My First Rolex Kentucky in 1993 – photo by Amy

Amy Lopez sent us this fantastic article about her first time at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event where she went as a groom. 

From Amy:

Do you remember your first Rolex?

The first time you saw your heroes in action?

The first time you truly felt the thrill of cross-country at its finest?

The first time you maxed out your credit cards at a trade fair?

I remember my first time. It was definitely “a first” in many ways.

  • My first time seeing an advanced horse trial
  • My first time seeing a three star (or any “star”)
  • My first experience with the long format
  • My first time attending (a USCTA recognized) horse trial
  • My first time as a groom

Did you catch that? Yes, my first Rolex was all of those things…. and I was going as a groom.

It was 1993. I was 15 years old.

The summer before My First Rolex, I had my introduction to eventing as a working student for Kitty Turner and Jill Turner (now Williams) at South Winds Farm in Americus, Georgia. I clearly remember sitting around the kitchen table waiting for the phone to ring. Jill, and her horse Sir Winston, were to complete their first advanced cross-country. This was well before live scoring and cell phones –we all had to wait for Jill to return to her hotel and call us with news. The call came. The news was good. We were on our way!

Jill, at 21 years old, would be competing at her first Rolex. A groom was needed and (unfortunately, for her) the most likely candidate was the 15 year old brand-new-to-eventing working student.

The Trip

I still remember the trip from Georgia to Kentucky. We loaded in the truck at dawn to avoid the cruel Georgia heat. Mr. Jack, Jill’s father, proclaimed, “There will be no stopping. You will not ask to go to the bathroom. Therefore, there will be NO drinking. If you are thirsty, you will chew ice. Here is your ice.” He was not kidding. And, as the truck had dual gas tanks (both full)….there was no stopping.

An article had appeared the day before in the local paper about Jill’s trip to Rolex. As we drove through the small town of Americus towards the interstate, we began to notice that almost everyone’s porch light was on. We then began to notice the people on their porches, most in robes, holding their early morning coffee.  They were waving.  As we passed through town, Mr. Jack blew the diesel’s horn at the smiling, waving people that had gotten up early just to show support for Jill on her journey to Rolex.

We’re Here!

We finally arrived. After locating the nearest restroom, it was time to unload. And I noticed the fence and security guards around the stabling…. who directed us to park the trailer “way over there”. This was going to make things interesting. Being on a budget, we had not reserved a tack stall. And a three-day event horse has more than a few supplies. And the trailer was far away. As in… I think I could see it if I walked down the stable aisle and then squinted.

This made unloading “fun”. It kept me busy and warm. When we left Georgia, temperatures were already soaring into the 90s. Yet, in Kentucky, it was cold…as in 40’s. Winston, of course, had his full complement of blankets (I know this because I unloaded them all, walking them form trailer to stall). I, on the other hand, had packed only t-shirts. I was freezing. I would stay that way –a trip to Wal-Mart revealed not a sweatshirt, coat or bit of long underwear.

Teeth-chattering Jill announced it was time to walk the course. This sounded great (please recall this is my first event ever). So we walked, and walked. And looked at objects that could not possibly be jumps (Jill informed me that they were). Then we walked some more.  Miles later we were done (holy crap –who KNEW the course was that long!?) only for Jill to announce that we should walk it again, this time including steeplechase. Yay.

After walking the course a few hundred more times we tucked Winston in and headed to the hotel. The event had not even started yet and I was exhausted and could not wait to get to bed. I was so looking forward to a blissful night’s sleep…. only to find out Mr. Jack snores like a wild boar. We all piled in to one hotel room (that budget thing again) with Mr. Jack in one bed and Jill and I in the other. I was about to fall asleep when I heard the most god-awful sound. I swear the windows rattled. It was Mr. Jack.  I don’t think I slept that week. However, Jill and I’s throwing aim greatly improved with the practice we received from hurling objects towards to the other bed all night.

