Lexington, Ky., April 20, 2010 -- This week in April is usually dominated by the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, but this year, it's not all about Rolex.
Sharing a bit of the spotlight are the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games test events in dressage, which began today, and jumping, which starts Friday.
Rolex doesn't have to worry about having any of its thunder stolen, however. There was a bare sprinkling of folks in the capacious stands of the main arena at the Kentucky Horse Park to watch riders from seven countries get the feel of the facility.
There will be a whole different atmosphere once the Rolex competition gets rolling on Thursday after tomorrow's veterinary check, but the test events give the WEG folks a chance to test their systems and personnel. For the personnel at the Horse Park who have been building toward the WEG for what seems like endless years, it's a sign that the great moment is nearly here.
Steffen Peters, the strongman of the U.S. dressage squad, was here without his horse, Ravel, to help technical advisor Anne Gribbons and riders he has assisted in various clinics.
He also was eager to scope out the grounds, which have changed mightily over the last year--and construction is still under way. From the dressage warm-up area, I could see newly turned earth and heavy equipment, laboring on another project.
Although he flew in all the way from California, Steffen was staying only for the day, but it was enough to serve his purpose.
Tina Konyot was among those who was glad he came. She listed him as part of her support team, which also includes Anne and her coach, Lars Petersen. Lars came here to ride as well as help Tina--he would like to make the WEG team for his native Denmark.
Looking down the list of competitors before the Kentucky Cup started, I was pretty sure Tina would win. Her dark brown stallion, Calecto V (Danishbred, like Lars) has gotten better each time I saw him. Her test was strong and flowing, with only a few minor mishaps, such as getting too close to the fencing in the rein-back. She was nearly home free, heading down the center line with nice passage/piaffe/passage transitions when he suddenly started to canter.
Luckily she was able to pull him up before the end of the ring, with a bemused smile on her face at his antics. He's thrown in a stunt at that point in the ride several times, and she's still trying to figure out what to do about it.
Judge Mary Seefried of Australia said she was impressed with Calecto, but placed him second, rather than first. She noted that Tina had "a pretty expensive centerline at the end, which unfortunately had a bit of an influence to the final score." She added, however, she thinks the horse, who has been doing Grand Prix for only a year, has quite a future ahead of him.
"He's one of the kindest stallions...he's quite sensitive to the aids," said Tina.
"I have to be very careful not to ask for too much at one time. We're very green at this. I'm trying to tone everything down and get it consistent and even. Once I have that level of confidence in both my horse and myself, then I'll go back to the `more expression,' because he has more than enough expression. People are always saying, `Not so much Tina' always less with him. Just standing still he has a great deal of expression."
I asked Anne about what happened on the centerline.
The little mishap put Tina dangerously close in the standings to another horse and rider combination that's coming on strong, Belinda Trussell of Canada and Anton. She earned 70.213 percent to Tina's 70.638.
Third was another Canadian, Bonny Bonnello with Pikardi, on 68.638 percent. Bonny, a mainstay of her nation's team in the early 1980s, representing it in both the world championships (the predecessor of the WEG) and the Olympics, is making a comeback at the age of 59.
At the end of the medal ceremonies, the women stepped up to the top of the podium with Tina, who put her arms around them as they made sort of a Canadian club sandwich. Hmmm, I think I was hungry when I made that analogy.
Robert Dover, who is coaching the Canadians, had a large contingent here and was very proud to have two out of the top three finishers.
Both the test event and Rolex Kentucky had to do some scrambling because of that troublesome volcano in Iceland that halted air traffic across Europe.
Most affected were the riders who were coming across the Atlantic for Rolex. Oliver Townend of Great Britain has $350,000 on the line if he wins the Rolex Grand Slam, which goes to the rider who wins the Mitsubishi Badminton Horse Trials, the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials and Rolex in succession. Oliver has taken the first two and was headed here to work on the third when he encountered an obstacle bigger than the Head of the Lake.
With all flights stopped from Britain, he took a train to Paris. But a rail strike there meant he had to be creative to get to Madrid for a flight to the U.S., so he took a cab. From Paris to Madrid. It cost about $3,000, but that's a pittance compared to what he stands to win here.
Oliver's horses, Ashdale Cruise Master and ODT Master Rose, came early for quarantine prior to the volcanic eruption, but Oliver had to make up for lost training time when he finally arrived today.
Judges and officials also were stranded in Europe. The most important, perhaps, is cross-country course designer Michael Etherington-Smith, who isn't expected until Friday, the day before cross-country. In the meantime, Derek Di Grazia, who is accomplished in that field as well, is standing in for him.
"Obviously we're making as many contingency plans as we can," said Sherry Frank, the WEG's assistant competition director.
"We're going to make the best of it, knowing there are some things that will have to wait until later this summer."
The volcano also threw a monkey wrench into Phillip Dutton's hopes of riding Woodburn at Badminton, which is the weekend after Rolex. Instead, he plans to ride him here.
With talk about more volcanic explosions, officials here were making contingency plans to find quarantine space locally for foreign horses if they can't go home right after the event. Never a dull moment.
Come back to EquiSearch.com tomorrow evening, when I'll fill you in on the dressage Grand Prix Special and the trot-up for Rolex.
Visit Nancy's archive to read more coverage from the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.