It’s an amazing feeling walking out of the warm up rings, down the stone pathway, and into the Rolex Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park. Although this is not my first time at Rolex, it’s my first time grooming. Compared to riders, grooms are a completely different breed, messily pulled back hair with scissors and braiding bands in every nook and cranny they can fit them in, trailing after riders on magnificent horses. I’m the youngest “head groom”, and man did I get an experience of a life time.
We arrived on Monday, after a long ten-hour car ride blasting our Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event playlist (a mix between hard core gangster rap, pop music and everything in between). The day was spent unpacking and taking terrible photos for our credentials. We ate dinner at some terrible chain restaurant we recognized from when we were in Aiken, and per usual passed out back at the Hotel.
It’s not until Wednesday that the fun begins. Every competitor is decked out in sleek new jog outfits, all the horses have a million tiny little braids, and grooms walk in a sort of merry go round as they wait for jogs. The riders who are called into the holding box wait with certain anxiety. Lainey Ashker withdraws her mount Anthony Patch because of an abscess, Ellen Dougherty is spun unfortunately (but she does get married during the weekend on the course!).
Then comes dressage. Kate puts in a decent test that doesn’t score as well as we’d like. The overnight leader is Allison Springer on her mount Arthur, long time partners and previous runner up for Rolex in 2012. The emotion that came out of her back at the barns was awe inspiring–she was so thankful for it all. Following behind her is a slew of top riders, including William Fox-Pitt and Bay My Hero.
Cross Country day comes and between ravenous course walks, and hurriedly putting studs in, there isn’t a groom with a free second the entire afternoon. The riders mount, and grooms carrying buckets filled with scrapers or sponges and tack bags with stud kits and grease catch a ride from vehicles adorned with white signs saying “Groom Shuttle”. Silently, we all enter the loud D-Box, hang coolers and halters up, fill buckets with water and ice, and run off to warm up. You’ve never seen quicker work being made of rails, Kate had four people pulling rails, plus crippled Boyd hobbling after her hyping her up and giving her last minute tips. We all want it for her just as badly as she does. We grease Cole up, and she enters the start box. This is where things start to seem like they’re moving in slow motion. We watch her jump the first few fences and she goes off into the tree line, we see her outline jumping the first water, taking the safe route, and then nothing. The announcers blare the fences she’s jumped, then announce she has a run out. My heart stops. I grab barn manager Kaleigh until they apologize for the mistake, that she hadn’t had the stop. But then I hear the worst news of all: she had fallen.
Then comes the confusion, grooming at multiple FEI events before and some going better than others, I knew that she wasn’t required to come back to the D-Box. We radioed out asking of her whereabouts, but nobody could find her. Kate’s assistant, Rhiannon, and I head back to the barns in case she goes back there first, only to get a call from Kaleigh that she had come to the D-Box. We take off his tack, and Rhiannon walks him back. Nobody says a word to Kate, fearful we might hit a raw cord. Cole gets iced and cooled off back at the barn, and we go back over to watch some more cross country. The day ends with Allison losing her lead on Arthur, and William Fox-Pitt claiming the top spot.
The next morning we pack up, shop around a little, wish everyone good luck, and hit the road again. We’re in good spirits despite what happened, hungry to return next year.