By Becky Cole
What if someone asked you if you’d like to ride a horse around the cross-country course at Rolex? Would you jump at the chance, and count down the days until Rolex? Would you be so excited you just knew you weren’t going to sleep the night before?
And what if the moment finally arrived and you found out that eventer Will Faudree, who won a gold medal in the 2003 Pan Am Games for the USA, was going to be your host to lead you around the course and explain routes and strategies the riders would be using, and course designer Derek Di Grazia would join you at some of the jumps — would you be even more excited? For a dedicated horse lover and eventing fan, it’d be like winning the lottery — and that’s just how I felt when Sidelines Editor Jan Westmark asked if I’d like to participate in the 2016 Rolex Ride the Course. Going to Rolex is a highlight of my year, and being able to ride the course with a competitor like Will was like salted caramel mocha frosting on the cake!
Six other lucky people rode an interesting assortment of trail horses, supplied by the Kentucky Horse Park. My sweet mare was a little Appaloosa named Pocahontas. She was a little leery of riding away from the beaten path the trail horses are used to, and even though she was very alert and looked carefully at all the new sights, she was as steady as you’d expect a seasoned trail horse to be. Some of the ponies weren’t so quiet, and were more than a little frisky. Between the wide-open fields, the brisk wind and scary jumps that probably had tigers crouching behind them, there was a lot for them to process. But the riders handled them quite well.
Will got to pick his mount for the afternoon, a pony named Diesel who looked like a Haflinger cross. Diesel was a cutie, but he was also a typical pony – if you’ve ever ridden, chances are you’ve ridden a pony like Diesel: the pony who waits until the second you’re distracted to grab a huge mouthful of grass, and in the process pulls the reins out of your hands. Twice the reins ended up in a heap on the ground as Diesel took advantage while Will was explaining the course to us. Diesel took the opportunity to chow down – literally. Fortunately, Will had no trouble reaching the grass too, and retrieving the reins.
We were blessed with a beautiful, albeit windy day, and according to Will, the course this year looked pretty straightforward and for the most part not too complicated. Some of the combinations would take some thoughtful planning, which is typical of Rolex. The main concern was the weather. The forecast was for rain on Saturday, which always raises concerns about the footing. However, Rolex was already preparing for bad weather and taking steps to keep the footing safe. It did rain Saturday, and crews were everywhere on the course putting down screenings where the ground was getting muddy and slick.
Even from the new perspective of the course I gained from seeing it on horseback, I can’t imagine what it must be like to gallop around it and jump those huge fences. I’ll always be in awe of the talented and dedicated men and women who compete at Rolex. And I hope that I’ll continue to be able to return every year to have some small part here, even if it’s just to be one of the thousands who come to watch and be thrilled by the best weekend all year!
I’d like to thank Rolex, Merrick Haydon and Sidelines Magazine for the opportunity to ride the course with Will Faudree and the other media riders; it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one I was very honored to have.