The Rolex Kentucky CCI is the largest gathering of eventing enthusiasts in North America. The tens of thousands of spectators actually include some who are riveted by the athletic performance of horses and riders. Many more, though, come to soak up the atmosphere of big-league eventing, to see and to be seen, and to be an important part of the hypnotic spectacle.
That’s why it’s extremely important, if you go to Lexington, Ky., on April 23 -27, that you blend into the general ambience, that you look the part, walk the walk, and talk the talk. This primer is for those who aspire to be real in-crowd groupies. It will allow you to make the scene, secure in the knowledge that you are ever so really there.
When I applied for this job as fashion consultant for The Chronicle of the Horse, managing editor Sara Lieser rolled on the floor in hysterics, and George Morris, I am told, became actually unwell. That little setback inspired me to seek the advice of others, whose more discerning eyes could ferret out nouveaus, phonies and wannabes. With their help, we covered a sweeping range of important topics that ranged from acceptable breeds of dogs to baseball cap logos that proclaim to the world that you are oh, so in.
Study all this very carefully. You may not be able to ride over those monster fences, but there’s no reason why other people have to know that.
Your attire is the first thing that can make or break you. The compulsory baseball cap, with the compulsory opening in the back for the compulsory pony tail, should be soiled from months of exposure to sweat, wind, sun and rain. Leave it out on your porch to create the desired effect. No flat brims or high crowns, thank you very much, and choose your logo wisely. USET, USEA, Devoucoux or Bit Of Britain are good logo choices, but one with the name of a Coolmore stallion will cause your friends to writhe in envy.
Ralph Lauren polo shirts are always good, preferably in preppy colors. Jeans or khakis, long legged or shorts, must be faded. Your belt can be plain leather, and if it has a brass nameplate with the name of your dog or horse, all the better. It can also be needlepoint in your farm colors. Dubarry boots, Danskos and Ariat paddock boots are very good, as are sneakers or hiking shoes, but not in white.
Obviously, you have to drive a truck, the bigger and more beast-like the better. When it idles, it must sound like the simultaneous flushing of 12 toilets. So diesel is better than gas, and crew cab duallys are greatly to be preferred over wimpy trucks with only four wheels. This is because you need the extra heft to haul your four-horse head-to-head Featherlite or Jamco gooseneck trailer. Avoid bumper-hitch two-horse trailers. Nobody who is anybody pulls one.
Three or four bay geldings with flashy white markings should be standing in the trailer. They should come from a) England, b) Ireland, c) Australia, d) New Zealand or e) Germany. Each horse must have cost more than the average farm in some droll farm state, like Indiana. If your horse is an American-bred, never, ever, ever reveal that fact to anyone.
The right tack can be tricky. Old worn out saddles with paper-thin flaps proclaim you as someone who logs endless hours of interval training. On the other hand, if everything is in your matching farm colors, and you have a new Devoucoux, Antares, Stackhouse, or Amerigo saddle, that’s equally appropriate.
Your helmet cover should either be worn rakishly up, to reveal about five inches of helmet, as favored by Irish and English jump jockeys, or it should be too low and too large, as popularized by Phillip Dutton. Too neat or too perfect, and you’ll appear to be trying too hard.
The right dog is really important. So you really shouldn’t have a collie or cocker spaniel. Poodles are out, as are Dobermans and schnauzers. Jack Russells and other annoying small terriers are still your best bet, but German shepherds, Aussies, corgis, Labs, lurchers and obviously rescue dogs are also excellent choices.
Three dogs are better than one, and you lose points if you obey the event rules and keep them on leashes. Where you live—unless it’s Middleburg, Va.; Unionville, Pa.; Aiken, S.C.; or Ocala, Fla.—should remain obscure. If you were raised in the Midwest, or in a state that has lots of snow, let’s just keep that our little secret.
Obviously, if you come from the same acceptable countries as the previously mentioned acceptable horses, you get triple bonus points. If you lived in one of those places as an American, though, and now talk in a fake foreign accent, you’ll get caught and lose points.
Who you know and how well you know them can be critical to your social acceptance. Buck, P-Dutty, DOC, Sinead and Boyd should roll off your tongue like molten honey.
Practice this line: “Kim and I were having lunch at the Red Horse the other day, when Woff stopped by to tell me that DOC wanted me to see him at the training session.” (Translation: “I was having lunch with Kim Severson at the Red Horse Tavern in Middleburg, a popular spot because the porch overlooking Rt. 50 allows you to see and be seen, when Jim Wofford suggested I talk to David O’Connor.”)
You have to know the stable names of the famous horses. It’s very gauche to call a horse by its show name, when everyone who is anybody knows Manoir De Carneville as “Tate.” It’s a wonderful thing to know the names of children or spouses or significant others of famous riders, but it’s even better if you know the names of their dogs. If you know the names of dogs of famous foreign riders, that’s ultimately cool. It’s hard to imagine topping a comment like this: “I guess William’s having a lot of trouble house-breaking Tattle. And Skeeter won’t even let him drink out of the same water bowl.”
Insider information is where it’s at, but if you get it wrong, you should have stayed in Topeka. Will Faudree, is never William, Will Coleman is never Bill, but Bruce Davidson is always Bruce. David is never Dave, and Phillip would never be Phil. If you must, write down the names and study them like foreign language vocabulary cards.
Your behavior at the competitors’ party can blow your cover. If you have a dressage background and like to nibble little cheese squares, discreetly sip wine, and discuss tempi changes, or what Gerd told you – that’s it, sister. Go home. Event parties are all about adrenaline release, beer, loud music and unacceptable behavior. Dancing on the table is strictly OK, as is climbing up the tent pole.
There are limits though, beyond which even hard-core eventers tread at their own risk. Fraternizing or dancing with Canadians or Australians is totally foolhardy, as they descend from wild, bearded (even the women), uncivilized stock drovers and fur trappers, and they will always run amok and lead you astray.
Mastering these few critical points will help make your trip to Lexington more personally fulfilling.
By now you should be ready to use these snippets of conversation when you know others can overhear you. They will absolutely cement your place as the consummate insider.
- “I just heard from Michael in Warendorf. He was worried that Sam might have a hot nail, but luckily he jogged sound this morning.”
- “I think Boyd’s a totally good sport to let P-Dutty compete Otis.”
- “I guess Sinead and Tik are checking out new apartments.”
- “Lynn got a new Devoucoux that’s custom made for Donner.”
- “DOC asked me how I’d ride the line between 4 and 5.”
- “Nathalie’s left all four of them at home in Dalton this weekend.”
- “Toddy’s the only Kiwi this year.”
- “Have you seen Allison’s new Dubarrys?”
- “Too bad both Wills couldn’t be riding here this weekend.”
- “Jennie thinks Ping will do just fine if it rains and the going gets heavy.”
If you can slip all 10 of these into an eight-sentence conversation, you can hang out at the dressage ring with anybody. Fewer than three, and it may be better if you hide at the far end of the course and feign acute laryngitis.
Good luck, and remember, don’t look puzzled when somebody mentions something you don’t understand. Nod sagely and smile knowingly, and be sure your baseball cap looks like it got trampled in a muddy paddock.
Denny Emerson rode on the 1974 World Championship gold-medal eventing team. He served as the U.S. Eventing Association president twice and won the USEA Wofford Cup for his lifetime dedication to eventing. At his Tamarack Hill Farm in South Strafford, Vt., and Southern Pines, N.C., he trains horses and riders. An original Between Rounds contributor, Emerson began writing his column in 1989. This column originally ran in the April 19, 2002, edition of the Chronicle, but it has been updated to reflect modern riders and trends.