The Rolex event (with a nice $300,000 purse) is the only Level 4 equestrian eventing competition held in the United States (and one of only 6 in the world) and draws top competitors from Europe, Canada, and the U.S. Three-day eventing dates back to 1912 when the competition (called “The Militaire” at the time) was first introduced at the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. The tests were patterned after the masterful skill of military chargers where precision, obedience, training, stamina, and courage were needed by horsemen and horse as they marched into battle.
Weeks leading up to the competition, preparations began in the horse park. Jumps had to be built and placed, rings graded and leveled, courses marked off, signs put up, vendor tents erected, and food carts hauled in. When the horses started arriving the excitement was felt.
On Thursday, hundreds of vendors opened and shoppers were ready to bust through the starting gate like horses at the race track. Tack, footwear, saddles, riding crops, horse trailers, clothing, you name it and it was being scarfed up by a bunch of well-dressed horse enthusiasts with credit cards. I scored a nice suede vest for $15!
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Friday was the first day of competition which saw horse and rider elegantly glide around the ring in the dressage test. Some would say watching dressage is like watching paint drying or grass growing. But to serious equestrians this is a masterful harmonious movement of the horse demonstrating obedience, ability, and cooperation. The elegance of dressage is in the riders ability to issue subtle commands that has the team artfully moving a set pattern of movements.
British royalty was represented by Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter Zara Phillips and High Kingdom. They were certainly fan favorites and had a large following as they came to the warm up arena. Unfortunately, Phillips scratched before her first event due to a minor injury to her horse. The disappointment was evident.
Saturday’s cross country event held sheer excitement that could not be stopped by a predicted 90% chance of rain with possible severe storms. This is the event that spectators love. They line the course to get a glimpse of horse and riders racing by at 35 mph jumping over tremendous obstacles, galloping into water, and jumping through a ring of shrubbery. Four miles and 28 solid obstacles stand to test the speed and jumping ability of the team. Cross-country is not only the most exciting for spectators but the most important because of the penalty weight it carries in the competition that will affect the riders standing.
The rider is judged on penalties (refusals, run-outs, dangerous riding, activation of a frangible device) and penalized for going over a certain time it takes to complete the course. Three refusals/run-outs or fall of an athlete will cause elimination. And when you see some of the obstacles, refusals seem likely.
Horse and rider must compete in all three events. If they are eliminated or electively pull out of an event they are out of the competition. The field dwindles sharply after the cross country event when some riders miss the jump sequence and realize penalty time with a drop in their standing. By the way, horses are veterinarian checked throughout the event to ensure they are sound and in good health to compete in the next days event.
The final event was the Jumping Test. The objective is to prove that on the day after jumping rigid obstacles at speed, horses can maintain the obedience to the rider necessary to cleanly jump at a controlled pace. As opposed to the cross country test, these obstacles will fall down resulting in penalties. Unfortunately, this event was sold out so we missed it.
A special thanks to event Board Member John Prayther who shared his enthusiasm about the event and generously provided us with tickets. This was the first time either of us had attended a 3-day equestrian event such as the Rolex and we both agreed that it was tremendously fun. I’m pretty sure we may put this event on our calendar for next year.
And yes, Spirit did get to join in the fun. Thanks for asking.