All the good things in the horse world are easy – at least that is the way it looks from the outside. For instance – all you had to do last weekend is click on USET Network, click on the Live Feed screen, and voila! There was Rolex Three Day Event in all its incredible, busy glory for you. The camera angles, the announcers, the views of the green expanse of manicured park all set for equestrian competition of the highest standard did not come about easily, although it looked soothingly so. Didn’t have to stand in line at the airport. Didn’t have to drive 8 hours. Didn’t have to buy tickets online in January. Easy; went to Rolex and didn’t leave the couch!
Not so much: behind the scenes, there was an army working its collective butt off. The man-hours of endless grass mowing, rope-stringing, fixing and painting and cleaning requires a large staff and keen management. The seemingly seamless video work requires long hours of lifting, carrying, toting, covering and uncovering, climbing, hooking up, unhooking, stringing wire, checking and double-checking, and then, on the day, hours of being blasted with cold rain while standing up on top of a rickety metal stand with a multi-thousand dollar piece of equipment in your hands. (Those cameramen – just wow.) The logistics of camera work in bad weather over a huge cross-country course is mind-boggling. Not easy!
The horses! They easily lift over the huge obstacles with what appears to be wings in their feet; then you walk up to the jump they just went over and can’t believe the choppy mud before it, the slippery grass after it that they just landed on, and the height and breadth of the huge table you can’t even see over. It just looks so easy when you are watching on video, or standing next to the rope, peering through slanting rain. Those athletes are years in the making. That incredible save when the horse twists and the rider stays on, that’s hours sweating in a gym, getting up in the dark for months and pushing through long hours teaching in dusty arenas to pay for six weeks in Aiken or two weeks with a gold medalist in some expensive part of the world. No, not easy.
The riders! The jumps in the opulently decorated show jump ring look fragile and the course so difficult, yet they see their distances easily, they always have the right canter, they ride so easily in balance – it looks effortless as they work their way through the toughest stadium course in American eventing. Yet it came from years of hard work. Endless schooling. Event after event, cold damp weekends, hot, humid weekends, flies and snow, depths of despair, the sinking feeling of an injury knowing it puts the Rolex dream on hold yet another year. Nothing easy about waiting for a sound horse, hoping to pick up where you left off a year prior. And the high of a win, or even a single great jumping effort on a cross-country course a long way from Kentucky, and daring to let yourself think, “this horse just might get me to Iron Works Pike in two years.” Practice with pressure. Patience with owners. Finding words to tell bad news to your supporters, dealing with knowing in your heart it’s not going to happen with one of the horses you love, and yet, keeping the dream alive – no, none of the that is easy, either.
It all looks easy to the 20,000 or 30,000 of us spectators (and many more online and surfing social media) watching Rolex each year. The build up to this event from all sides of the eventing world – riders, owners, vets and support people, the vendors, retailers and sponsors, the organizers and most importantly volunteers and spectators – the work laid in the months before makes the event what it is. The only part of it that’s not genuine is coming away with the impression that it’s all easy.
Somebody, somewhere, is working their butts off already for Rolex 2017.