By: Staff  Date: 01/15/2012 Category: | Farm and Ranch Almanac |

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The whistle sounded a split second before the rhythmic thudding of hooves reached our ears. There! Muscles taut under the bright bay coat, the big horse galloped down the course, headed for the tricky water jump. Expression determined, the rider guided the horse over the first hurdle, then the second, splashed down into the pond, scrambled up the bank and over the third hurdle – and then thundered on to the next set of jumps.

It was cool in the morning and sunny for much of the day – a perfect late April day two at the Kentucky Horse Park Rolex Three Day Event, the only four star equestrian competition in the US and part of the Rolex Grand Slam, an international ‘triple crown’ for event riders.

Horse after horse traveled the tough 32-jump course, galloping the marked lanes from hurdle to hurdle, taking cues from their riders to position them for each leap. Up and over they went, bringing gasps of wonder and bursts of applause from the spectators. The first horses to run the course hardly broke a sweat, but lathered legs and glistening hides became the norm as the day warmed up.

Top horse for the day and the entire event was Primmore’s Pride ridden by England’s Pippa Funnell. An Olympic silver medalist, Funnell also won the 2003 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in England in early May. Her mount for Badminton was Supreme Rock. A win in September’s Burghley Masterfoods event in England would give her three four-star wins in a row, a feat that has never been accomplished. If she is successful, she will receive $250,000 from Rolex.

The event

The Rolex Three-Day Event has traditionally been a qualifier for the Summer Olympics and the Pan-American Games. The four-star rating drew the top competitors in the world; the tough course gave horses and riders a workout to both prove their mettle and prepare them for gold medal competitions.

The event included three types of competitions held on three consecutive days: dressage, endurance, and stadium jumping.

The dressage competition tested the rider’s ability to communicate with the horse through subtle hand and body movements and the horse’s ability to translate those signals into a stylized performance. The pattern was mandatory and served as the underpinning for the team’s performance in the endurance and jumping trials much as the short program compulsory exercises set the stage for longer, more creative programs in gymnastics and ice skating competitions.

A three-member ground jury panel judged the dressage; the scores reflected not only the execution of the pattern but the paces, impulsion, and submission of the horse and the position, seat, and use of aids of the rider. Riders were not expected to perform as dressage specialists but to illustrate a working partnership with a horse that was well-schooled, calm, obedient, and supple.

The four-part endurance test on day two measured speed, courage, confidence, conditioning, and jumping ability. The day began with a short roads and tracks course (2.46 miles to be traveled in 21 minutes, 36 seconds) on level ground, a steeplechase course (1.7 miles over jumps in eight minutes), and a long roads and tracks course (3.48 miles in 42 minutes). The long course included a mandatory halt of a duration up to 10 minutes determined by the ground judges.

The highlight of the day was the cross-country event, 32 jumps set on a 3.98-mile course to be completed in 22 minutes, 28 seconds. Unlike the other events, spectators could get close enough to see horse sweat and rider determination as long as they cleared the lane before the horses approached and did not interfere with the competitors in any way.

Each jump had a name, some connoting a natural feature of the land or built to resemble man-made structures, some specifically for the Kentucky event: wishing well, sunken road, rails-ditch-rails, bourbon bar, tree-in-the-middle, farmyard, Lexington bank, fallen trees, footbridge, and more were all assembled to test specific aspects of horse-and-rider abilities.

This year, the Rolex course was reversed from previous years, a gargantuan project for British course designer Michael Etherington-Smith and a new challenge for riders and horses. Etherington-Smith used the first two jumps to get the horses into a good rhythm for the long course, than introduced the first opportunity for choices about approach and timing coming off the third jump. He set jumps four and five at right angles, forcing riders to decide whether to jump the corner and get both at once or take the longer route and do each jump separately.

Jump six was a new oxer, just under four feet tall and with a base spread of nearly 10 feet – a straightforward effort needing a big leap.

Then began the tougher jumps on the course that required thoughtful approaches and a careful assessment of the horse’s mood, condition, and ability as well as the need to watch the time.

No two jumps were the same. The course went up hill and down, over ditches and through waterways, and tested the ability of horse and rider to traverse open terrain and to leap any obstacle in their path. Some jumps were grouped; one water jump had three parts and the sunken road jump had four elements, all requiring decisions based on the rider’s reading of the horse’s ability and confidence level and his own skill at getting the best performance from his mount.

Judges at each jump assessed the performance and assigned fault points as necessary. Faults included a horse’s refusal to take the jump, the fall of a rider or horse, and the breaking of the safety devices on the jumps. Mounted stewards along the course kept spectators from interfering with the riders and horses and whistled the progress of the teams along the course. They were also prepared to catch horses if the riders fell.


Horse welfare

The welfare of the horses was uppermost in the minds of riders and event coordinators. The event was run under the rules of USA Equestrian and the Fédération Equestre Internationale. FEI rules follow; USA rules are paraphrases of the same guidelines.

  1. In all equestrian sports, the horse must be considered paramount.
  2. The well-being of the horse shall be above the demands of breeders, trainers, riders, owners, dealers, organizers, sponsors, or officials.
  3. All handling and veterinary treatment must ensure the health and welfare of the horse.
  4. The highest standards of nutrition, health, sanitation, and safety shall be encouraged and maintained at all times.
  5. Adequate provision must be made for ventilation, feeding, watering, and maintaining a healthy environment during transportation.
  6. Emphasis should be placed on increasing education in training and equestrian practices and on promoting scientific studies in equine health.
  7. In the interest of the horse, the fitness and competence of the rider shall be regarded as essential;
  8. All riding and training methods must take account of the horse as a living entity and must not include any technique considered by the FEI to be abusive.
  9. National federations should establish adequate controls in order that all persons and bodies under their jurisdiction respect the welfare of horses.
  10. The national and international rules and regulations in equestrian sport regarding the welfare of horses must be adhered to not only during national and international events, but also in training. Competition rules and regulations shall be continually reviewed to ensure such welfare.

Horses at the Rolex were examined several times during the weekend to make sure they were in condition for the competition. The first examination took place when the horses arrived at the park. The veterinarian in charge not only checked the condition of the horse, he also verified the horse’s identification and health history. Horses were examined again before Friday’s dressage test by the veterinarian and the ground jury. This committee had the authority to eliminate from competition any horse that did not pass inspection.

The next inspection took place on Saturday during the 10-minute halt after the second roads and tracks and before the cross-country portion of the trial.

Another Saturday exam took place after the cross-country run; at this point, the veterinarian determined whether the horse was fit to return to the stables on foot, should remain in the inspection area for treatment, or should be transported back to the stables by vehicle. Another inspection took place before the jumping test on Sunday, the last day of the event.

In addition to these examinations, any individual member of the ground jury had the right and duty to eliminate any horse he deemed unfit to continue and to disqualify any rider who pressed a tired or lame horse to continue or who used whips or spurs excessively.

Stadium jumping

While this event often stands on its own, it had a special purpose as the third component of the three-day event – to prove the ability of the horse and rider to return to structured competition after the relative freedom of the cross country portion of the trial. Fences on the cross country course were made of walls or thick rails mounted on broad bases. In contrast, jumps in the stadium had rails that can be knocked down, and each dislodged rail brought a penalty to the team.

The 2004 Rolex will be held April 22-25. For more information about the Rolex, visit www.rk3de.org/.

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All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |
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