Originally published on EN in 2012, this essay’s relevance has remained intact over the years. On the eve of this year’s event, we thought it appropriate to re-share as a reminder that this collective experience we know as Kentucky is much bigger, and more complex, than we sometimes give it credit for.
Some people believe there are spiritual vortexes scattered around the world, energetic super-centers so powerful that you can practically feel the stuff circulating in the air. Mystics and metaphysicists flock to them — Stonehenge, the Giza pyramids, ancient Inca ruins — hoping to catch a whiff of the divine.
I don’t know how much I buy into that crystal visions claptrap, but I do think there’s something to the idea of a place retaining its history in mysterious ways. The Kentucky Horse Park, in particular, is a plot of earth that I’ve always sensed had more going on than meets the eye. There’s a magic to it, and it’s more than just the pastoral combination of majestic oak trees, plush bluegrass and pristine rural air. Rather, it’s layers upon layers of emotion, saturating the soil and rustling through the leaves.
The poetry of a flawlessly executed dressage test, the cheer of a crowd gathered round the Head of the Lake, the thunder of a victory gallop — that energy lingers in the air long after everyone has packed up and gone home. But the source of the Park’s magic is more multidimensional than that.
On Jimmy Wofford’s cross country walk at WEG in 2010, he told the crowd that there was a dandelion on the course for every heart broken at the Park. I remember looking down, seeing a patch of the weed’s sharply scalloped leaves, and wondering in earnest whose tears had fertilized them.
I’m sure I’ve got a few dandelions out there myself, not from the four-star, but from other Horse Park events that felt equivalently serious at the time. When you’re 13 and you’ve saved your $4-an-hour stall mucking wages all summer to compete at some event, only to have your pony jump out of the dressage ring … dandelion. When you’re 17 and your horse hangs a leg in the water complex at Pony Club championships and you feel like you’ve let down your entire team … dandelion. When you’re 29 and you pull up halfway around the course with the sinking realization that you’re simply not prepared … dandelion.
I could go on and on, and I’m sure some of you could, too. Certainly these moments weren’t the end of the world, but perspective is a function of the mind, not the heart.
This weekend there are going to be riders who don’t make it around the course. They’ll make the same long walk back to the barn that so many have before them, replaying a split second over and over again in their minds, trying to figure out what went wrong. Some of them will get a leg up on their next ride or have the opportunity try again next year. Others might not get a second chance.
If you’re at Kentucky this weekend, take a quiet moment at some point to look around you. Acknowledge the dandelions and the horses and riders who planted them there. Remember that it’s all connected. Without attempt, and the risk of failure that goes with it, there can be no glory. The hit and the miss both begin with a leap.