If you are an eventer or admire the sport of eventing, Rolex is the mecca for the sport. The cool part is, the powers that be know this and do a really sick job of making this event great for everybody – the riders, the owners, the sponsors, and the spectators. It just seems like every detail is addressed, and if there’s a little downside here and there (all the walking, for me) then it’s made up for by the incredible sport we get to see and the fun of annually meeting friends who love the very same things we do. It really is about the horses (and the shopping).
Don’t tell your friends you will meet by the “green Rolex sign.” It won’t work out for you, because there are loads of them all over the grounds!
Better yet, meet by “Bruce”- that’s the life size statue of Bruce Davidson dropping into the Head of the Lake – and it’s set up at the end of the grandstands just before the Sponsor Village tents and rows. It’s a good central meeting place – by the bathrooms, grandstand seats, arena, and usually the Dubarry booth with that poor fellow standing perpetually in that tray of water.
At Rolex, friends don’t let friends dehydrate. Make sure you always have a bottle of water and keep drinking for that humid Bluegrass climate as you travel around the grounds. Kentucky Horse Park is a big place! Eat in the gigantic food tent area, shop in all the shops, walk through the Museum of the Horse and go visit the Man O’War statue (an absolutely stunning work of art).) The Maker’s Mark bourbon people usually have some kind of display but I’m not seeing it on the map this year, however, it’s still probably reservation only and of course, limited to adults. Get out on the course – walk on that bluegrass – it is good for your soul. Oh and backpacks. Don’t think you are going to easily carry a purse around all day.
Since Saturday is cross-country day, and for some of us that’s the heart of the sport, I’ll start with Fanship Saturday.
Only a few years old, the tailgating phenomenon is one of the most popular spectator activities. By now, most tailgaters have reserved their spots (some purchase online right when they open way back in the fall) and plans are ripping across cyber space. What food to bring, or prepare? Drink? Stuff?
Tailgaters have to drive in and park EARLY Saturday morning and can’t leave all day so they tend to pack enough for an arctic expedition. This year with cross-country happening ALL DAY without a lunch break, so my advice is be friends with someone with a tailgate spot. You will need a place to sit down and eat and drink, and why not do it where you can see William Fox-Pitt gallop by and jump a maximum table a few feet from your chardonnay glass?
Head of the Lake
Unless you are there and staked out on the ropes at O’Dark Thirty, you will probably not be able to just walk up and see any competitor get through this favorite complex. It will take several riders to be able to find a spot to see, so give yourself plenty of time if you want to watch a particular rider negotiate this obstacle. It’s close to the grandstands and porta potties as well as food vendors too so it’s a good rest stop on your cross country day plan, but it is crowded. One of the better photo opportunities, though.
Cheer loudly for everyone. Not just your favorite! (I think it’s a rule.) As for other “rules”: When you hear a whistle, look up and make sure you are out of the way of a horse. If you have a dog, please keep it leashed and hold onto the leash – a loose dog on cross-country day is an unforgivable incident and you do not want it to be your dog. Same with small kids. Don’t let them run under the ropes!
Please be courteous to the volunteers, it is a long hard day and they work for a t-shirt and a bag of chips. Look UP, for gosh sakes when a horse goes by – these are the greatest event horses in the world and they are here in all their glory – it’s their show – watch them! Be courteous about others at the ropes getting a view. Please don’t hog the best spots, let others in, take your turn, and look out behind you. If you see someone struggling with a wheelchair or stroller, help them. The officials and fence judges are really busy so try not to bother them with a dumb question or common observation. If you see someone drop something, pick it up and give it back to them. If you step on trash, pick it up and throw it in a can. Don’t treat the Horse Park like a back alley. A hat, backpack, sunscreen and bug spray are a must. Dry socks help, too! Otherwise, dress for the weather which is often changeable this time of year in the Bluegrass. And hydrate!
Before Saturday, there’s a bunch of Fanship stuff you have to experience. Here’s some highlights. And don’t forget the… starts with an “s” and ends with a “g”…
There has come to be an exhausting array of course walks available to spectators on Thursday and Friday. Some you need to sign up online, some it’s just show up at a certain time, some are fun, some are not worth the effort. There are several sources. First, check some of the biggest vendors’ and sponsors ‘tents. They will often put out signs or notices telling when their sponsored riders will be available for a course walk, or autographs – and all the course walks happen Thursday and Friday, in and around the rider’s dressage ride times. Practical Horseman magazine, SmartPak, Jeep, Dubarry and others in the past have held course walks with sponsored riders. Do some internet sleuthing and see what works for you. Practical Horseman’s course walk, usually with an eventing luminary such as Jim Wofford, can be excellent but very large, and they don’t walk every jump, just complexes. Most course walks are shortened somewhat to include the important questions, and you may NOT go inside the stringed-off gallop lanes – only riders and coaches are allowed on the lanes to keep them level for the horses on Saturday. Pack light, wear good walking shoes or boots, and if it is wet, wear waterproof. Take a bottle of water for hydration, and charged up camera/phone for pictures or videos. And listen!
Did you think I was going to get around to this part? Of course! Over 175 merchants are booked in the Trade Fair and Sponsor Village. There are longtime favorite booths I never miss (Animals To Wear, ECOGOLD, any leather goods, Dark Horse Chocolates…and I annually slobber over the new horse trailers from Bluegrass) and there are always new things in the sport horse world to see. Take your time and look at everything! Many vendors use Rolex as one of the major retail incomes of their business for the year, so don’t think you can do better when you get home or find something similar online – often you can’t, and if you don’t pick it up here you may not find it later. If you are considering a major purchase later in the year, it’s still a good opportunity to see how that airvest works, or sit in a few expensive saddles and get an idea of what you like and can make plans to afford. There is a baggage check and if you fly in and can’t pack it home, and most of the vendors have shipping services – ask. There is a ton of stuff to see, and not much time if you’re only there for the weekend, so study the list of vendors and the map online at the rk3de.org website. And don’t think everything is out of your price range. I’ve shopped and found very nice things on a strict budget in years past. Talk to the sales people, sign up for the fun stuff, participate in the giveaways — it’s all part of a proper Fanship experience.
For all things Rolex, I recommend that you install the app! It’s at Google Play (rk3de) where I installed it, and also available at the iTunes Store, I think.
There are other experiences – the Kentucky Reining cup, the last day of racing at Keeneland which many skip afternoon dressage to experience, and many more things to see and do which only come up once you get on the grounds. Everyone finds one thing they really, really love at Rolex each year. I hope you find everything you want, you get to cheer loudly for your favorite rider on cross-country, and you don’t arrive home exhausted. (But you will!)