When asked to describe what discipline I ride, I’ll answer, “Jumper,” even though I feel a little funny saying it, since we only jump three-foot fences. However, it seems silly to paint myself with that single moniker, as I happen to love dressage and eventing and will wander over to watch driving or reining if there’s a competition nearby. As you know, though, the world likes to slap labels on things, and place them in prescribed, easily understood boxes.
That kind of thinking puzzles me, and I’ve been contemplating a lot since telling a few horse friends I was heading off to watch the Rolex Kentucky Three Day event. “Why? Aren’t you a jumper?” was the almost universal response.
This puzzled me, as last time I checked, eventers do show jumping. (That’s the part when they jump over the brightly painted poles on the third day). They also do this crazy thing called cross-country where they jump immense natural objects at as blistering speed. And they spend the first day of the competition trotting and cantering in circles to remind their insanely fit equine partners that they have brakes and power steering as well as a gas pedal.
Quite frankly, anyone who can do all THAT on a horse is someone I want to watch and learn from, and that’s why I (very strategically) scheduled a business trip to Kentucky that coincided with the Rolex event.The FEI describes eventing as follows: “It covers all around riding ability and horsemanship: the harmony between horse and rider that characterize Dressage; the contact with nature precise knowledge of the horse’s ability and extensive experience required for Cross Country; the precision, agility and technique involved in Jumping.” Ummm, yep, that’s the kind of well-rounded horseperson I would like to aspire to being.
Take dressage, for example. We all know it’s the lynchpin of everything we do, but quite frankly, unless you are a huge fan of dressage, some feel it can be about as much fun as watching paint dry. What helps at major competitions is renting the headsets to listen to expert commentary from a reputed judge. Real life example from Rolex: On Day 2 of dressage my fellow HJU blogger Cheryl Figures and I had a group sitting behind us that consisted of two eventers and their 4 friends who rode Western. The four friends had no clue what was going on in front of their eyes, so I lent them my headset so they could listen to Sally O’Connor’s commentary. What a change that made! Their eyes opened wider, then focused more intently on the pair in the ring. They would smile or shake their head in silent agreement as something Sally said made sense, occasional “Ohs” of comprehension falling from their lips.
The most incredible moment of our interaction was when William Fox-Pitt entered the ring. Doesn’t matter who you are or what kind of tack you ride in, when WFP enters a ring anyone who knows horses knows they are in the presence of a true horseman. The Western couple behind me, each with a headset bud in one ear, sat up straighter to get a better look. “Oooooohhhh, look at his seat,” said the wife. “That dude is welded to his saddle!” was the husband’s response. We all watched in slack-jawed appreciation as William gave us a riding lesson. As we parted company after dressage ended, our new friends thanked us profusely, telling us that while they’d been happy to be at the park with the horses, they had not been particularly impressed with what they were seeing. Now they had a whole new appreciation for the sport, and were excited to learn more, as they could even relate some of what they were seeing to what they did at home.
I had to leave the competition early because of family commitments, so did not see the final two phases in person, although I watched them on USEFNetwork. (I watched the show jumping on my phone while at my daughter’s soccer game. Possibly not a Mother of the Year moment, but in my defense, there are so many soccer games and only one Rolex.) However, while I was at the park, I had the opportunity to go on course walks and talk with some of the best riders in the world to learn how they were planning to ride the course. From what they said, rhythm, pace, and line are universal concepts that are just as important over terrain as they are in a ring jumping pretty painted poles.
So although I may not be an eventer, my time spent at Rolex was invaluable. Any time you can spend watching amazing riders and listening to them discuss their art, or speaking with other amateur riders and discussing the challenges we all face, or chatting with vendors to learn of new products or technologies to help keep our horses comfortable and doing their jobs, is time well spent. I’ll be sifting through my Rolex memories and the learning gleaned from these experiences for a long time to come.
Thanks for reading!
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