Where the best show their stuff A look inside the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event | TheUnion.com
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Where the best show their stuff A look inside the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event

A few days ago we received our “Equestrian Club” packet to attend the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, April 27-30, at the famous Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

My parents, Ted and Honour Schaps, were thrilled to attend in 1978, the first United States Three-Day Event Championship. Montreal, Canada, had hosted the Olympic competition in 1976, but otherwise, most eventing of international stature had been hosted by the Europeans.

Originally this most demanding equestrian competition – a combination of dressage, cross-country jumping, and stadium jumping – had been a military-dominated sport at a time when most countries had active cavalries. It comprised the skills needed by a top military cavalry horse and his rider. Nearly a hundred years has passed since the Three-Day Event became an Olympic Games equestrian discipline.



Since the 1950s, eventing has evolved as a civilian sport (with the demise of the cavalry) expanding rapidly to include children and amateurs at the novice levels, as well as the most advanced competitors. There are more than 14,000 members currently in the U.S. Eventing Association.

Under the U.S. Equestrian Federation, the Eventing Association recognizes and governs hundreds of competitions throughout our country. In addition, numerous facilities and groups host horse trials that are not officially recognized but follow the same goals and provide incentive and experience to thousands of riders at the grass roots level.




The early introduction of eventing in California was a passion of my parents, both participating in the ’30s, often riding as civilians with the military competition. Among the first such “Hunter Trials,” as they were then called, were events held at Pebble Beach, Santa Barbara, La Jolla and Flintridge. Count George deRoaldes, who served on the jury for Dressage at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los was largely responsible with his tireless efforts to get this wonderful sport off the ground, having designed and constructed those early courses following European standards.

Thousands attended the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles, where the cross country jumping phase of the Three-Day Event was held at Fairbanks Ranch in Rancho Santa Fe, the site later becoming a golf course. It was like a huge garden party with people from all walks of life viewing international riders and horses gallop past, negotiating the huge course of natural, but solidly constructed obstacles representing the West – windmills, fruit wagons, the twisting rattlesnake, palm trees, and massive banks and water obstacles, even a boat to jump. Volunteer hunt club riders, dressed in full traditional attire, served as guides and mounted patrol officers – among them local riders Clarke and Jan Phillips.

The cross country course at the 2006 Rolex will cover 6400 meters with 38 jumping efforts, going at an estimated pace of 570 meters per minute for this Championship. (This equals 4 miles at over 21 mph.)

This year’s event, sponsored by Farnam, will feature for the first time a live broadcast of one of the most exciting features on course, the “Head of the Lake” water complex.

Special permission from NBC makes it possible to watch all the action free of charge on Saturday, April 29 on the official website, http://www.rk3de.org/. NBC’s official one-hour coverage will be aired on Sunday, May 7 at 2 p.m. PDT. This year’s event is a final selection trial for the 2006 Eventing World Championships to be held in Aachen, Germany.

Rolex Kentucky will again host many of the world’s best horses and riders. Only equestrian sports from the grass roots novices to the international level include both men and women head to head, and are open to those in their youth to literally senior citizens. Included among today’s USA Event riding celebrities are the husband and wife team of Karen and David O’Connor and father and son, Bruce and Buck Davidson.

“The Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event is one of only five annual competitions in the world with the CCI four-star classification and the only such competition in the United States.

“A four star event presents the most challenging competition existing for horses and riders,” said Jane Atkinson, event director of Equestrian Events, Inc., the non-profit that presents this competition. In addition, she adds, “the $250,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing is awarded to any rider who wins the Rolex Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley (Great Britain) Four Star Events in succession.”

William Fox Pitt, of Great Britain, won at Badminton and will be seeking a victory in the second leg of the series, Rolex, in April. A crowd of more than 80,000 people is expected to attend.

The dressage phase can be likened to figure skating where specific movements are required. Horses are judged on rhythm, obedience and accuracy, lovely forward movement, good balance and elegance. The cross country demands a horse have supreme athleticism and conditioning, combined with boldness and speed. Stadium jumping asks for accuracy and stamina following the dressage and cross country to clear jumps (with poles that fall easily), and ride-ability for the technical questions asked on course. The same horse and rider are required to perform all three disciplines. The horse and rider with the least penalties wins. This could be called the triathlon of horse sports! And yes, horses must pass veterinary inspections during the competition in order to continue participation in all three phases.

So, on to the excitement of helping our students at Emigrant Springs prepare for their first “elementary level” horse trials at Eventful Acres, and then on to the thrill of seeing some of the best in the world compete at Rolex Kentucky next month. What a treat, at both ends of the spectrum! And by the way, as spectators, please oh please do not yell anything but “Hooray!” as your favorite competitor gallops past on cross country, or your unauthorized assistance could eliminate them!

Nevada County’s role

On a local note, in recent years Grass Valley competitor, certified eventing instructor and coach Jackie McRae, became a leading event rider in California.

Her wonderful horse and teammate, Mountain Music, will long be remembered for earning such a prestigious top rating. South County resident Kristi Nunnink qualified to compete and has ridden at Rolex, while all-time great and Olympian Jimmy Wofford gives an annual clinic in July to local riders at the wonderful facility of Rod and Karen Hiskens, Eventful Acres, at Oregon House.

In November, Emigrant Springs Ranch will again welcome the return of Irish Olympic Event rider and British Horse Society Fellow Eric Smiley for his excellent clinic available to local riders.

Lake of the Pines resident, Northern Mines Pony Club member and Cal Poly student Lauren Baumgardner competed successfully at the upper levels with her Nevada County bred Thoroughbred “Taywood,” known as “Jimmy” at the Ram Tap Trials in Fresno.

Eventing is an important part of the Pony Club experience, as well as a wonderful challenge for many adult horsemen.

The Hiskens’ will be staging the first of their 2006 competitions May 20-21, the Eventful Acres Spring Horse Trials. Rod, a former school principal in Truckee, has created and built all the jumping obstacles at Eventful Acres, many of them designed as smaller versions of famous world courses, including Rolex. Opening date for entries is April 4. For further information e-mail rkhisken@succeed.net. or call (530) 692-0919.


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