Not–even-close-to-rested it was already morning and time to go back to the horse park. I was greeted by an unholy mess in Winston’s stall. As a southerner, I only had experience with pine shavings. So when the nice delivery people asked if I would like straw or shavings I enthusiastically took both and as happy as a lark built Winston a nice comfy bed. However, without a pitchfork (or experience mucking straw), his stall cleaning…was a challenge. Have you ever tried to clean shavings and straw mixed together with a manure fork? Don’t. Just don’t. After the epic stall cleaning battle, we walked the course a again. Good times.

Dressage (and one of the most important lessons I ever learned)

Jill and Winston – photo by Amy

In a blink, I found myself standing outside of the dressage arena as Jill and Winston began THE ROLEX KENTUCKY THREE DAY EVENT. The enormity of it finally sank in; this was my horse, my rider, my responsibility.  My hands clenched. My stomach churned. I stopped breathing as I watched them.

Then disaster! During counter-canter Winston changed leads! For the first time I actually felt my heart sink. Tears welled. I was devastated.

Yet, as Jill rode out of the arena, she was beaming. Beaming! I was incredulous “What happened?!” He never does that at home?!” Jill, still smiling, simply shrugged “Wasn’t he wonderful! This is the BEST horse! I can’t wait for cross-country!”

That, my friends, was a very important lesson in sportsmanship for yours truly. A lesson that stays with me to this day.

And then, we walked the cross-country course a few more times. Awesome.

Let’s Run and Jump!

By this time, I had schlepped from the trailer to stabling enough times to wear a path in the concrete. The volunteers obviously pitied the idiot (wearing t-shirt in 40-degree weather) that seemed to be always loaded with tack and always walking. They started giving me rides on the golf cart (bless them!). A few golf cart rides later, I had all equipment laid out for steeplechase and the 10-minute box.

It was time for cross-country. Luckily I had dutifully studied “The Event Groom’s Handbook”…it’s not like I had a wealth of experience to draw on….so as Jill passed me on the last Roads and Tracks yelling “shoe!” (and then chucking it right at me –studs and all!). I sprinted frantically to the farrier hollering “OMG Shoe!, OMG shoe!”. Luckily, he had been around the block a few times and managed to calm me and get ready for Jill as she rode into the 10-minute box. A shoe was tacked on, ice flew, grease was applied, ice flew. And they were off.

I stood immobile listening to the announcer, “Jill Turner and Sir Winston clear fence 1, Jill Turner and Sir Winston clear through the Lexington Bank, Jill and Sir Winston clear through the Head of the Lake, Jill Turner and Sir Winston clear!, Jill Turner and Sir Winston clear!”. And they were back. And they were clear. They weighed in, the tack came off, ice flew, we walked, ice flew, we scraped, ice flew we walked. And then it was back to the barn. My horse and my rider had gone clear!

I could not stop smiling. Even when I got up several times that night to go walk Winston (it was not like I was sleeping through Mr. Jack’s snores anyway).  We passed the jog and it was on to show jumping. Jill and Winston rode in with a cricket score (the dressage + lots of time penalties (very smart, kudos to Jill and another lesson for me) on cross-country.  Despite the high score I was thrilled –my horse  and my rider were about to complete ROLEX! As they rode in to jump, a nice lady came up to tell me to have Jill stay around for awards “just in case”.

“Huh! Just in case of what? Is there an award for most time penalties? Or, more likely, surviving with the worst groom?” They had won the Markham Trophy (for the USET’s Highest Placed Young Rider)!  Seeing my horse and my rider in the victory gallop…I do not have words (for once).

That was my first Rolex.

I have been back now a few times as both a groom and spectator. As with many things, there is nothing quite like the first time. And when I do go I always find myself winding my way through the Horse Park’s museum. I am looking for the Markham Trophy. I am looking for the names “Jill Turner and Sir Winston”. And when I finally see the etching, the memories come.

If you are ever at the Horse Park and come across a lady standing at the trophy case with a goofy smile and a tear in her eye please come say hello. If you have time, she will surely enjoying telling you a tale of her horse and her rider and their first Rolex.

Amy