by long-time volunteer and fan Micki Woodward McDaniel
“I have not missed a single one since it first started in 1978 as the World Championships
at the brand new Kentucky Horse Park.”
This year is the 40th Anniversary of the Kentucky Three Day Event, so I decided to look back on some of my favorite memories from the event. I have not missed a single one since it first started in 1978 as the World Championships at the brand new Kentucky Horse Park.
I was lucky enough to grow up 4 miles from the Kentucky Horse Park. My earliest memory of the Park is helping to present trophies with my best pony club friends at the 1978 World Championships. We met Prince Philip and got to hold the amazing ribbons and trophies. A big bonus for us was to see the individual Gold Medal winners, Might Tango and Bruce Davidson, up close! It was a horse-crazy girl’s dream come true. I still have the event poster from that year in my office, featuring Bruce Davidson and Irish Cap.
After the first one, I was hooked. My mom was a volunteer in the early days of the Kentucky horse trials (before it became known as “Rolex”), and she let us skip school to watch. Those early events were in June, which unfortunately collided with the end of school exams, but we always seemed to work around it and make it to the park. It seemed like we always had a houseful of visitors staying with us that week too, since we lived so close, which always made the week more of a special occasion. The Dressage arena was where the original indoor is now, and my mom often worked on the Dressage crew.
During the first few years, I rode in the color guard on Sunday for the presentation of flags. It was very cool as a kid to ride in the Rolex Arena – even when it was still grass and temporary bleachers. In the early ’80s, my instructor, Cathy Wieschhoff, was barn manager for the event, so some of us from Keeneland Pony Club would go out early in the week to set up stalls. I remember climbing into the back of very hot 18-wheeler trailers and tossing out straw and shavings, then delivering them to stalls (this was way before Dever’s had it covered). Then another of our coaches, Deb McKenzie Willson, became stable manager, so we continued to help her with the stables.
In 1983, I was lucky enough to be hired as an extra groom for Jimmy Wofford. He was riding Rockingham and Blue Stone, and my main job was to walk and graze Rockingham, who didn’t like to be stuck in his stall. I learned a lot that week, and had so much fun being up close in the barn of “Rolex.” Back then, most of the horses were stabled in The Big Barn, which is a truly spectacular building. It was really special to watch the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics the next year, where J. Michael Plumb rode Blue Stone on the Gold Medal U.S. Eventing Team!
Throughout the 1980s, I groomed for a couple of different friends and coaches who rode at Kentucky, and I volunteered in the stable office. One of my favorite spots to be was the vet box for Cross-Country, which is still one of my favorite places but a lot different with short format eventing. When I went to college in 1986, Kentucky switched dates to the last weekend in April so the weather and footing would be better for the horses. Unfortunately, it was also exam week at the University of Kentucky. I am pretty sure that at least once I dropped a class that had an exam scheduled during the Kentucky Three-Day. During most of this time, the event still offered either preliminary or intermediate divisions. One year they even invited several foreign riders who rode American horses in a preliminary division.
For a few years during the late 1980s and early 1990s, our family owned a tack store that set up at the Trade Fair, Bridles & Britches. These years gave me a healthy respect for the amount of work the trade fair vendors put into their booths, the inventory they bring, and the hours they put in to be part of the trade fair. It was a lot of fun to meet people from all over the world, whether attending their first Kentucky Three-Day or making an annual trek. It is a very busy and exhausting week for the vendors, but Kentucky would not be the same without them.
In the mid- and late-1990s, I was in graduate school, newly married, and on a budget. I was asked to volunteer with the handicapped transportation services and drive a golf cart shuttle, which was a way to help the event and get a volunteer pass. This volunteer job was a great way to get around the park, see some of the action, and meet a lot of really nice people. We even led a group or two on Cross-Country course walks. We also provided competitor shuttles, and I remember giving a young Buck Davidson rides around the KHP in the golf cart.
In the early 2000s, I became a volunteer with Sponsor Support, definitely one of the hardest but most rewarding volunteer jobs I have had at Kentucky. The Sponsors really make the event happen, and the people that are in charge of sponsorship work hard year round to get and keep the best sponsors in the world. The sponsor tent is a great place to watch Dressage and Show Jumping, and to get to see a lot of riders and owners. On Cross-Country day, we spent the day taking sponsors out to Cross-Country, to see their jumps and the riders they sponsor. It takes some tactical planning to get everyone where they need to be on time, but it has been one of my favorite parts of the job.
Another of my favorite jobs in the last few years was one I squeezed in with the Sponsor responsibilities, which was to spend Cross-Country day volunteering back at the start/finish/vet box area. Volunteers were assigned specific competitors to help them communicate with the Start Box officials and keep everyone on time. I loved being back closer to the horses and competitors.
A few years ago, my daughter, Grace, started attending the event with me. She now looks forward to it almost as much as I do. She has had several volunteer jobs also, including with the Dressage arena party and in the Sponsor Tent. I am happy to be able to make volunteering at Kentucky a family tradition.
So much has changed since 1978. The Kentucky Horse Park has truly become a showplace for equestrian sports, and the sport of eventing has evolved tremendously. The competition is now one of the premier events in the world, and the only annual 4* event in the U.S. Competitors and spectators travel from all over the world to attend the event, and I know I am not the only one who wouldn’t miss it for the world. I no longer live 4 miles from the park, but now drive over an hour each way to get there. I have a family, career and farm with horses to take care of, but wouldn’t dream of not being there for the best event in the world!