Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Rites of Spring

    As spring approaches, ever so slowly, my thoughts turn toward the blue-green fields of Kentucky and the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day event.  Actually, my thoughts turn toward Kentucky before Christmas when I realize I have a big deadline looming ahead - my annual Rolex Preview article for the USEA.  It begins as a nagging kernel of thought in the midst of the push towards Thanksgiving, rearing it’s head when I get word from my editor that she would like me to work on another Rolex Preview. 
    Please don’t get me wrong; I think it’s a privilege to work on the preview.  I adore the RK3DE, as it’s affectionately known far and wide by those who work tirelessly on this premier world-class event or surf the net, looking for the Equestrian Events website.  I adore the people who run it, design the course, and build the course. It has been my privilege to spend 3 or 4 hours every January with these hardworking and talented friends as we tour, laugh and generally have a great time discussing what will be coming and what will be deleted before the next event.  I wouldn’t miss this snowy, bone chillingly cold rendezvous for all the Bourbon in Kentucky. They might be sick of talking to me about this year after year, but I will be forever grateful that they are too gracious to admit it.

    Every year about 80,000 or so of us eventing fans converge on the beautiful plateau that is home to Lexington Kentucky.  For die-hard American eventers, this is the piece de resistance of the eventing year.  We gather together in tiny hotel rooms, drafty tents, first-class recreation vehicles, horse trailers, or rely on the kindness of friends and the slightest of acquaintances for floor space, or better yet, an unoccupied guest room (the latter best describes my annual squatting in the guest room of my best friend who happens to reside on one of the lovely breeding farms surrounding Lexington.  I am blessed.  I get good grub, tolerance for odd disruptive hours, and more importantly, a bedroom of my own with a door that closes and fresh coffee in the morning.  And, you can’t beat the price or the company of the hostess.  What could be better?) 
    For me, The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is a working vacation.  Filled with stress but at the same time it’s just flat out fun.   There are parties, barbeques, art shows, rendezvous at Jalapenos and DeShas.  You can run into some pretty interesting horsy folks out and about – see things you wish you hadn’t, people you haven’t seen in years and people you hope to never see again. And, let us not forget the fun of that shrine of conspicuous equine consumption also known as The Trade Fair, where you can spend a packet of money in very short order.  Why the dog and horse treat freebies alone are worth the trip. You can sell a horse, get a back-rub, or get your Danskos shined all in a matter of minutes.
    I must admit that the thing that makes it better for me than the usual, lonely location shoot in another state is sharing this annual (14 straight years and counting) springtime rite-of-passage with my family and friends.  I’m lucky that I indoctrinated my husband and daughter to this premier eventing experience early in our acquaintance.  My 15-year-old daughter can’t remember a time in her life when we didn’t make the trip to Kentucky in April so mom could work.  I have photos of my daughter as a two-year-old sitting on the top of the bleachers lining the dressage ring, wearing her Rolex ball cap, having an earnest conversation with a still mounted Torrance Watkins as she leaves the ring after her dressage test. The red all-terrain stroller we pushed up and down the rolling hills of the Rolex course in Kentucky, rain or shine, still hangs in our garage.   My daughter’s attendance is somewhat more reluctant the older she gets.  She’d much rather hang out with her friends but she and I always watch the Thursday dressage tests together. It’s a tradition - Daughter, Scottish Terrier Raz, and I, picnicking and shooting pictures of all the tests.
    On the other hand, my husband refuses to set foot on the show grounds Thursday or Friday.  Old Stable Boy succumbs to what I like to refer to as The Lure of the Four B’s.  Stronger than the song the sirens in the Odyssey, The Lure of the Four B’s wraps it’s tentacles around him, relentlessly tugging at him the last weekend of April.  He hangs out with his buddy, the breeding farm manager, going to the breeding sheds, teasing mares, generally immersing himself in the activities of the farm, then arriving at Keeneland at precisely 1:00 for the first race on the card of the day during the Spring Racing Meet, solely for the purpose of betting and losing as much money as he can during a five hour period. But, there are two more B’s that draw him relentlessly towards the Bluegrass (hummm - another B . . .) every spring. Bourbon and Beer. 
    You see it is these last B’s that make Rolex so much fun for this non-horseman to whom I am married.  Please understand that he is not a lush and loves cross-country day.  It’s just that he’s spent 15 years of cross-country days stuck in a chair, shooting tens of thousands of riders as they go over the jump, over the jump, over the jump all summer long.  For him, Rolex is one Saturday he can kick back and enjoy without worrying how many frames of film are left in his camera or whether or not his timing is off, or whether the sun is too low in the sky and is back-lighting the jump.  The last of the B’s lets him immerse himself in the sheer joy of not working the show.  He can traipse along, climbing hill and dale, going from effort to effort, watching the competitors gallop along - all the while without a care in the world save where is the next watering hole? Scanning the horizon for those bright yellow-striped awnings that herald the location of the adult refreshment center otherwise referred to as The Beer Tent whilst not getting himself run over by a golf cart or moped, is his only true occupation on Rolex Saturday except for lugging a backpack of camera equipment for me.  He is content.
    And so, as spring approaches, my thoughts are turned south, towards Kentucky.  I know that I’d better get the preview finished or I’ll hear from my editor. I know that my squatter’s digs are waiting in a beautiful house surrounded with rolling fences enclosing sleek fat mares and newly minted foals. I know that my daughter will be with me on Thursday, dog in tow, watching dressage.  I know with certitude, God willing, that my husband will be with me on Saturday, bright and early. He’ll enter the press tent and grab a couple of orders of go for me, taking a highlighter, marking the rides I must shoot without fail.  We’ll walk out to the first jump (for us, usually The Head of the Lake) sitting there for a while, until its time to move on.  Then we’ll plot a course for the next jump while he, softly humming to himself, scans the horizon with a hopeful look in his eye and a glance at his wristwatch.  Is it still too early...? 

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