This morning in Lexington Kentucky, at the Kentucky Horse Park, dressage horse and rider teams are putting last minute touches on their turnout, going over test patterns in their heads, and maybe saying a few prayers to the horse show Gods for a good run. It’s Rolex time!
The Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event is an eventing competition held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Rolex Kentucky is a CCI**** eventing competition, and the only regularly held four-star in the Western Hemisphere. Four stars is the highest level of competition in the sport, the same level of competition as Eventing at the Olympics and the World Equestrian Games. The event is sponsored by Rolex watches and is known by many equestrians simply as Rolex. Prize money of $350,000 is distributed among the top placings with $100,000 as well as a Rolex watch awarded to the first place horse and rider. Rolex is held the last weekend of April, the week before the Kentucky Derby. It is one of the three events in the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing, and serves as a qualifying event for the US Olympics.
Due to the intense physicality of the sport, (two horses actually died of heart attacks in 2008) a specialized team of Veterinarians are on staff at all times to perform regular evaluations, as well as overall health and injury management.
I’ve only had the pleasure of attending “The Rolex” once, but it was a fantastic experience and I can’t wait to go again some day. I’m an all-arounder, one who prefers four-on-the-floor when it comes to my horses feet, so this is way out of my realm of knowledge, but anyone who appreciates a good equine athlete can appreciate this show. This competition encompasses the three phases of eventing, Dressage, Cross Country jumping, and stadium jumping. Done over a three-day span (so as not to exhaust horse or rider, as a test of skill and endurance).
Thursday and Friday are the dressage rounds, which tests the gaits, suppleness and obedience of the horse through a series of prescribed movements. To some, it can be a bit like watching paint dry, but to me, it’s incredible. Admittedly, I prefer the musical freestyle routines, combining my favorite things, horses, music, and dancing, but dressage done well, I can watch for hours.
Saturday is spent on the grueling cross country course. Arrive in enough time to walk at least a portion of the course, you need to stand next to, and be dwarfed by some of the mind-boggling obstacles the horse and rider teams face. They gallop over four miles of the challenging terrain, at speeds up to 25 mph, while negotiating, water hazards, banks and ditches. It takes your appreciation for their athleticism to another level.
Sunday is the final test, jumping another set course of towering oxers, walls, bars, and rails, all timed again, in a stadium. Horse and rider teams finishing with a clean round (no rails down) then compete in a jump off, or shortened course with a faster time restriction. Those scores, combined with the scores from the previous two events, eventually crowing the winner.
As far as I’m concerned, this is a must-see event for any horse enthusiast. It’s great to watch on tv, but until you see it right in front of you, there’s no comparison. In addition to the competition, there are activities, a trade show, and plenty of other things to do at the Kentucky Horse Park itself in your down time. Kentucky in the spring is a beautiful place to be! Find everything you need to know on their website: