The first thing we did was check out the rest of the Eventing Showcase that morning. I had never seen a cross country competition in person, and it was pretty badass.
For those who don’t know, eventing competitions take place in three segments: dressage, cross country, and show jumping. Usually, each stage is a separate day (why it’s also known as three day eventing) and they follow that order. Dressage is the “horse dancing” phase, which takes a lot of concentration and focus. The scoring is totally subjective and based on how well horse and rider executed required movements.
Cross country takes place over an outdoor track with various types of jumps. These jumps are massive (sometimes the flat table jumps are over six feet wide!) and there are also hills, ditches, and water obstacles. Scores are based on speed and whether or not the horse and rider have any problems with any jumps. This is definitely one of the most dangerous equestrian events. Riders wear inflatable vests that are triggered when they disconnect from the saddle too quickly – basically working like airbags to protect the rider in the event of a bad fall. Riders also carry important medical information on them in case they are involved in a serious accident. Horses are subjected to frequent vet inspections and there are rules about reckless riding. There is still a lot of fast riding between obstacles, and it’s no surprise that this is a sport where you actually see a large number of ex-racehorses competing internationally.
The show jumping is usually the third day, and the jumps are smaller than in actual show jumping, even at the highest levels. The horses are usually tired from cross country and jumping more huge jumps wouldn’t be fair to horse or rider. It would be pretty discouraging, really. The horse and rider pairs are ranked and placed based on their combined scores from all three stages.
This was just a showcase event, though, so the cross country course was much smaller (in huge events the allowed cross country time can be somewhere around ten minutes for each pair – here it was about half that). So they rearranged the schedule a bit and did the show jumping and cross country in the same day, with the show jumping first. The coolest part was that, after the show jumping was over, we the spectators were allowed to walk around the cross country course to check out the obstacles ourselves. While the riders were out there doing the same. Once the competition started, my friend and I stood ourselves in a great spot near the finish where she got some awesome candid shots of riders, horses, and grooms as they went off the field. My shots were not as good.
There were no falls or major issues, though one rider did pull up after her horse landed awkwardly. The horse seemed fine, but she still called it quits to be safe, which really goes to show that these riders care about their horses.
It was a really great experience, and it took most of the day, despite the course being so short. Definitely made me want to drive to Kentucky and see Rolex live next year (essentially the biggest eventing competition in the United States if I remember correctly – it was just the last weekend of April).
Our next adventure was to get to the other equestrian center property and find seats before the Grand Prix. Every Saturday is “Saturday Night Lights” where there is some sort of big event under the floodlights – usually a Grand Prix. This one happened to be an even bigger one than usual and I was so glad we got our seats early. It got packed pretty fast.
It was so easy to get caught up in the excitement around me and I loved it. So utterly silent when it needed to be, but damn could we cheer. And the thing that amused me the most was that I was definitely surrounded by other jumper riders. They seemed to be vicariously riding these horses, especially in the jump off. They made clicking and kissing sounds to encourage the horses on, and said “whoa” when the horses seemed too excited.
One of the coolest things, though, was being so close to such famous people and horses. I narrowly avoided multiple “fangirl” moments when I recognized riders or horses I was used to only seeing online. Especially when we were just walking around and saw riders also just walking around during some downtime.
Overall, It was so much fun that I didn’t want it to be over. But we decided not to go back to the showgrounds on Sunday because there were no big classes then. Instead, we decided to go on a little road trip and embrace our other nerdy side.
Stay tuned for Part Four!