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April 15, 2010

Rolex Kentucky Will Be A Showcase Of What’s To Come

Photo by Nancy Jaffer

Our columnist is waiting for eventing’s next superstar horse to emerge, maybe at Rolex Kentucky or the WEG.

The end of April brings the arrival of warm weather and the eagerly awaited Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

The best in the world come to the Kentucky Horse Park to challenge the ultimate competition on the U.S. eventing calendar. That top competition has become the norm in these past 11 years of having the four-star, the highest level of the sport, con-tested here in Kentucky. Certainly the added bonus of dressage and show jumping having their Kentucky Cup Test Events at the same time as the four-star this year adds to the excitement created by the upcoming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games this autumn.

Rolex Kentucky marks the end of the spring season for a great number of competitors who have been diligently working at improving their skills in all of the three phases that determine the best of the best in the all-around horseman category.

This spring has been unusual because of the weather on the East Coast. A high level of rain, snow and cold has put a damper on the training schedules for all of the athletes, equine and human. Riders have been quite conservative in their runs leading up to this CCI. Not until The Fork Horse Trials (N.C.) (p. 66), one of the best in the country, have the riders truly competed their horses at the level that they can.

It’s been interesting that this year no dominant player has taken all of the competitions by storm. That leaves the door wide open for someone to say that he or she is the combination to beat. We really haven’t seen a dominant pair since Kim Severson retired Winsome Adante, three-time winner of the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, three years ago. Who will take the next several years and call them their own? Maybe the Rolex Kentucky CCI will be the starting point for that ongoing winning streak.

Any sport needs heroes, and though we have riders that we all admire, there doesn’t seem to be a horse that the public worships. Hopefully, this will change, but I hope it’s not because these horses compete more often than they used to and their careers seem to be shorter. These careers may not last long enough for the fans to truly get behind these horses.

It’s nice to see competitors who have been around for a while but truly seem to be trying to cross that line from good competitors to stars. Buck Davidson and Will Coleman are leading this bunch, but right behind is Boyd Martin. These men are going to be the leaders on and off the field for the next 10 years, and I hope they have a healthy rivalry between them.

There’s nothing better than having a competitor who you consider a true rival. That keeps you up at night thinking about improving your technique and making sure your horse has everything that it needs to be prepared physically and mentally. 

I just watched interviews with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, two heroes of basketball. They’re friends now, but they drove each other to greatness during their athletic careers. They’re fierce in their determination to be the best, and they had to get by one another to get there. I feel that for us to get back to the top of the sport internationally we need to develop fierce competitors at home at the upper levels. This should never be to the detriment of the horses but more of a drive of the imagination to achieve that extra bit more to be a true champion.

It was nice to see that at The Fork, on a glorious weekend, there were only two advanced divisions: the CIC and the regular advanced. They were large classes with more than 40 in each and hard to win. That rewards only a good performance. There’s nothing worse for a true competitor than to be successful without having a truly good performance, mainly because you aren’t stretched to be excellent. This leads to a road of mediocrity that has no place in international competition.

Rolex Kentucky will be the snapshot of what is coming up later this year. The Park looks fantastic, and Mike Etherington-Smith’s cross-country course will hint at what is to come this autumn at the WEG, where he is also designing the course.

The WEG is looming, with only five months before the opening ceremonies. The opportunity to compete at this level, at home, is not going to happen again in a very long time. I hope that at the end of the competition, we all will know that we’ve done everything in our power, and imagination, to achieve that moment on a medal stand for our team. The United States will have hosted a competition that we’ll talk about for years to come. I certainly know that I’ll be the loudest cheerleader!

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "Rolex Kentucky Will Be A Showcase Of What’s To Come" ran in the April 16 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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