mounts when riders directed the applause to their horses and when a pair turned away at a cross-country jump because “it wasn’t their day,” possibly sparing the horse injury.

The event was enhanced by the people – reaching out, sharing and feeding off each other’s thrill. For me, equine events are about the people as much as they are about horses. I encourage any “horse-ista” to attend the Rolex next year. Bill is correct, “Always go to experience the best.”

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