For the first time since 1978, there will be no Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event this week. Instead of a Kentucky Preview issue, the Chronicle’s April 20 & 27 Classic Kentucky Issue features some of the people and horses who’ve made the event unforgettable over the years. We’ll also be highlighting some of our favorite memories all week on coth.com to honor Kentucky.
Keely Bechtol’s volunteer position at the dressage gate for the 2010 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event came with very specific rules. Don’t make any noise. Don’t make any sudden movements that could spook the horses. Stand quietly with your hands behind your back during the tests. Blend into the background as much as possible, quietly open the gates to let horses in for their tests, and then do the same in reverse when they finish.
So when Karen O’Connor stopped by Bechtol after completing her test on Mandiba, the young woman, then 8, didn’t know how to react.
“I remember when she walked by and stopped, and then she asked if I wanted to pet him,” said Bechtol, who was there volunteering with the Bluegrass Pony Club. “I was like, ‘Is she serious? Is she talking to me?’ I remember just waiting, and then she was like, ‘It’s OK; you can pet him!’ So then I reached out and touched him. I remember being upset when I went to the bathroom and washed my hands out of habit. I was sure it had washed off.
“I had volunteered there a couple of times before, and it was definitely a highlight working the dressage gates because you could watch all of them ride right by you,” she continued. “That was so cool for me. We could go up the ramp when we weren’t working and watch their interviews with the press and watch them interact.”
Though the concept of a viral photo was still a ways off 10 years ago, the image snapped by Josh Walker for the U.S. Eventing Association quickly made its way across the web, and by the next day, it had reached Bechtol. She spent the rest of the weekend cheering for the Irish Sport Horse gelding (Master Imp—High Dolly, Chair Lift) as he went on to a seventh-placed finish with O’Connor.
“I remember getting a lot of attention for it!” Bechtol said. “I was a huge Karen O’Connor fan after that, and I made sure to follow their progress.”
Keely joined the Bluegrass Pony Club as a founding member at age 5 after getting her first pony at 4, and she dabbled in numerous disciplines when she was younger. Though she still competes in an occasional event, she’s focusing more on show jumping these days. The Lexington, Kentucky, resident rode at the USEF Pony Jumper Championships in her hometown several years in a row, including in 2019 aboard Rock My World.
Now 18 and aged out of the pony jumpers, Bechtol is bringing along an off-the-track Thoroughbred, Highland Park, she got in 2017 through the New Vocations Pony Club Challenge for show jumping. She also events Orion, a pony she owns with Marty Riney, and Bechtol rode him to 20th in last year’s junior beginner novice division at the USEA American Eventing Championships (Kentucky). She’s achieved her “H-A” rating in show jumping and her “H” in eventing, and she’s a member of the U.S. Pony Clubs’ national youth board.
But even with her own riding career keeping her busy, Bechtol’s made volunteering at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event a priority each season. She hasn’t worked the dressage gates in several years—it’s a task reserved mainly for younger volunteers—but she’s carried the American flag and the British flag in the flag ceremony.
“I was really sad about the cancellation this year,” said the high school senior. “There were a lot of things that changed my whole spring, and that was for sure one of them. I see a lot of my friends I met through horses there, and this year I can’t. But it’s understandable for sure!”