Friday, May. 24, 2024

Finding Just The Right Volume At Land Rover Kentucky

Riders at the nation’s biggest event will be putting a lifetime of dreams and work to the test.
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As we age the years seem to go by faster, and in no time at all, here we are at the best week all year. Equestrian excellence will soon be on display at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event yet again, and all those who planned on riding or spectating are finalizing their schedules, putting the finishing touches on the horses, or organizing things at home to get ready for the trip.

If you’re going to ride in Lexington, one of the most beautiful places to be in the spring, I’m sure you’re finding every potential issue, real or imaginary, to keep you up at night in this final stage.

As I write this, we’re four weeks away from Kentucky, but what seems a long time is so very short. Time moves fast, almost as fast as the horses traveling the cross-country course: 15 years to dream, eight years to train and work with a horse, a year to plan—then a week to put it all together for probably 25 minutes of performance that will haunt you for the rest of your life. Will it be 25 minutes of glory? Pressure? Soul searching?

Zara Tindall and Class Affair will join a significant British contingent at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Arnd Bronkhorst Photo

A few years ago I was riding and coaching at a four-star that had a very difficult combination at the end of the course. It was a forward six strides to a wide, open corner. After riding it and watching a bunch of successes and some fails, I was discussing it with one of my students. I pointed out that the difficult thing with this type of question is that the less you do, the more likely you are to succeed in it. Yet as the horse is coming up the levels, if you are too soft, they can feel unsupported and learn to develop insecurities, losing confidence. It’s such a hard thing to know when and how much of anything is needed. However, one thing is certain: When you are asked the most difficult questions, as we’ll see at Kentucky, you had better have the ability to whisper when you ask if you don’t want to distract the horse. That whisper, oh how that whisper to your partner, when it works, can be transcendent. I go back to those moments over and over. That partnership draws you in and makes time stand still. The opposite of the years flying by, those 25 minutes can last forever for both good and bad reasons, but they will be etched in your soul.

In heaven, I imagine those moments will be on repeat. They won’t be huge highs, just the constant feeling of being truly present with a partner that elevates you. A horse will be waiting for the previous writer of this column, Jimmy Wofford, who died in February. He understood the significance of that feeling.

I once asked him in a show jumping warm-up where we both were coaching why he had stopped competing. It had occurred to me as we stood there that I was older than he had been when he retired, and I was at an age where I often looked to those older riders that I admired and wondered when and why it would be time to step away. He told me he just couldn’t see starting the process all over again with a new set of horses after having his last set of top horses step down. He didn’t want to spend the years it would take to get back up there again. I didn’t get it then, but I get it now. Jimmy was better than me obviously and luckier with having his horses stay with him longer, so he got the feeling of that silent covenant between horse and rider for longer.

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We’ll see plenty of that whispering happening at Kentucky for the successful horses and riders. There will also be a time to raise the communication above a whisper, because your partner needs that sometimes too. How will you know in that eternity of 25 minutes which to do? Well, that’s what those years that sped by are all about, years of learning when you should do what and then letting that carry you to your dreams. Thanks for helping me get a better sense of that balance, Jimmy. You showed so many that pathway.

How important is the event here in Kentucky? The Brits are sending a big contingent over this year as a team plan. What that says is exactly what we talk about here in North America: You have to go to the best sites in the world to be the best in the world, and Kentucky now rivals the best in the world. What an achievement for the horse park and its organizers. What an opportunity for all of us to witness and possibly compete against this contingent.

As the competition takes place in April, when the weather is unpredictable, the span of those four days of competition can change so much, making the level playing field not really level. But the week is about having an answer for all the elements and questions that will arise. When you send in that entry, it’s important to accept that your preparation is no longer about your dream but about your ability to communicate regardless of what you face. Without that ability the chance of failure goes up and the chance of success down.

A rider’s doubt is understandable, but the horse must believe without that doubt. He develops that belief in the moments when the partnership is performing with excellence—ideally for at least the year before arriving if not several years. Few partnerships achieve that level of competency, and that’s what makes the test so difficult. The joy of having that relationship with your partner is like no other. But due to the years required to create it and the burden of responsibility that comes along, riders will at some point stop taking that path.

I would like to leave a quote from Jimmy to finish this article: “You only need three things to be happy: someone to love, something to do, and someone to do it with. If you love horses, this takes care of itself.” I hope you are continuing to find that, Jimmy. Go fast, my friend.

Elevate your life, go ride your horse, and as always “pat your horse,” because they will take you to a place where time stands still, and paradise looks like the rolling hills of Kentucky.

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An Olympic veteran for Canada, Kyle Carter also earned team silver at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (Kentucky) and the 2007 Pan American Games (Brazil), as well as placing second in the 1999 Rolex Kentucky CCI4*-L. Carter currently holds the record for coaching the most gold medalists at the FEI North American Youth Championships, and he served as the coach for the Guatemalan and Venezuelan eventing teams. He is a co-founder and coach for Ride IQ, and he and his wife, Jennifer Carter, run Five Ring Stable in Citra, Florida.


This article ran in The Chronicle of the Horse in our April 24 & May 1, 2023, issue. Subscribers may choose online access to a digital version or a print subscription or both, and they will also receive our lifestyle publication, Untacked. 

If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.

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