What’s the Big Deal about Rolex Anyway?

In Opinion

Being married to a professional equestrian is weird. Few things remind me more of this fact than trying to explain the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event to the uninitiated.

I’ve tried simply stating the fact:

Me: “Elisa is competing at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event next weekend.”
Them: “Oh. That’s nice.”

I’ve tried explaining how important it is:

Me: “Elisa is competing at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event next weekend. It’s a really big deal!”
Them: “Oh. That’s nice.”

I’ve tried putting it in perspective:

Me: “Elisa is competing at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event next weekend. It’s the biggest event of its kind in North America, the only competition event in North America that is at the Olympic level.”
Them: “Oh. That’s nice.”

I’ve tried relating it to something that they might already understand.

Me: “Elisa is competing at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event next weekend. It’s like the super bowl of her sport.”
Them: “Oh. That’s nice.”

I’ve tried showing pictures.

Me: “Elisa is competing at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event next weekend. She’ll be doing this…”

Photograph courtesy of Madison Nichter
Photograph courtesy of Madison Nichter

Them: “Wow!”

When I show pictures, people are always impressed. But they are impressed with the wrong thing. What Elisa does is impressive, to be sure, but it is impossible to convey just how significant and important it is that she is competing at an elite event like Rolex. It makes me wish that the US had more of a ‘horse and hound, culture. But it doesn’t, and so I am constantly left with a sense that the intense pride that I feel about my wife’s accomplishments is unappreciated by most people I meet.

So what’s the big deal about Rolex anyway?

The Kentucky Three Day Event was actually first held as part of a larger effort to promote the sport of three day eventing to the North American audience. In 1974, the US team, led by Bruce Davidson, won team gold at the world championships in England. The win entitled the US to host the world championships four years later, around the same time as the Kentucky Horse Park was scheduled to open. Drawing more than 170,000 spectators and adding more than $4 million to the local economy, The 1978 event was a massive success, and it was decided to hold the event on an annual basis.

Fast forward to today, the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is the only regularly held four-star in the Western Hemisphere. (Four stars is the highest level of competition in the sport of eventing. It is the same level of competition as at the Olympics and the World Equestrian Games). Prize money of $350,000 is distributed among the top placings, with $110,000 and a Rolex watch (of course) awarded to the first place horse and rider. The event is Broadcast internationally in 18 Languages, live streamed in North America by the USEF Network, and broadcast by NBC.

Rolex is a Big DealRolex is a big deal. It is nothing like any other three day event in North America. It is as if the world descends upon Lexington, Kentucky (good luck finding a hotel room for this weekend). The crowds are huge. The atmosphere is electric. There are miles of shops, tons of demonstrations (shameless plug: including a mustang demonstration by Elisa Wallace), and you can’t turn your head without having the opportunity to buy and consume a Maker’s Mark Man O’ War. It can be overwhelming for a first timer (check out this excellent article for some helpful advice for surviving your first Rolex), but also incredibly exciting if you keep it in perspective. Rolex is the super bowl of three day eventing. The competitors are the best riders in the world. Competition is fierce. The stakes are high.

Are you going to be at Rolex this year? What advice would you give to first-timer at the event? What tips would you give to other horse husbands for maintaining their sanity amidst a crowd of horse-crazed eventing fans? Leave a comment in the area below.

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