Selected photographers—who have been capturing images of the Rolex Kentucky CCI for many years—share their favorites.
Karl Leck, Newark, Del., has been shooting at Rolex Kentucky since its inception at the 1978 World Championships. “Selecting a favorite image from the Rolex Kentucky CCI out of thousands taken was a big challenge,” he said. “Since the World Championships in 1978, Rolex Kentucky has been the ultimate three-day event in the United States. Mike Plumb is a world-class event rider. In 1992, he rode three horses at Kentucky in a successful attempt to make yet another U.S. Olympic team.
“Obstacle No. 5, the Broken Bridge, is 3’3″ high with a 6’7″ ditch and a 4’7″ high brush—a world-class challenge that is visually colossal. The horse and rider must be bold and trusting.
“Hey Charlie, with Plumb aboard, proved they were heroic and more with their smooth leap over it all. Hey Charlie finished 13th that year, but the beauty of the English Thoroughbred gelding’s effort lives on in this image.”
“I think my first Rolex was 1992, on assignment for Spur magazine. As an eventer who started eventing in 1968 (I still have the rulebook, and it was only 40 pages!), I was in heaven. All those beautiful horses competing in the sport I grew up loving, in a setting to die for. I was hooked!” said Gamma, Charlottesville, Va.
“I’ve photographed Rolex every year since; it’s the Mecca destination for eventers and those who love the sport. The whole time there, you feel as if something magical and historical could happen at any moment. And you just don’t want to miss it!
“I chose two old images that really say ‘Rolex’ to me. They’re totally about the relationship between horses and their human companions. One is of the wonderful Biko getting a kiss from Michelle Lawrence, Karen O’Connor’s head groom, before cross-country. The other is a classic Bruce Davidson looking serious with Heyday.
“Any time someone mentions Rolex, my first thoughts go to rain and mud. For anyone who has attended the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, they will know that it will rain sometime during the four days of competition,” said Mann, Rising Sun, Md.
“As a photographer, I’m always trying to capture an image that tells the story of that year’s event, and it doesn’t always have to do with the competition. When asked for my favorite image from Rolex, I could have chosen an action shot from cross-country, but everyone has seen those in magazines and on websites. It took me a minute, but then I remembered that 2004 stood out as a very rainy and muddy event,” Mann recalled.
“I was lucky to have captured several images that showed the extremes that people would go to to keep themselves dry, along with their pets. I’m an animal lover with four dogs in my house, and when I saw a woman with a Jack Russell in her laptop bag, I thought I had seen everything. Well, I had not, because a few minutes later, I saw another woman holding an umbrella for her dog. Not for herself and the dog—just for the dog. This took the cake.”
As a child, Shannon Brinkman, New Orleans, La., attended the 1978 World Championships in Lexington, Ky., with a camera her mother had given her for her birthday. She remembers taking photos of Bruce Davidson then, but it wasn’t until 2000 that she started capturing Rolex Kentucky images professionally.
“The year was 2002. Everyone wanted to qualify for the World Equestrian Games in Spain. And it was the year of torrential rain halfway through cross-country day. Many riders canceled in the afternoon because it was so muddy and slippery,” she recalled.
“Bruce Davidson was the last to go of the day on Little Tricky. Little Tricky showed his splendor with a fabulous cross-country round in the worst going of the day. I ran to the end of the course after photographing him at the first water. I had lost my umbrella. I had one drenched towel and a raincoat. It was wet me, wet gear, wet horse and rider. I was happy.”
Michelle Dunn, Toronto, Ont., has been shooting Rolex Kentucky for more than a decade and is currently one of the official photographers of the event, as well as a member of the media staff and the website photographer.
“Rolex is like camp for me,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s all about a week in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, with great friends, getting to cover some of the best sport going. Driving down I-75, cresting the hill and coming down with the white fence of the Kentucky Horse Park on the side of the road never fails to give me goosebumps and make me smile.
“Rolex to me is about moments—whether it’s great cross-country rides or behind the scenes getting ready for the jog. And the retirement of [David O’Connor’s Olympic gold medal partner] Custom Made was a really great moment. And then, capturing Carl Bouckaert and his horse with all six feet off the ground was fun. I love Carl—he’s always so happy—and he just looks like he’s dancing here. I just get the feeling he’s in love with this horse. Who wouldn’t be!”
Amy Dragoo’s first Rolex Kentucky was in 2001, and she’s been back, cameras in hand, every year since.
“Everything at Rolex is on a grand scale—the size of the fences, the crowds, the grounds,” said Dragoo, Caln, Pa. “I cover major professional sports, and there’s such a separation of the athletes and the public. It’s always refreshing to be at Rolex, with the thousands of spectators, and see the riders walking amongst them. I always smile when I see a child’s eyes get huge and they start to twitter when one of their stars walks by.
“It’s hard to make a bad photo at Rolex (though the ‘Cold Beer’ sign in yellow-and-red directly behind the Head of the Lake made for an interesting image in 2006).
“My photos aren’t the traditional jumping shots. One of my favorites is of the youngest volunteers watching Emma Winter and Mahogany Chief enter the dressage ring in 2005. I love the framing of the girl in the horse’s neck and that, while she’s standing at attention, she’s stealing a look upward.
“And what would Rolex be without rain? It’s now an annual trek to the Kmart in Lexington to get my poncho for the year. Hence, the image reflected in a puddle.”