April 27, 2012 -- Quick: What do three-day eventing and reining have in common, besides the fact that both involve horses (but different types of horses, at that).
Since last year here at the Kentucky Horse Park, they have been sharing a weekend, with the Rolex Kentucky three-day event going during the day, and the reining happening in the Alltech Arena on Friday and Saturday nights.
When I started thinking about what I was going to write in this postcard, I couldn't come up with anything more than that for a thread that brings these two together. But I found other similarities as the day went on, the dressage phase of the event wrapped up and the $100,000 Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup was held tonight.
Some of the event horses reminded me of reining horses, backing up way too fast (too fast for eventing; fine for reining). I saw a few funky flying changes in both disciplines. But the real similarity was the enthusiasm of the crowds. When fans saw something they liked, they offered vocal approval; after the rides in dressage, during the rides in reining. I'm not sure how many who watched eventing came to reining, though when announcer Charlotte Skinner asked reining newbies to raise their hands, she got a good showing. It's nice to witness appreciation of horses, no matter what kind they are or what they're doing. This is the occasion for horse lovers to get their fill of everything equestrian, from the competition to the shopping.
Speaking of which, this is the 25th time I've covered Rolex. It's my silver anniversary, so I thought, maybe I should buy myself something silver. But it's so busy here I don't have time to shop. Ironic, since the press room is in the same building as the trade fair and overlooks rows and rows of vendors. Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. Well, at least my credit cards will get home unscathed.
Enough of that. Time to get down to business and tell you what's going on. If there's a short-odds favorite to win Rolex, it's Great Britain's William Fox-Pitt, who has done it before here and has extra incentive this time because he has one leg of the Rolex Grand Slam to his credit.
He won the 4-star Burghley event in England last fall with Parklane Hawk. If he wins with him at this 4-star, and then with any of his horses at Badminton, another British 4-star, next week, he gets $250,000. Only one other person has achieved the Grand Slam previously, Pippa Funnell, also a Brit.
I was fully expecting William to top the dressage rankings on Parklane Hawk. He was getting great scores, but there were a few bobbles, and he didn't go below the 40-penalty mark, as he had hoped. His score was 41.3, which as it happened held the lead for awhile, but would only be good enough for second place.? William explained his feelings about this morning's test on the New Zealand thoroughbred.
In the afternoon, Allison Springer, an American, became the lone competitor to drop below 40 with her special partner, Arthur. Her test was so fluid and lovely that I was in awe. In fact, I thought Arthur might be a horse who could do Grand Prix dressage someday. Allison thought that was hysterical. Take a listen.
Although Allison was third after dressage last year with Arthur, the Irish sporthorse fell on cross-country and she was eliminated. She's been getting herself in the right state of mind to avoid a repeat with the talented mount she calls "a freak of nature."
"We're only getting better together, but I'm not a rider who has a lot of horses and is getting a lot of experience; he kind of is my experience," she said. "Hopefully, I can make good decisions."
Another American, Clark Montgomery, is third with Loughan Glen. He has 43.2 penalties, but is planning to take it easy on cross-country if necessary with his 9-year-old Irish sporthorse.
"We'll keep it in mind that he's a young, green horse" he explained, noting this is his first 4-star, and if necessary, he will slow down and take the long away around at the fences.
"He needs to gain confidence more than he needs to win this event," Clark explained.
Loughan Glen obviously is a special horse.
"He's kind of a sweetheart to be around, he's always asking for treats. He wants to do his job. Since he's such a pleaser, he always tries," said Clark.
The most dramatic moment during the dressage came when the post-ride applause rocked Rutherglen, the mount of 2006 Rolex winner Andrew Hoy of Australia. Andrew had just exited the dressage arena in the Rolex stadium and doffed his hat to the cheering spectators who burst into the traditional Australian sporting chant of "Aussie, Aussie, oi oi oi." Except as they did at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, they said it this way, "Aussie, Aussie, Hoy, Hoy, Hoy."
That was a little too much for his Rutherglen, who went up on his hind legs. Although Andrew had the situation well in hand, it made for quite a memorable exit.when his mount went up on his hind legs. Although Andrew had the situation well in hand, it made for quite a memorable exit.
Karen O'Connor put in a smooth test with her new mount, Mr. Medicott, marked at 44.2 to be fourth. It's hard to get adjusted to a new horse with the Olympics in view, but I hope her performance today is a sign they are getting on the same wavelength. That's especially important when you're going cross-country here.
Saturday's course is "clever," in William's view, and needless to say, it will be as always, a challenge. I just hope we finish ahead of the bad weather that's predicted for later in the afternoon.
And now for the reining. One of the big attractions was the participation of country western music star Lyle Lovett, who is a doll. He rode a palomino with a name I couldn't get out of my mind; Mistress with a Gun. Lyle was gracious enough to spend some time talking with me about his mare.
Shawn Flarida won the competition on Wimps Chocolate Chip, a chocolate palomino, darker than the usual golden variety. I'll put a picture up in next week's gallery so you can see what I'm talking about. Shawn, who also won the Cup last year, was a member of the U.S. gold medal team at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games here. His teammates Tom McCutcheon, Tim McQuay and Craig Schmersal also competed; this was an all-star cast.
I knew that international reining rules had been bumped up since last year's World Cup Finals in Sweden, where videos taken in the warm-up ring showed some training techniques that caused an uproar. I spoke with the U.S. and FEI (international equestrian federation) reining steward general, Eric Straus, about what is different now. Eric is the steward here, at the first major international event held since the rules were redone.
Among the changes he cited were the placement of cones in the arena so horses couldn't be put too close to the wall for their sliding stops, and a limit of eight on the number of spins that can be done at one time in one direction.
Here's Eric explaining more about the changes.
I'll be back with you tomorrow evening to fill you in on cross-country. It should be quite a day -- I can't wait.