I still remember my first Rolex. I can’t remember the exact year (I want to say 2006), but I had just joined my first eventing barn and it was suggested that it might be fun for me to see the cross country. I was 16 and had a decently long riding career at that point, but it had been a bit scattered and inconsistent — western pleasure, hunt seat, and a bit of dressage before I finally decided it was time to learn to jump. My old coach sent me to an eventing stable, and it was my first experience with a trainer who actually showed in any discipline, let alone something like eventing. I knew what Rolex was before I went, but I was definitely unprepared for the actual experience.
My mom and I drove down to the Kentucky Horse Park at some seemingly unnecessarily early hour (my coach’s suggestion, to avoid the worst of the traffic), and the day dawned a bit gray and foggy. We entered the park and promptly had no idea what to do with ourselves. My coach was jump judging, so we walked the course a bit until we found her — including accidentally walking in a galloping lane, oops!
She gave us some suggestions on good places to watch, and we wandered off again. The crowd steadily grew bigger as people trickled in, and I started to get a better idea of the scale of this event. Then before we knew it, the first rider was out on course. And that was one of the moments that changed everything for me.
I remember that we were standing at a fence before the Hollow, a big ditch and wall. The whistle blew to warn us that a rider was approaching, and everyone fell quiet. Only the thud of hooves and rhythmic snorting broke the silence, until the rider (and I have no idea who it was) shouted some last minute words of encouragement and the pair left the ground. They landed safely on the other side and sped off to their next obstacle. And I was hooked.
There was a lot more that happened at that Rolex. I watched the Head of the Lake, the Hollow, took a nap in the sun during the lunch break, and pored through every booth at the trade fair. But it was that first jump that stuck with me through the years. I have only missed one Rolex since that first one, even when I took a break from riding during college.
Every year, my mom and I make our pilgrimage down, and every year it is worth it, rain or shine. Every year I watch riders gallop by on their way to glory or disappointment, and I am always filled with the same overwhelming mix of emotions that I was the first time: awe, respect, ambition, apprehension, joy.
Rolex, for me, is a rejuvenator. It reminds me of all this sport is and can be, despite the issues we know are present — and that we are working to fix. It reminds me that really, eventers as a group are some of the best people on earth. And it reminds me that things are really not so bad, as long as there are galloping horses, big jumps, and beautiful spring days in the world.