Equestrian Shines during 2006 Rolex Tournament
For each of the last nine years, world champions, Olympians and select amateurs from across the world have come to Lexington, Kentucky to compete in the Western Hemisphere’s only annual Four-Star Three-Day Equestrian Event. The purpose of a Four Star event here in the good ol’ US of A is to provide an annual competition that, by its scope and demand, affords the US Equestrian Federation the opportunity to evaluate candidates seeking competition or development grants or to be named to a team representing the US in international championships.
In 1998, the Rolex became only the third annual Four-Star event in the world, joining the venerable English events of badminton (1949) and bughley (1961). Since the Rolex was added, two more Four-Star events have been added — one in Adelaide, Australia and one in Luhmuhln, Germany. The Olympic games and World Championships are the only other Four-Star competitions.
Kentucky Horse Park, where the event is hosted, is a 1,212 acre park surrounded by over 30 miles of plank fencing. It was opened in 1978 by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and has facilities that support nearly a thousand horses and tens of thousands of spectators. The park has recently been chosen for the FEI’s World Equestrian Games in 2010. It is home to over 200 horses and ponies, including 50 different breeds. Most of the animals are donated or leased. During the three-day event, the park will be visited by approximately 80,000 spectators and 70 riders from seven countries. More than a thousand volunteers will help run it and journalists from around the world will cover it, not to mention live coverage in Europe and a one-hour special on NBC.
Well, that’s all well and good, but what happened during the event, you ask? During this year’s Rolex, men and women ranging from 20 to 57 years of age competed side by side during the competition with no handicap given to either sex in the three main disciplines of equine events: dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping.
Day One: Dressage
Dressage is the guidance of a horse through a series of complex maneuvers by slight movements of the rider’s hands, legs and weight. The riders always wear proper attire, including tails and a top hat, and the horses are groomed to perfection. Think of participating in dressage as going to an expensive French restaurant where a shirt, shoes, jacket, tie, expense account and a copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette, not to mention impeccable manners and perfect posture, are required just to be there. And of course, the horse must do all of that in front of over 20,000 spectators. As one might guess, this involves grace and delicacy.
If the rider properly signals the horse to move one way over the predetermined course and the horse goes another, or if the horse makes its own decision as to which direction to go, the rider is penalized and is farther away from his own goal of winning the event.
Day Two: Cross-Country
Cross-country is just that: a hurried but controlled ride across varied terrain. Heralded as one of the most exciting days in equine eventing, cross-country requires determination and intestinal fortitude by both rider and mount. England’s Mike Etherington-Smith designed the 6,270 meter course — that’s nearly four miles to us Yanks — to include nearly 30 jumps over man-made hedges, logs, fences and even a hay wagon. Up mounds, around ditches and through ponds, the horse and rider are physically and mentally tested.
Whether it’s jumping over a three and a half foot fence and then down nearly seven feet into a pond, or keeping track of the time (riders are required to finish the course within 22 minutes, though competitive riders finish in a little over 11 minutes), the pressure never ends.
The Final Day: Stadium Jumping
With two days and two events completed, stadium jumping is reserved for the last day. The object of stadium jumping is to cleanly clear all of the obstacles put forth in the horse and rider’s way. Style, poise and the manner in which the jump is completed are irrelevant. After two days of mental and physical anguish, stadium jumping puts everything in perspective. All they have to do is clear the jumps in front of them, which is easier said than done. In fact, this year’s 13th place finisher had a relatively comfortable lead after the first two days, but faltered miserably on the final day.
This year’s deserving winner, Andrew Hoy, broke a string of victories by female riders and beat out a number of World Champions and Olympians along the way. For more information about this prestigious event, visit www.rk3de.org.