Horse Show Field Guide: The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event
Showing at new venues can be an exciting adventure, but it can also be a little stressful not knowing what to expect when you arrive with your four-legged friend. Hunt Club’s Horse Show Field Guide hopes to dispel the mystery around some of the best show venues in the US, so you can plan your own trip with confidence or put yourself in the shoes of top riders and get a sense of what it's like to compete with the best.
The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event (RK3DE), held at the Kentucky Horse Park at the end of April, is coined the #bestweekendallyear for a reason! It has something for everyone - newcomers and seasoned veterans alike. This year, guest writers Gillian E. and Maris G. teamed up to tackle this incredible show venue and pulled together their first-hand tips on how to make the most of your trip to this amazing equestrian event!
1) Bring a backpack! Rolex is crazy - there are tons of people, tons of vendors, and tons of walking. Having a backpack to stow your stuff is key! It’s an easy way to ensure that you always have the essentials with you, no matter where you are on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park. Every morning, I packed my raincoat, snacks, water bottle, and sunscreen. I still had room to put in (almost) all of my purchases and freebies from the vendor fair. It’s much easier than carrying around a shopping bag, especially when walking the cross country course!
2) Check out the demonstration rings. There’s always something going on outside of the main ring. This year, there were breed demonstrations, driving, vaulting, and more! We watched some of the Pony Club games teams - they were all dressed in matching gear, from saddle pads to helmet covers, and had some pretty adorable ponies. The teams even got to ride through the Rolex Stadium on Sunday, and the overall winners were announced.
3) Get your Rolex gear early. There are all kinds of Rolex-branded souvenirs, including shirts, hats, jackets, bags… You name it! However, things do sell out quickly, so it’s advisable to grab that sweater you’ve had your eye on at the beginning of the weekend. Plus, who doesn’t love sporting their new Rolex gear throughout the rest of the event!
4) Check out some of the other attractions in Lexington. I visited Keeneland Racetrack for the morning workouts before heading to KHP on Friday. Watching the sunrise as the horses were exercised was totally worth the early wakeup call! You can even get breakfast at the Track Kitchen. Keeneland was one of the highlights of the trip. My group also had connections at one of the farms, and we were able to go for a tour. The facility was stunning! We even went for a drive around the backroads of Lexington to see the farms. I wouldn’t suggest doing that at night - the roads are extremely narrow and winding, but the scenery is just beautiful.
5) Pack snacks. As a newbie to Rolex, I wanted to get as much out of my Rolex experience as possible, and I didn’t want to waste time standing in line at lunchtime! After arriving in Kentucky on Thursday, my group grabbed some groceries and packed lunches each day. This was a fabulous idea! Not only did we save time and money, but we didn’t have to move from our coveted position at the final water combination for lunch.
6) Make sure to hit some of the other things the Kentucky Horse Park has to offer! Last year, my friends and I went and visited the Breed Barn and got to meet dozens of different horses who were all incredible representatives of their breed. This year, we ended up in the Barn of Champions on the hunt for a water fountain to refill our water bottles with. Not only did we score some free water, but we also got to meet the 1994 Kentucky Derby winner, Go For Gin. He was outside getting a bath when we walked by and the folks caring for him were more than happy to introduce him to us and let us snag a few quick photos. It was an amazing experience and possibly one of my favorite parts of the weekend!
7. Get a Man O’ War. Seriously. They are alcoholic, so only for those of you 21 and over, but so wonderful. Kentucky bourbon, lemonade, and muddled strawberries and mint. After you’ve been walking around all day watching some of the world’s most talented riders, a good, cold drink is just what the doctor ordered. Just be careful if you get one before hitting the Trade Fair because you may just end up buying those expensive breeches you’ve had your eye on.
8) Watch the warm-up ring. As cool as it is to see the finished product in the big ring, it is really interesting to watch the professionals get prepped. Not only can you see your favorite riders up close and personal, but you can learn a lot from watching them warm-up. I got to watch Michael Jung prep for his winning show jumping round and see how he progressed the jumps to get him and fischerRocana FST ready to clinch their third Rolex win.
9) Pack your rain gear, no matter what the forecast says. The weather in Kentucky during spring can change in an instant and you need to be prepared. This year, the forecast for Saturday, cross-country day, didn’t call for any rain. However, that was not the case in reality. On our drive down that morning, we even had to pull over on the highway and wait out a particularly nasty storm. With it being warm, make sure you pack light layers for your rain gear! Waterproof boots, such as duck boots, wellies, or Dubarrys, are a must have, especially if you want to get your picture taken in the Head of the Lake - which is definitely recommended! Also, try to wear moisture-wicking clothes. Even if it doesn’t rain, it will likely be warm and you will be walking around quite a bit, so you will appreciate it. The motto for the weather at Rolex: expect the unexpected!
10) Enjoy some prime time people watching. Rolex brings all kinds of people and you will find some quirky characters. People on the whole are very friendly and willing to snap a photo of you and your friends for you - even if it means they have to wade calf-deep in the Head of the Lake! There will also be plenty of pups around, so make sure to take a chance and stop and say hello to a few. I certainly missed my dog while I was away, but I got my pooch-fix in no time at Rolex. There were even some rescue dogs up for adoption that were walking around and it required all the willpower I have not take one home with me!
Huge thank you to Gill and Maris for pulling together this great recap of their weekend at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and to Kristin Leigh Creative and Coffee and a Curry Comb for providing the stunning photos. Stay tuned as we add even more fabulous equestrian destinations to the Hunt Club Horse Show Field Guide throughout the year! Have a venue you want us to cover? Send us an email through the contact form or give us a shoutout on Twitter or Instagram!