Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Gathering of the Clans (Rolex!)

I haven't been blogging because I've been at Rolex.

I know that sounds weird to you muggles. What, I went to a watch store?

Nope. Rolex is The Thing for the North American devotees of my tiny beloved sport. It's officially the Kentucky Rolex Four-Star Three Day Event, but whereas all the other annual 4-star events are known by their locations, Badminton and Burghley in England, Luhmuhlen in Germany, and Pau in France, the one in the United States is not Lexington, nor Kentucky. It has held the same primary sponsor since 1981, and has been known, always, as Rolex.

The first time I went to Rolex was 1991. I was married, working as a chemist, had no vacation days and a husband in medical school. We drove to Cincinnati on Friday night and got a hotel room, which was a tremendous splurge, then drove the rest of the way very early Saturday morning. In an odd, uncharacteristic fit of optimistic underplanning I didn't look up how to get there, saying I was sure we'd know it when we saw it. Oddly enough, we did. We crested a hill on the freeway and spread before us was the loveliest horse farm I'd ever seen, acres and acres of green grass surrounded by perfect white fence. That was it: the Kentucky Horse Park. That was Rolex. Later in the day I watched Karen O'Connor (still Karen Lende back then) make a tremendous save to get back into the saddle after her horse Park Lane tripped on the Lexington Bank. The video of that became a commercial; it's been on television often. Later still I watched Karen ride her second horse, Mr. Maxwell, through the famous water jump, the Head of the Lake. Karen ended up winning with Mr. Maxwell. I didn't see it; we didn't stay for the final day that year.

International three day events take place over four days, because it takes two days to get all the competitors through the first phase, dressage. You either ride Thursday or Friday, for dressage, then everyone runs cross-country on Saturday; the survivors from that showjump on Sunday. For the past two years my daughter and I have been able to volunteer for the dressage phase. This year my daughter was an electronic scribe, a very cool, very coveted job. I manned a gate by the warm-up arena. That turned out to be pretty cool, too, because so many people went past me, and I knew so many of them.

We eventers stick together. I saw people I knew from my hometown and my pony club who'd moved away so I don't see them often. I saw people I knew from riding camp ten years ago, fellow DCs from different states, riders, competitors, old friends. I got hugged tightly by people who missed me, and hugged them tightly in return.

I remember loving eventing, when I first saw it live back in 1991. I remember thinking that I wanted to do it, not over the Rolex fences, not at all, but over smaller fences somewhere. It was a world I wanted to be part of. I didn't know then how eventing would pull me in.

It was cold on Thursday, with an icy wind blowing up the ramp from the warmup to the ring. I was grateful when a truck came by with ballcaps for the volunteers.

"Hey, Kim!" A friend yelled from the platform of the stands above the ramp. "How're you doing?"
I looked up, and grinned. "Freezing!" I said.
"Yeah, me too! I'm doing the broadcast, in the shade!" She pointed behind her, to the broadcast booth set up in open air.
"Want some coffee?" I gestured to the volunteer tent beside the ramp.
"You've got coffee? Yes, please! And where'd you get the hat?"
"That truck--I'll get you one."
"I've got to be back on the air in one minute."
"Take mine, then, I'll grab another." I handed up the coffee and the hat.
 "Thanks!" said Karen O'Connor, nee Lende, five-time Olympian and three-time Rolex winner, as she went back to the broadcast booth.