This year's Rolex will be "Al's" fourth four star which still stuns me considering it was nearly twelve years ago I bought the scrawny little bay horse bred and trained by Tom Swales of New Jersey, USA.
As many of you know, Al and I have been teammates for over a decade and have been fortunate enough to have represented our country abroad, competed at the highest level of our sport and most recently won the American Eventing Championships and Gold Cup Series in the fall of 2013 in Tyler, Texas.
With all the experience (as a team) under our belts, my priority in getting Al to Rolex this year was to have him happy, healthy and sound. Being that Al isn't a spring chicken anymore, my coach and I made the decision to run him lightly in the preparations leading up to Rolex with our focus primarily being in "quality" over "quantity." After a good stretch of the legs at Rocking Horse at the intermediate level, Al and I entered Red Hills CIC *** (one of my personal favorites) in hopes of obtaining a positive and conditioning round. With an unforgettable dressage test in the monsoon-like conditions placing us in fifth in a hefty field of horses, we finished in the pink ribbon position and simultaneously re-qualified ourselves to compete in Kentucky at the end of April.
Our next show and final outing before the big day was held in Norwood, NC...which also is home to Kellie Pickler (any first year American Idol fans out there?) and of course lots of calamari (you'll have to have watched A.I. first season to get that joke). The Fork Horse Trials is notoriously known to be the preview event for what's to be expected at Rolex. However, It also happens to fall only three weeks before the first trot up which can pose a risk for any eventer.
Now every other year that I have entered Rolex I have chosen to run Al across the difficult advanced track that The Fork offers. However, due to his slightly elevated age, the ground being a little on the hard side and the fact that Al is seriously a jumping freak of a butterfly horse, the decision was made to save him for the big day....which is actually ten days away. Gulp!
I have to admit that were it not for the fact that I trained Al from beginning novice to four star or the fact that I've had the pleasure of owning him since he was a four year old, I may not be driving into the Kentucky Horse Park with utmost confidence. However, there's just something about the long arduous journey that beings with training your horse to successfully complete a twenty meter circle without falling out of the canter and slowly turns into galloping through the finish flags at Rolex beaming from ear to ear that really adds the "pep" to my step. I'm a firm believer that a course, no matter the level, is only as tough as the relationship you have with your horse and when push comes to shove Al will have my back the same way I will do my best to protect his. After all who needs Red Bull....Al gives me wings!
To Rolex and beyond! See you guys outside the galloping lanes!