How to survive a trip to Rolex Kentucky with a non-horsey husband in tow.
I had no idea there were bars set up all around the Rolex Kentucky CCI****.
Drinking alcohol during the daylight hours had never been part of my previous visits to Rolex, so I was a wee bit surprised to see bartenders slinging bourbon and other versions of liquid courage in all corners, even scattered throughout the cross-country course.
I’d been to Rolex before, both as part of the Chronicle’s press team and as a groom; I’d never experienced the event as a true “spectator.” That is, until I booked a trip in 2012 with some friends and my decidedly non-horsey husband. And I learned that it’s a very different event when you’re not behind the scenes and you’ve got someone with you who thinks William Fox-Pitt is just some tall skinny dude.
Surviving Dressage Days
Sure, you want to sit in the stands and listen to Sally O’Connor’s commentary and debate with your friends about whether that flying change was too exuberant. But watching horses maneuver through the same pattern over and over again is mind-numbing and whine-inducing to most non-horsey husbands.
I found that the $7 spent on the Man O’War cocktail for my husband was a good investment pre-dressage watching. It’s all about compromise, people.
• Minimize the amount of dressage you force him to watch. At least at my own events, there’s the possibility of some not-so-civil disobedience during dressage, so he feigns interest. Not so much at Rolex.
I did get him to watch a little bit of dressage warm-up, but that was only because Marilyn Little was getting ready for her test, and he was fascinated by the sparkly bling on her boots, bridle and coat. Shiny things easily distract him. He might be part raccoon.
I struck a nice balance between our desires by snagging a plot of land on the grassy knoll at the far corner of the ring. I could watch a few tests (and don’t think I didn’t plan this interval around William Fox-Pitt’s time), and he could snooze in the sun. Win-win.
• Take an extended course walk. If your non-horsey husband is anything like mine, the fancy chainsaw work involved in constructing many of the jumps will intrigue him long enough for you to imagine yourself galloping up to a jump with the roar of the crowd urging you on.
Then he’ll start talking about how he needs a new chainsaw, and you’ll realize there’s not much that could incite you to actually aim at one of those jumps, and you’ll move on to the next complex.
But honestly, even non-horsey husbands are pretty impressed by the size and heft of the jumps at Rolex. Just pretend not to hear him when he asks if he can bring a fishing pole for in between horses at The Head of The Lake.
• Do the Land Rover test drive. He’ll talk about it for weeks after Rolex.
Really, the Land Rover test drive is just a phenomenally classy guided tour of a mud-bogging. If you let your non-horsey husband take the wheel of a shiny new vehicle you’ll never quite be able to afford and run it through mud and over a teeter-totter of logs, you’re golden for the rest of the weekend. Bonus points if you sit in the back seat and take photos and videos he can use as evidence for his friends.
The Thrills And Spills Portion
He might not admit it, but he actually will enjoy cross-country day.
• What’s not to love about watching the best of the best tackle the enormous jumps you saw up close and personal the day before? And again, they have those bars scattered intermittently around the course. You’ll also encounter plenty of dogs to pet as you wander from fence to fence. It’s pretty much a big outdoor party, and who doesn’t like one of those?
• We might get tons of enjoyment from watching Mary King ride masterfully through the sunken road complex, but for the non-horsey husband, there’s nothing like a dramatic refusal. Prep him beforehand on applause protocol—that any disobedience at a fence should not be met with clapping or a delighted comment on how quickly that horse got the rider off.
The deployment of an air vest tends to fascinate the non-horsey husband to no end. Of course, we all hope for each and every rider and horse to find their way back to the barn safely, but let’s face it, this is Rolex. A little disobedience here and there is to be expected, and it livens up the day.
• One can only hope that your non-horsey husband won’t embarrass you quite as much as mine did. Before Rolex 2012, I had written for the Chronicle about Boyd Martin multiple times, and hence my husband was familiar with stories about Boyd’s tragic barn fire, resilience and trademark Aussie propensity for a great quote. He mentioned briefly before we traveled to Rolex that he’d like to meet Boyd. I foolishly dismissed this as idle chitchat.
That was, until we were strolling through the trade fair during the mid-day break on cross-country day. My husband spied a sign at the Purina Feeds booth advertising an autograph signing with Boyd at 1 p.m. When I realized he wasn’t walking next to me anymore, I turned around to find him firmly ensconced in a line full of giggling teenage girls waiting to meet Boyd. “Quick, go get me a Rolex Preview Issue,” he pleaded.
I promised to hand over the Chronicle for autograph application on the condition that he not reveal any connection to me or the Chronicle. So, imagine my horror when mid-chat with Boyd, he introduces himself as “Mr. Molly Sorge. You know, from the Chronicle!” Sigh.
Still Sound For Show Jumping?
Guess what day this is? Trade fair day—when you sharpen your elbows in anticipation of bargain-bin diving and grease up your credit cards so they don’t squeak too loudly sliding through the machines.
• So far, the outdoor trade fair may have just been a crowded place to walk through on previous days. My husband had no idea what treasures awaited us inside the tents, much less inside the indoor in the heart of the shops.
Luckily, there is a tractor display. You can park your husband here for a good hour before the salesman asks the announcer to page you to come pick up your husband because he’s tired of wiping the drool off his shiny new tractors.
Conveniently, at that point you will probably have amassed enough shopping bags to assign him the role of pack mule when you head to the indoor shopping area. The key to successfully shopping at any of the stands with your husband in tow is to never let him see a price tag. I take that back—be strategic about them, as some price tags can work in your favor. Whispering, “See what I could have spent on a saddle?” can make him think you’re actually frugal.
• For a non-horsey husband, the only thing that makes the trade fair bearable is a detour through the food court. Stocked to the gills with fried delicacies and any kind of food usually reserved for state fair consumption, it can quell any appetite. And we all know the adage about the way to a man’s heart. Just make sure you minimize the line-waiting angst by plying him with another of those giant cocktails. He’ll wait all day for a fried Oreo with one of those in his hand.
• And you know what’s right there as you enter the stadium to take your seats for show jumping? That’s right, one of those handy dandy bars. A full stomach and second Man O’War will make sitting through show jumping more enjoyable for you both. And his food coma will not only keep him from wondering just how much the stuff in all those bags at his feet cost, but also leaves you free to enjoy the suspense of watching the last few jump.
This article first appeared in the April 22, 2013 Rolex Preview Issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. Check out the great articles in this year's Rolex Preview edition, including Jimmy Wofford's predictions on the field, in-depth profiles of Kim Severson and William Fox-Pitt, and a look at the lives of three amateur riders headed to Rolex Kentucky—how they balance work, family life and riding at that level. What are you missing if you don't subscribe?