Rolex Three-Day Footing Proves Sticky, But Safe

To the relief of riders, owners, veterinarians, and spectators at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by Bayer, last week's series of deluges did not prove dangerous for horses on cross country on Saturday, April 24. Many well-conditioned horses and riders slogged through the mud to meet--if not beat--their optimum course times with few injuries or mishaps. Sunday's stadium jumping was wetter, but still safe.

This year was the first running of the modified four-star event, in which rider/horse pairs already qualified for the Olympic Games in Athens performed Phases A and D of the cross country test--phase D was over a shorter distance than that in the regular four-star, but with only one less jumping effort, which is a notable adjustment for horses used to galloping longer distances between jumps. This format is patterned after what riders will experience in Athens.

Because of the muddy, wet conditions, it was decided to run the Rolex horses first on the cross country course, with competitors in the modified section (already Olympic qualified) going in the afternoon.

John Williams, of Middleburg, Va., who rode Carrick (a 12-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred cross gelding) to third place in the modified division, said on Saturday, "Rain is part of the game--this is an outdoor sport, and we're used to it."

Australia's Philip Dutton, who captured second in the modified event on Hannigan and second in the four-star on Nova Top, commented Saturday on the cross country footing: "With the amount of horses, it got cut up. I've ridden in a lot of wet conditions. It made everything a little harder on the horses, and I think it was a good decision to ride the CCI first.

"The ground certainly wasn't dry by any means, but it was harder to accelerate and get the time," added Dutton. "Parts of it were deeper than others…on the turns toward the end (of the course), you had to decide which track was best for you."

Daren Chiacchia, who won the modified division piloting Windfall 2, added, "I tried to stay off the main track where it was churned up like a plowed field in places, and tried to find fresh ground." He explained that the footing isn't so bad when it is saturated with water, but starts getting sticky as it dries.

Despite the quagmire, the horses galloped on with very little consequence. Only two horses were not accepted at the jog on Sunday morning (in the modified), and six were withdrawn after cross country (three in each division). Kent Allen, DVM, of Virginia Equine Imaging, a treating veterinarian at Rolex, said Saturday, "That we were able to break free of the rain yesterday and today really helped the footing. Certainly the modified division, which went second, had the combination advantage and disadvantage," since those competitors had less mud later in the day, but had the disadvantage of the footing being torn up around the jumps from the morning rides. Allen said there were some thrown shoes, "but all in all, the horses did pretty well."

Catherine Kohn, VMD, of The Ohio State University, a veterinary delegate at the competition, concurred with Allen's assessment. After cross country on Saturday, she said, "We had very few injuries. Some riders fell off, but I don't think that we moved the horse ambulance all day." She said that a few horses developed some muscle soreness after Phase C (roads and tracks in the four-star division). "(The outcome) was very good, considering the number of horses," she added.

Directly after cross country, Kohn had plans to go around the barns and check for injuries and soreness. "We need to make some assessments--haven't done that yet. The horses in the afternoon definitely were working hard, working fast…(the modified format) is going to take an adjustment."

Kohn said that the veterinary staff had asked for some rider input from the modified group on cross country warm-up to assess how they can make conditions better for the horses running in that format. "It appears that in the warm-up, some horses galloped, some trotted. It will be nice to get an idea of the spectrum" and how they performed as a result of their riders' choice for warm-up.

On the new modified division and its impact on horses, Williams said, "It's hard to judge off one competition. I think we would have to do five or six—looking at this competition would be an unfair judgment of the new format because of the going." One of Williams' horses lost a shoe out on course, but regardless was comfortable and "as fresh as can be" after the event.

"Things happen faster than we're used to on this (format of course)," added Williams. "We need to be sharper and faster than we're used to."

Dutton said, "The horses in the modified got quite a bit short of wind because they had to accelerate more in the CCI."

Walter Fischer, president and chief executive officer of Rolex Watch U.S.A., said after cross country that he was pleased with the conditions on Saturday. "The horses' athleticism is really exhibited in the cross country," said Fischer. "When you see the horses and riders, you get very respectful. Look at those ladies—they have more guts than I have!"

Fisher came from spending a week in sunnier areas of the world. "Last night I said (to fellow sponsors), ‘I brought the sun along--don't worry, you will have nice weather.' Then I thought, there will have to be sun, or my name will be mud!"

Winners included:

Modified Four-Star Event:

  1. Windfall 2 and Darren Chiacchia
  2. Hannigan and Phillip Dutton (AUS)
  3. Carrick and John Williams
  4. My Beau and Amy Tryon
  5. Fröm and Stephen S. Bradley
  6. Task Force and Jan Thompson
  7. West Farthing and Nathalie Bouckaert
  8. Northern Spy and Heidi J. White
  9. McKinlaigh and Gina Miles
  10. Antigua and Will Faudree


  1. Winsome Adante and Kim Severson
  2. Nova Top and Phillip Dutton
  3. Kildonan Tug and Abigail Lufkin
  4. Ballincoola and William Fox-Pitt (GBR)
  5. Jacob Two Two and Julie Richards
  6. Limestone Rise and Polly Jackson (GBR)
  7. Little Tricky and Bruce O. Davidson, Sr.
  8. Damien and Holly Hepp
  9. Courting Danger and David O'Connor
  10. Test Run and Kim Morani

On to Athens
The veterinary outcome at Rolex bodes well for U.S. horses' preparation for Athens. Brendan Furlong, MVB, MRCVS, the United States' three-day team veterinarian, helped out in the 10-minute-box (the compulsory halt at the end of C in the regular four-star) on Saturday. He said, "I'm excited about the possibilities for Athens. The horses that ran very well this weekend, jumped well, and are sound, make our job easier. There were a couple of horses that sustained some injuries yesterday that weren't as sound as the ground jury expected (from looking at them the night before).

"The ground took its toll on some of the horses. Some of the horses had muscle soreness, but I'm not aware of any major injuries," Furlong added. "That's huge--when you can come out of a four-star with no catastrophic injuries. The welfare of our horses is foremost on our minds."

For more Rolex results, click here.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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