Watching an International Affair--Rolex

The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Bayer, lived up to its four-star international standing this year. That ranking is given to only four of the top-level events in the world, and is on par with the difficulty of the Olympics. This year, because livestock movement has been limited by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Europe, 39 Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) events have been cancelled overseas. Included in the losses was Badminton in England, one of the four-star events. Burghley, another British four-star event slated for late September, might be a go, but no final word has been issued. This meant that the overseas contingent was stronger than ever for Rolex Kentucky, although some of the horses were a little short on experience for the year because of the cancellation of events.

Sydney 2000 Olympics individual gold medalist David O'Connor from the United States finished first and third in this year's Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event aboard Giltedge and Custom Made, respectively. Second was Australia's Phillip Dutton on Simply Red, and American Bruce Davidson Sr. finished fourth on Little Tricky. Great Britain's Ian Stark and Rodney Powell were fifth and sixth aboard Arakai and Flintstone IV, respectively. Andrew Nicholson and Heelan Thompkins of New Zealand were seventh and eighth on Mallards Treat and Glengarrick, respectively.

Stark said he hadn't gotten to compete his horses since last September or October because of the European foot and mouth restrictions this spring. He said the overseas horses did a lot better than he thought they would with all that time off.

Horses, people, and equipment coming from foot and mouth-infected areas had to leave home a week earlier than usual for quarantine, and had to clear a quarantine in New York upon arrival. "That (New York) was our biggest worry. The United States was very helpful and very encouraging, and I'm thankful that we were able to come," said Stark.

Seventeen horses came to the Kentucky Horse Park from outside North America. Catherine Kohn, VMD, of The Ohio State University, was the FEI Veterinary Delegate for the event. She said the overseas horses traveled well, although there was some concern about conditioning because they hadn't been able to compete this year before Rolex Kentucky. Leo Jeffcott, BVetMed, PhD, FRCVS, DVSc, MA, DSc, Chairman of the international FEI Veterinary Committee, President of the Veterinary Commission at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, and Dean of the veterinary school at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, said, "There are no new foot and mouth outbreaks in Europe, and the number of cases is declining, so we're optimistic that Burghley will come off as planned."

Kohn said Burghley is important to the Americans because there is an informal team competition as well as individual competition, so Rolex was being used to select horses for the teams. "Foot and mouth changed a lot of things this year for everyone," said Kohn. She added that the American eventers are fortunate that there are plenty of competitions in the United States so they didn't have to miss out on preparation for Rolex.

Jeffcott said that the equine industry is facing losses of about £20 million per week in Europe because of foot and mouth. Despite those losses, he said the horse industry is being very responsible in not moving animals. He said it is hoped that by mid-June the movement of horses will be back to normal.

The international crowd of competitors at Rolex Kentucky this year heightened the talks of having the Kentucky Horse Park serve as the site of the 2006 World Games. Jeffcott called that a "real possibility," although there still are some hurdles to be crossed. The difficulties might come from the necessity to "sort out" what will be done with piroplasmosis-positive horses, and the possibility of West Nile being in the area by that time. Jeffcott said the potential to have a vaccine for both diseases by the 2006 World Games mitigate the problems tremendously.

This year's Rolex Kentucky literally faced hard going because of drought conditions. Officials at the Kentucky Horse Park used aerators to make sure the galloping lanes weren't compacted and too hard on the competitors. Kohn said there were very few sore feet after the event despite the hard ground, which was a testament to the preparations of the course.

The course was designed to be tough, yet inviting to horses, added Kohn. Several obstacles were at maximum standards for top-level events, but there were no serious injuries on course. Kentucky's own Cathy Wieschhoff aboard Maker's Mark Westlord had a mishap at one obstacle that required one element of the jump to be disassembled in order to extract the horse unscathed.

On the final day, the top competitors got international television coverage during stadium jumping via a live broadcast of Eurosport, which was to be aired later in more than 100 countries. ESPN covered the event for American viewers.

By Kimberly Graetz, Stephanie L. Church, Sarah Hogwood, and Christy West.

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