Wow- what a failure I am at my attempt to return to blogging. It’s not for lack of things to say- that’s for certain- but a severe deficit in time and energy required to get it all down.
Still, I had a wonderful adventure this year and I’ll be damned if it’s not going to be documented somewhere.
Most of you likely know already, but I had the opportunity to groom at this year’s Kentucky 5*. It was a long week, but worth every little bit of effort to have witnessed a 5* event from behind the scenes. I figured I’d capture some of my takeaways here for posterity. Expect several parts to this long and eventful (pun intended) story.
I’ve had a lot of folks ask me how I know Ema- and I’m happy to share. I first met Ema when she started undergrad at Duke university, as she brought Ben down from Maryland and boarded at the same facility as myself (call is Farm A). Foster and Ben were neighbors for a short time, and Ema picked my brain about various barns in the area. Since Ben likes 24/7 turnout, I recommended the farm where I first had Foster (we’ll say farm B), and so she moved there not long after. Since I keep in touch with many friends at Farm B, I’d often see Ema during our many frequent get together at the Carolina Ale House and reminisce over wine and wings. Emma’s 21st birthday was an especially fun event, and I’ve never seen a non-drinker hold their own as well as she did despite the *many* drinks put in front of her that night! *Ahem* Anyways- when my volunteering position at the Carolina International got canceled, and I learned that Ema needed an extra hand, I was more than happy to help. Kentucky came up, and I offered to jump in if needed, and the rest is history as they say.
The Park Itself
First of all, I’ll remind everyone that I’ve been to the Kentucky Horse Park exactly twice. Once in 2012 at my first Rolex, and second as a competitor at the AECs in 2019. I won’t lie, the views the third time around were just as impressive this go around. However- and I know things are occasionally nutty in KY- but the weather was CRAZY. We knew it would be cold the first night, and flurries were expected, but I think absolutely everyone was shocked to see legitimate SNOW on the ground when we woke up the first morning. Coming from North Carolina to hand grazing amongst the snow was one of many unreal moments during the trip- but luckily I threw winter hats and mittens and wore double the socks to survive. The rest of the week included rain, being what felt like even fucking colder temps, and then brief periods of wearing t-shirts and tank tops. Layers are absolutely the name of the game in KY.
As a result of said snow, all of the decorative plants on the cross country course were covered in bags and tarps. While in theory this is NBD, it did make walking the course a little odd- though really the only effect was making our selfies a little less impressive. Want to know a good way to warm up in Kentucky? Walk a 5* course. Seriously though- I walked 15 miles the first day of dressage when we did the most course walking. That much gallop, covering that much ground, is a great way to get in steps. Even better if you’re not riding it and can just marvel at the size of the fences instead of pissing yourself thinking of jumping them.
Speaking of getting steps in- it’s awfully nice if that’s not always the only option. My fellow groom on Team Bendigo brought an electric bike, and I will say that thing was an absolute godsend, especially when I was packing ~30 lbs of camera equipment from point A to point B. I was most excited to use it on XC day, as it was my duty to capture footage at the first water complex (and last jump combo) before racing off to help with Ben’s post XC care. With the hills and sheer size of the park, the bike was little but mighty and we were very grateful for it. Enough that I am now also thinking about investing in my own electric ride for getting around horse shows. (PS if you have any suggestions on electric bikes under $400 drop me a line!)
One of the cool features that the KYHP employed for the show (though maybe they do it for other shows?) was their installation of round pens. This was oh-so good for Ben, who as previously mentioned enjoys 24/7 turnout as much as possible. He probably also enjoyed getting to look out over his kingdom- aka the cross country course.
Back at the barns, security was tight. The barns were fenced off and a guard posted at each gate. I’m not sure whether the guards were paid employees or volunteers, but either way they took their job very seriously. Even if they had seen you a thousand times that day, your badge had to be showing or pulled out of the many layers in order to prove you weren’t there to pick off some 5* horses. The barns were closed to everyone at 11pm each night, and presumably padlocked. Luckily we weren’t ever there late enough to confirm.
It goes without saying that the most odd thing about the event, though, was the lack of spectators. While support staff in the forms of volunteers, grooms, owners, etc were there in plenty, there wasn’t a single crowd to be found. Empty seats for every discipline were there in plenty, and the longest line for anything was for food and alcohol (more on this later!). It was sad to miss the roar of spectators lined up 3 deep along the cross country paths in particular, though plenty of shouting and cheering still happened. While this probably worked out in our favor, given that this was Ben’s first 5*, it certainly felt like a different atmosphere than my previous trips to the Horse Park. Between that and the abundance of masks, it was a totally different horse show (though still cool as hell IMHO).
Phew! There she is- my first post about the LRKY3DE over a month after the fact. There is so much more to come though, so please stay tuned!