Although I spent much of my preteen and teenage years imagining myself on horse and on course, deftly managing a blistering run over the daunting obstacles that are and always will be (at least in the minds of wild, horse-mad teenagers the world over) the Rolex Three-Day Event in Kentucky, it wasn’t until 2006–when I was 29 years old–that I finally made the trip to the hallowed grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park in late April. (I’d been there once before when in Kentucky for the national competition for Quiz Bowl…yes, I was a 4-H geek…but visiting the park during Rolex–THE EVENT–meant everything to me.)
I was at Rolex in a very different capacity than that I’d imagined as an ambitious young rider, as by 2006 I had been working at Trafalgar Square Books–publisher of equestrian books, hurrah!–for a number of years. We flew down from our offices in Vermont to meet with a number of current authors and prospective authors, so it was certainly a “business trip,” but I admittedly could not disguise my utter elation at the proximity to greatness, the immersion in all things eventing, and the thrill of riding vicariously that the experience offered.
I grew up in a small town in Vermont, rather ideally positioned next to the very town that is home to Denny Emerson’s northeastern abode Tamarack Hill Farm. Although I never got much closer than “right down the road,” the very nearness of the sport infused me with the desire to gallop hard at big sturdy fences, and I spent years fence judging at local horse trials studying just how one did that…sometimes with great success, and others with disaster.
But all those fences I’d studied and jumped, hungered for and gaped at, paled in comparison to viewing the number one fence on course at Rolex from a quarter mile away. It looked huge before I was anywhere near it. And when I finally reached it, I think I experienced my first true feeling of fear in relation to horses. Now, this is a pretty serious statement when you A) take into consideration that I am 5′ 10″ and no delicate flower (in other words, a big fence has to be REALLY BIG to make me feel, well, small); and B) I’d ridden some crazy horses and jumped some crazy fences in my life, and had been fully aware of the craziness factor at those times (call it youthful folly…I was blinded by riding lust).
Walking that course alongside Jimmy Wofford, and watching some of today’s great eventers navigate the trickier questions, was eye-opening, inspiring, and surprisingly fulfilling. At 29 and no doubt past my riding prime in many ways, I discovered that “One day I’ll ride at Rolex” was a proclamation that could be realized without owning an elite event horse. I had made that statement any number of times in my past, and sure enough, I’d made it–through Jimmy Wofford’s eyes, words, and expertise, and through the triumphs and failures of the many riders that year, I lived and died, I won and lost, I stumbled and rose again to finish.
Most importantly, I lived my childhood dream–perhaps in a slightly different form than I’d once imagined, but my dream all the same.
This month we’re celebrating the beginning of the eventing season, the 2011 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, and the publication of Denny Emerson’s new book HOW GOOD RIDERS GET GOOD with a selection of great books and DVDs on sale at the TSB bookstore. Check them out HERE.