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Rolex: Where the World’s Best Eventing Horse and Rider Teams Compete

horse and rider

Rider Doug Payne and his horse Running Order are preparing for Rolex. | Photo by Mark Waler Lehner

Rolex: It’s a fantastic watch, it’s a stepping stone to the Olympics, and it’s a four-star, three-day event that begins Thursday at the Kentucky Horse in Lexington, Kentucky.

But in case the name mainly reminds you of elegant timepieces, I’ve assembled some very interesting details on the horse-related Rolex, gleaned mostly from the Rolex website:

HOW IT BEGAN: In 1978 the World Championships were held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, and this was such a smashing success that an annual event was added after that.

GENERAL PURPOSE: To provide a competition annually that by its scope and demand affords the U. S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) the opportunity to evaluate candidates seeking competition or development grants or to be named to a U.S. team representing this country in international championships.

This year’s Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event features selection trials to choose the U.S. Eventing team for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

FOUR STAR STATUS: The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Bridgestone, hosts the Western Hemisphere’s only annual Four Star Three-Day Event.

EXPECTED ATTENDANCE: Spectators: 60-100,000; Riders: 50 from U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Australia, France, Ireland; Horses: 55; Volunteers: 2,000; Media: 200

GROUNDS: The Kentucky Horse Park, a 1,212-acre park opened in 1978 by the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

ORGANIZER: Equestrian Events, Inc., (EEI) a non-profit charitable Kentucky corporation established initially to produce the 1978 World Three-Day Event Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park. The Event is currently run by the 24 person volunteer EEI Board of Directors.

TITLE SPONSOR: Rolex Watch U.S.A., is the official timepiece of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), is Title Sponsor of the Kentucky Three-Day Event. This association with EEI began in 1981.

PRESENTING SPONSOR: Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC, a corporate sponsor of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). This association with EEI began in 2010.

ROLEX GRAND SLAM OF EVENTING: The $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing is awarded to any rider who wins the Rolex Kentucky, Mitsubishi Motors Badminton and Land Rover Burghley Four Star Events in succession. Pippa Funnell of Great Britain, who won all three in 2003, is the only rider to win the Rolex Grand Slam.

OTHER SPONSORSHIP: Financial Services Sponsor – HSBC; Automotive Sponsor – Land Rover; Sustaining Sponsor – United States Equestrian Federation (USEF)

TRADE FAIR: Part of Rolex Kentucky since 1976. Merchandise includes designer clothing, artwork, gifts, sport clothing, horse-related items, Event souvenir items and many more. Horse enthusiasts can make major purchases (saddles, boots, etc.) at the Trade Fair because the large number of tack shops affords a volume of offerings in one location.


TICKET OPPORTUNITIES: Several options for attending the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event are available. For complete information, please visit the Website.


The ultimate test of horse and rider! One event, three disciplines, testing the resolve of the timeless partnership between horse and rider, to trot, gallop and soar past anything that stands in their way.

DRESSAGE on Thursday and Friday is held in the breath taking outdoor stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park, where spectators enjoy the grace, refined beauty and elegance of dressage as competitors trot their way through the first phase of competition. Dressage, which tests the gaits, suppleness and obedience of the horse through a series of prescribed movements.

The Second phase, CROSS-COUNTRY, is the highlight of Eventing. Saturday is the most exciting day of Rolex Kentucky as thousands gather to watch horses and riders gallop over four miles of the challenging terrain, at speeds up to 25 mph, while negotiating remarkable obstacles, water hazards, banks and ditches.

The JUMPING TEST, the final phase, brings the energy and precision of jumping back to the outdoor stadium on Sunday. Spectators from across the globe will witness the world’s finest horses and riders test their athletic ability, conditioning and training as they soar over obstacles.

ONE RIDER’S JOURNEY: If you’ve ever wanted to know more about one of the horse-and-rider teams who make it to Rolex, here’s featured rider Doug Payne’s first-person account about his journey with horse Running Order, excerpted with permission from the Rolex website:

This will be my first time competing at Rolex. I’m still struggling how to exactly put my thoughts into words. It might be best to start with my background and what got me here. I was born into a very active horse family. My mom has now judged at Kentucky a few times as well as nearly every other 4* in the world. She was also judging at the Olympics in 2008 as well as the president of the ground jury at the World Equestrian Games in 2010.

So riding was something that my sister and I naturally fell into. We both grew up in Pony Club and both were graduate ‘A’ members. I was on two international tetratholon teams (1997 and 2001) and won the national championships in 2000. My mom always had horses coming into the barn for training etc, so I was lucky enough to ride a lot of them. By the time I entered college I had competed through Intermediare I dressage and Advanced eventing. I finished up with a Silver medial from the North American Young Riders Championships.

I actually never in 1,000,000 years thought I’d be riding professionally. I’m currently 30 yrs old based in Gladstone, NJ and Aiken, SC. I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering from RIT (Rochester, NY). The plan upon graduation was to become a forensic engineering. One thing lead to another and given the opportunity to ride I figured I’d regret not trying later in life. I haven’t looked back since.

The professional years have lead me to places I would have never dreamed possible. I’ve competed over in Europe and all over the US and Canada, I am now a USEF judge and TD as well as an ICP instructor. I’ve produced an instructional DVD with Jimmy Wofford and am in the process of writing a book. Rolex is just another step along the way, and I can’t wait!

Enough about me, I’m sure you’d rather hear more about Running Order. He is a horse of a lifetime, without a doubt! Around the barn he’s known as Running Order, RO, Skinny or Elvis (his name in Ireland). He was sent to me by his owner, Patti Springsteen, just under 4 years ago. He is a 10-year-old, 17.1-hand Irish Thoroughbred gelding by Luso. He was born in Ireland and was trained by Enda Boldger to steeplechase…He spent a brief unsuccessful stint in the Florida jumper scene before arriving at our farm.

I still have a vivid picture of the first day he stepped foot on the farm. He and another horse stepped off the trailer together. Barney came off first, he too was Irish and a very plump Irish type at that. Running Order was next off, and the contrast was stark. He was a tall, lanky, rangy horse with his hip bones sticking out. Unfortunately, they still are prominent.

He was, from that moment on known as Skinny. Of course the first day I had to see how he’d jump. I have to admit, I didn’t expect much. So warmed up, picked up a canter and aimed at a cavaletti that couldn’t have been more than 12 inches. He backed off, I kept my leg on and holy $#@*! He jumped it as if it were 4-foot, 6-inches, and his knees were by his ears! From that moment I knew he was the real deal, it was just a matter of time.

Around the barn, he is a very curious, spooky and athletic horse with an exceptional gallop and jump. You can’t leave anything within reach of his stall, if he’s able to grab it he will and it’ll be across the isle way in an instant. He’s a bit of an attention lover! If you’re nearby you must pet him! He also loves to play with my dog Bacon. They will both grab at each other all day long.

Categories: Riding Disciplines.

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