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April 21, 2010

Rolex: It’s More Than Just A Watch

Bruce Davidson and Irish Cap won the 1974 World Championships at the Burghley Horse Trials in England, which granted the United States the right to host them in 1978. Photo by Findlay Davidson.

I haven’t had a lot of time to ride this year. Between work, Snowmaggedon, Snowpocolypse, the rain, the cold, the absence of sunlight, my new coaching gig, and did I mention snow? I’ve been scrambling for more than five hours of sleep at night, let alone going riding.

But last weekend I decided it was time to get back in the saddle. While I will be focusing on walking and trotting up and down hills in two-point for the next few weeks, some of the best riders in the world have completed their conditioning programs and will be gathering in Kentucky to contest the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Wahoo!

Rolex. Just saying it gives you chills, right? I knew about Rolex before I knew what eventing was. I knew it was something amazing, and I knew I wanted to be there one day. My goals have changed since my youthful fancies, but you never know, anything is possible these days. I’m convinced of that!

Most of us know how Rolex Kentucky got its start, but let’s have a refresher course on a little bit of eventing history, shall we?

Eventing’s roots begin in the military, where horses were the primary mode of transportation of men and equipment until the 19th century. Horses of every shape and size were used for war, depending on the style of warfare. Dressage, for example, started with Xenophon’s training methods and further developed during the Renaissance when men started using firearms.

Since most cavalries needed horses that were versatile and well-schooled, a system of training was developed that tested the horses’ bravery and elegance, stamina and precision, and their power and grace. The horses were tested on the parade ground (dressage), on long marches (roads and tracks), jumping over distance on dispatch runs (cross-country) and in the arena (show jumping).

The beginnings of eventing as we know it today began in 1902 at the Championat du Cheval d’Armes in France, and they became a part of the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1912. Sweden captured the first team gold medal with Axel Norlander and Lady Artist winning the first individual gold.

But anyway, I’m hoping to do a more in-depth look at eventing before the World Equestrian Games, so back to Rolex!

After Bruce Davidson and Irish Cap won the 1974 World Championships at the Burghley Horse Trials in England, the United States was granted the right to hold the championships in 1978. The Kentucky Horse Park was chosen as the location, and the first horse trials were held there in 1976.

The 1978 event was a huge success, and once again, Bruce Davidson captured the individual gold medal with Might Tango. More than 170,000 spectators attended, and it was broadcast all over the world. That success was in large part due to the efforts of Equestrian Events, Inc., a non-profit organization created to help plan the competition. EEI has organized the event every year since.

The event originally started as an advanced three-day and included intermediate and preliminary competition in its early years. The CCI**** competition began in 1998, making it the only four-star in the United States, and at the time, only the third annual four-star in the world.

And what a four-star! The stories that roll across the bluegrass every year are full of inspiration and hope, heartbreak and triumph and overcoming the odds. Tens of thousands gather in Lexington to experience greatness and witness something spectacular.

A horse and rider’s Rolex result has long been a factor in choosing the teams that go on to represent the United States in international competition, and according to the event’s website, seven of the 15 1996 Olympic Three-Day medal winners competed at Rolex in 1995 or 1996.

From humble beginnings to a world-class event, the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day is a life dream for many up-and-coming eventers. Competing at Rolex is like being a part of an exclusive club. A lot of people can say they’re eventers, and a lot of people can ride at the three-star level, but it takes a special partnership to enter the start box in April in Kentucky.

For me, entering the start box at training level for the first time gave me chills. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to do it on that last weekend in April, the galloping lanes pristine and lush, the jumps beautifully decorated, and an atmosphere that is so electric it makes your hair stand on end. All I can say is that some day I hope to have a horse half as brave as the ones who compete at Rolex.

Or maybe, half as crazy.

Make sure you pay a visit to our Rolex photo gallery, full of photos of the last 32 years of Rolex Kentucky!

Do you have favorite photos you’ve taken while visiting (or riding) at Rolex Kentucky? Email them along with any identification information you have and your name to coree@chronofhorse.com, and we’ll put together a photo gallery and post it on the website.

One of web writer Coree Reuter’s favorite parts of working at The Chronicle of the Horse is adventuring up into the attic. While it's occasionally a journey that requires a head lamp, GPS unit and dust mask, nearly 75 years of the equine industry is documented in the old issues and photographs that live above the offices, and Coree is determined to unearth the great stories of the past. Inspired by the saying: "History was written on the back of a horse," she hopes to demystify the legends, find new ones and honor the horses who have changed the scope of everyday life with this blog.

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