The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, hosts the Kentucky Three Day Event, also known as the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event because Land Rover is the sponsor. This was what Elaine and I experienced on the last day of our trip to Lexington, Kentucky, in April.
And quite an experience it was. All of my equestrian endeavors have been of a Western nature; Quarter horses and cowboy gear. This Three Day Event includes dressage, cross-country jumping, and show jumping, all very English by design, and completely out of my league. Competitors are international and Olympic quality. In fact, this is one of the select events that is used to train and qualify for the Olympic equestrian teams. And the Kentucky Horse Park and its Three Day Event is the only place in the Western hemisphere to hold this competition, which is designated a CCI***** event, the highest rating given by the Concours Complet International for Eventing, which is defined as an equestrian event where a single horse and rider compete in the three disciplines of dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. All of this is based on an historical comprehensive cavalry test that required mastery of several types of riding with horse and rider performing seamlessly, almost as one entity.
Whoa! Competing in the AQHA world (American Quarter Horse Association) may have some similarities and its own set of rules, but this is a whole new bag of vocabulary, tack, dress, grooming, and expectations, not to mention different breeds of horses. I was fascinated; Elaine, not so much. She was battling hip replacement issues and not really a horse person, but she was a good sport and let me take it all in. By the end of the day, I had walked 18,316 steps, 5.6 miles according to my phone app, rushing from one jump to the next on the four-mile loop of the cross country course. And we ended the day watching the Grand Prix, which is show jumping, at the Rolex Arena at the park. So here are some of the many pictures I took that day.
We didn’t get in a hurry to arrive that morning because the park is right there in Lexington. But we should have. Little did we know how popular this event is. Traffic was backed up considerably, and it took a while to finally park in overflow parking out in a pasture.
From there we walked to the jump closest to us, number 13, which happened to be the one at the end of the loop where horse and rider jump and then head back toward the start of the loop where jump number 28 is the last one. The whole course covers four miles to complete the 28 jumps. The horse and rider have eleven minutes to complete the course; time and faults at the jumps figure into the score they earn for their efforts.
Each jump has judges in place to look for those faults. We had not a clue where we were on the course or where to go next, so I went over to the judge at this jump, since she looked official and seemed a likely person to head us in the right direction, and asked for some instructions. And would you believe that out of all the people I could have asked, this one lives in Lubbock and teaches at Tech! Becky Rickly graciously put up with my intrusion, answered some general questions, and sent us off in the right direction.
As we walked in the direction she sent us, we saw people comfortably tailgating! Some were more elaborate than others, but they had their vehicles parked behind tents, chairs set up, tables laden with food, the works. I then remembered seeing something about paying for tailgating privileges when I researched the trip but didn’t think much about it. Now it all made sense. Many people had also brought lawn chairs, picked a spot, and sat most of the day, perhaps changing spots occasionally. I walked most of the day. So you could either pick a spot and watch all horses as they came by and jumped, or walk to various jumps throughout the day. Many people brought their dogs, too, which was allowed with a leash, but I wouldn’t want to put my dog through a long day like that or have to keep up with them. I mean, you come to see the horses, right?
And I know some of you are thinking, so where are all those horses, right? Well, here are a couple of the first ones we saw go by. Note the tailgaters in the background.
Our walking brought us to the Rolex Arena, where the Grand Prix would be held after all the cross-country was done.
Elaine opted to study the official program while comfortably sitting in the stands while I followed horses from jump to jump. She watched them prepare the arena and set up the jumps that we would watch the horses conquer later in the Grand Prix.
I certainly didn’t see all the horses and all the jumps, but here are a few more I enjoyed watching.
I had ground to cover. No wonder I walked over five miles that day!
More than one video screen was set up on the course for those who didn’t want to do all the walking. And more than one camera man was perched on scaffolding around the course to talk those videos. I had to smile; one of the cameras had NBC Golf written on the side. Must be an interesting job. Or not, depending on one’s taste in sports.
Look closely and you will see something white smeared on this horse’s legs. I was told that they put some kind of grease on the legs to protect them from some of the rough foliage and other things they have to clear on the top of the jumps. Some had it; some didn’t. In the Grand Prix that protection was not evident.
At this point I had made it to the beginning/end point of the loop. As soon as the horses passed the finish line, they were unsaddled, hosed off, and the cool down began. These same horse would be competing in the Grand Prix later, so attention was given to their care after this stage of the competition was over.
More jumpers were still coming in.
The cross-country was over by 1:50, so we then made our way to the Trade Fair, booths set up outside and inside another enclosed arena selling any and everything horse-related: tack, feed, medicine, riding clothes, boots, art, jewelry, I mean everything! There were even a few booths with Western gear, but naturally the focus was on things appropriate to the events here, a world away from what one would see at the Cowboy Symposium and Celebration being held this weekend in Lubbock. Horses would be the only common denominator.
The Horse Park has much more than we saw, but we chose to stay close to the arena area for the Grand Prix, and there was plenty to see while waiting for the show jumping to start. This was our view from the stands. We could have had seats closer to the arena and horses, but I chose seats under the roof as I had been warned it usually rained. And light mist had started. The clouds came in, the sun was gone, rain came and went, and the weather was considerably cooler. But we had a good view with some protection, and that was a good thing.
Covered, fancier seating was available on each side of the arena, no doubt for the horse owners, sponsors, and anyone willing to fork over the money, I’m sure, like skyboxes at the football games.
The jumping finally began.
The problem with taking pictures at an event like this is that you get so busy taking pictures you really miss what you came to see. So at some point, I just put the camera down and watched.
The event was just about over when the weather took a turn for the worst and tried to rain more. It became unpleasantly colder, and we had seen many horses compete already, so we headed for the car. As luck would have it, one of the Park’s golf carts, like the one pictured here, came by and offered us and several other walkers a ride to our cars. We jumped at the chance! Nice end to a full day.
Some day I may go back to the Three Day Event and see all three events. If I do, tailgating or at least a lawn chair will be considered for the day of cross-country. The Three Day Event is always scheduled the week before the Kentucky Derby, and the Derby is always the first Saturday in May. And from all we saw on this trip, you actually see more horses at the Three Day Event than anywhere else.
I highly recommend the trip. Kentucky is lovely, the horses are beautiful, and it will definitely be a break from your normal routine.
RIDE TV, which happens to be channel 248 on Dish, runs live and previously recorded performances of these equestrian events from all over the world on Friday and Saturday evenings. It’s not the same as being there, but they are beautiful to watch.