New tailgating is a big hit at Rolex 3-Day Event

April 30, 2011

Martha Lambert of Louisville comes to the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event every year. So when she heard tailgating spaces would be available for the first time, she quickly reserved one and started inviting friends.

“This is the best idea they’ve had since they started the Rolex,” said Lambert, who competed at the Rolex three times in the 1990s. “I wonder why they haven’t done it before?”

Lambert was one of more than 100 people, companies and organizations that paid either $275 or $325 for a space along the crest of the meadow where much of the cross-country course was built. Each spot included eight admission tickets. Only a handful of spots went unused.

“There was an excellent response,” said Vanessa Coleman, ticketing director for Equestrian Events, the Rolex’s organizer. “We’ve already had people say ‘you need to make this a tradition.'”

It certainly helped to have a picture-perfect day — lots of sunshine and temperatures in the 70s, following a stormy month that dumped more than a foot of rain on Lexington.

“Yes, we’re responsible for the weather today, too,” Coleman joked with tailgaters as she walked from spot to spot to check on things.

Lundy’s Catering took advance orders, but also sold a lot of last-minute food as tailgaters saw what their neighbors were having. “I think it’s going to be a hit,” said Alissa Lundergan, one of the company’s owners.

But most tailgaters brought their own food and drink — impressive homemade spreads, served with plenty of champagne. Chad Ross of Frankfort loaded a big gas grill into his pickup truck to cook brisket and pork tenderloin for his family and friends from Missouri.

“We come to the Horse Park as often as we can,” said Wendy Long of Huntington, W.Va. She and her husband, Larry, are such horse sport fans that their license plate reads: Jump Over. “This is such a nice way to enjoy the Horse Park and the Rolex,” she said.

Becky Coleman of Tifton, Ga., comes to Rolex every year to photograph the competition. Her husband, Tony, isn’t a horseman, but he agreed to come this year and was happy to have the tailgating spot as a place to relax. “She’s big into it,” he said of the Rolex. “I figure if Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.”

Practical Horseman magazine had a spot to entertain supporters, as did the Irish Draught Horse Society of North America. Society members were there to cheer on eight competing horses with Irish draught bloodlines.

Land Rover had the most elegant tailgating space — six spaces, actually, with six brand new Land Rover and Range Rover models. Their tailgates were lifted to display a spread of gourmet food for Land Rover owners and other customers to enjoy.

“This was perfect for us,” said Kim McCullough, the company’s brand vice president. “People naturally tailgate with a Land Rover.”

Land Rover, the event’s vehicle sponsor, also was operating an off-road demonstration course. While the company doesn’t actually sell vehicles here, dealers report the efforts have produced many good leads, McCullough said.

Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, had a tailgating spot to do some marketing for its equine studies programs, which have 110 majors, and equestrian team. About 30 students were attending Rolex.

“We hope to attract potential students,” said Lucy Cryan, who directs the university’s equine program. “And we decided to get the word out to alumni to stop by and say hello.”

Most tailgaters said they hope to get a spot next year — and for many years to come.

“It is awesome being able to do this,” said Randi McEntire, who comes each year with a group of fellow horse enthusiasts from Charleston, S.C. “We’re already talking about next year and how we’re going to improve on our setup.”

The group was tailgating under a University of South Carolina Gamecocks tent and digging into the smoked chicken, cold cuts, fresh vegetables and ample liquor selection that Kent Gramke had assembled.

“Good company, good weather, good food — that’s what makes the event,” Gramke said. “And horses,” his friend Sherry Lilley quickly added.

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo:

Photo Gallery: Out and about at Rolex

April 24, 2010

Here are some photos I took today at the Cross Country competition of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park. Click on each thumbnail to see complete image:

Consider Rolex a bonus for living in Lexington

April 25, 2009

Who comes out for cross-country day at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event?

Mostly horse people — thousands and thousands of horse people, from across the country and around the world. Many of them are serious horse people.

You can tell the serious international horse people because they converse in French or German, or have accents as British as the Rolex’s play-by-play announcer. Some are impressively overdressed, but they seem not to mind as temperatures on a sun-splashed Saturday rise well into the 80s.

You can tell other serious horse people because their less-impressive clothing contains the logos of Rolexes past, other major horse events or their local riding club. They carefully mark notes in the program and comment to one another about each rider’s performance and technique.

Others may be dressed normally, except for a telling accessory. Take, for example, the woman in the white sun dress, straw hat and knee-high Gore-Tex and leather riding boots. This was not a day for waterproof boots. My guess is that she bought them from the Irish vendor and thought they were easier to wear than carry.

The Rolex trade fair in one corner of the Kentucky Horse Park is its own little world of temptation for serious horse people. In addition to waterproof boots from Ireland, there is everything from made-to-measure saddles and English riding apparel to handy gadgets like the Jiffy Steamer hay storage device.

A growing number of horse people come armed with expensive cameras and long, heavy lenses. Others seem just as happy with the results from their little point-and-shoots. The wonders of digital photography and auto focus have made it easy to capture the magic of a beautiful animal and a skilled rider as they thunder down the course and glide over a jump.

A major Rolex demographic is little girls who love horses and older girls who are getting good at riding them. They are accompanied by camera-toting fathers, and mothers, many of whom used to be those little girls.

Johnny Smith was there with his daughter Jordan, 19, who has been riding since she was 8 and has always wanted to come to Rolex. They decided just last Wednesday to make the trip up from Dallas, Texas. They drove all day Friday and were having a great time.

“I hope to do eventing someday,” Jordan Smith said. “I want to be here someday.” Her father talked about how many camera memory cards he had filled up.

Between the competitors’ rides, the little girls give constant loving to the outriders’ horses. Some are veterans, such as Safari, a 14-year-old draft cross who was working his ninth Rolex with owner Maureen O’Daniel of Lexington in the saddle in formal (and hot) riding attire. Others are new, such as Lil’ Mo, a 5-year-old retired thoroughbred racehorse who has found a new career as a hunter-jumper for Lei Ruckle of St. Louis.

The little girls’ younger brothers seem more interested in the funnel cakes in the food area, not to mention the Kettle Korn and deep-fried Oreos. The littlest siblings just want to play in the muddy creek that runs through the course.

There are many people here who would like to be horse people, if only they had more money or time or land.

Karen and Paul Lehman, who moved to Scott County from Florida last year, hope to have horses someday. At the moment, they’re busy with 7-month-old Brandon and another baby on the way. “We’re just getting into the whole horse thing,” she said.

I also suspect many of the 40,600 people who came out Saturday are like me — they don’t own horses or ride horses or even really know much about them. Rolex, like Keeneland, is one of those bonuses you get for living here. It’s a good excuse to get out and walk around on a beautiful day in a beautiful place and see some of the world’s best horses and riders do amazing things.

In 516 days, the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games will begin its 16-day run at the Kentucky Horse Park, bringing together the world’s best athletes in eight equine disciplines. Hundreds of thousands of horse people will be here, including many of the world’s most serious horse people. Tickets go on sale Sept. 25.

But Games organizers also want to make sure they leave room for average, local people who just want to come out to see some horses and riders do amazing things. That’s why some general admission tickets will be available. (Prices will be announced late this summer.)

“Our event will be as much for the Lexington resident as for the international horse person,” Games spokeswoman Amy Walker said. “We want people to come out and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Think of it as one of the bonuses of living here.

Click on each photo to enlarge it.