by Kate S. Spencer, Kentucky Three-Day Event “Super Fan”
First time at the Kentucky Three-Day Event? Here’s some help!
This is it! You’ve been thinking about it, planning for it and now it’s almost here! The 2018 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event starts in just a few days, and whether you are still on the fence about which tickets to buy, or you have already purchased your tickets and made your reservations, here’s some advice on how to make the most of your first LRK3D experience. This has been my favorite event for more than 20 years, and I have experienced just about every single thing that the K3D event has to offer. It’s a BIG weekend, and it can be overwhelming for first-timers, but with a little planning and some insider knowledge you can navigate the LRK3D like a pro!
Here are my TOP 10 TIPS for making the most of The Best Weekend All Year:
1. Wear good walking shoes and be prepared for all weather.
Spring in Kentucky can be wet, cold, rainy, snowy, hot as blazes, windy, or absolutely perfect. Take the weather forecast seriously and plan ahead. If there is even a slight chance of rain, pack a rain poncho (there are ponchos available for sale at the Park, but they always sell out in wet weather). Also pack a hat and sunscreen; some of the vendors carry sunscreen, but how much time do you want to spend looking for it? You will most likely be doing a LOT of walking, so forego the cute sandals and flip flops and opt instead for comfortable shoes that are well acquainted with your feet. I wore my Apple Watch to last year’s event, and there was not one day that it recorded fewer than 12,000 steps (Saturday was close to 20,000).
2. Rent a headset for the Dressage competition.
The headset and commentary (by FEI judge and Brit extraordinaire Sally O’Connor) make a world of difference between watching the dressage and actually understanding what you are seeing. Even if you watch only a portion of the dressage, the headset rental fee is money well spent.
If you have squirmy kids (or husbands), I encourage you to make a game of the wonderful phrases that Sally will use during the dressage tests. Bring a bag of jelly beans, or M&Ms, or something small and yummy your kids enjoy (I bring Reece’s Pieces for my husband…because he is basically a six-year-old), and every time Sally uses one of the following phrases, it’s snack time:
- Run and jump (“We know he can run and jump or he wouldn’t be here”)
- Flying lurch (a less than graceful flying lead change)
- A bit muddled (“That change was a bit muddled”)
- Any time the word “this” comes at the end of a sentence (“He’s a beautiful horse, this”)
- Undulating walk
And, because this one is my favorite, two snacks every time she says:
- More bounce per ounce
If you are not attending the LRK3D with kids, then you might want to use a different version of this game that involves sips of one of the delicious cocktails from the Stadium bar. The important thing here is to encourage some attention to the dressage phase of the competition. These horses are “on the muscle,” definitely ready to run, and, for some riders, getting through a focused dressage test on a powerful animal that has a mind of its own and would much rather be running at full speed and jumping things is much more of a challenge than anything they might do on the Cross-Country course on Saturday. The headset rental/return booth is located inside the Stadium, and any sets that weren’t reserved in advance will sell out quickly.
3. Plan to arrive on Thursday.
With school still in session it can be tough to justify taking a few extra days with the kids, but there is a LOT that happens during this event and I truly believe that the difference between “getting through it” and really enjoying it is this: Take. Your. Time. Thursday is, historically, the least crowded day, so it is the perfect day to find your parking area (including the handicapped parking area), find the real bathrooms (in the outdoor stadium and the main vendor area in the covered arena), and visit the Kentucky Three-Day Shop for the best selection of merchandise (the same shop on Saturday and Sunday is wall-to-wall people). In the vendor area there are some surprisingly good deals on horse equipment and riding attire and, with so many options available, this is an excellent place to be correctly fitted for a good helmet.
4. Pick up a Schedule of Events and an “Order of Go” Sheet.
If you purchase a LRK3D program it will include a daily schedule of events, and extra event schedules are available at any booth where programs are sold. There are SO MANY exciting things that happen during this weekend – breed demonstrations, pony club competitions, training exhibitions, etc. – and most are scheduled in advance; however, some fun things that you really won’t want to miss will be announced over the loudspeakers DURING the event, such as autograph sessions with the riders and Cross-Country course walks.
The list of ride order/ride times (most people refer to this as the “Order of Go”) will be available on Thursday and Friday for the Dressage, and a separate list will be available on Sunday for the Stadium Jumping. Both sheets will be available (free) at many of the booths inside the Stadium.
5. Watch at least some of the Dressage.
Dressage gets the short end of the attendance stick, in my opinion, and a lot of people (my husband included) think it is boring to watch, but here is why the Dressage is so important: the score for the Dressage is the basis for the score for the entire event. The horse-and-rider teams can’t improve upon their Dressage score in the final two phases of the event (Cross-Country and Stadium Jumping), but they CAN add penalties and faults to their score, so getting a good Dressage score (in eventing, this means getting a LOW score) is important.
I have learned a lot about my own riding from watching the Dressage phase of the competition. I don’t event with my horse, but I DO take Dressage lessons because practicing Dressage makes me a better rider and helps me communicate, through my riding, with my horse. With Sally O’Connor talking to me through my headset, I can listen to her comments about the rider in front of me and I can connect her comments to my own riding. I’ve had more than a few “aha” moments when something an instructor has said to me during a lesson is demonstrated directly in front of me. (Again, if you haven’t reserved your headset yet, I strongly encourage you to do so.)
6. See the rest of the Kentucky Horse Park.
The Kentucky Horse Park is an absolutely beautiful place. On any non-LRK3D weekend it is peaceful and serene, and I have spent many wonderful horse-filled days here. If you need a break from the crowds, wander to the other side of the covered arena to see the rest of the Park, including the International Museum of the Horse (a Smithsonian Affiliate), The Hall of Champions (where you can see Kentucky Derby Winner Funny Cide up close and personal), and the Parade of Breeds Show (daily at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m). My favorite spot at the Kentucky Horse Park is the magnificent Big Barn, where the gorgeous draft horses and carriages are housed. The Park hosts a Draft Horse Meet & Greet at 11:30 a.m. daily that I highly recommend.
7. Do at least part of a Cross-Country course walk.
On Thursday and/or Friday, there will be announcements for Cross-Country course walks led by the course designer and at least one of the competitors. This is an excellent opportunity to do two things: (1) familiarize yourself with the course and get a close look at the jump combinations (called “questions”), and (2) get insider information about the course. I’ve done many course walks, but if you need to choose just one, choose a course walk led by one of the competitors; you will learn a lot about what the riders will be thinking as they approach each of the questions, and where they believe the most challenging parts of the course might be. The riders will have seen the course before Saturday, but the horses will only see it after they leave the start box; it is not unusual that the riders and horses will see, and want to approach, a question differently.
8. See at least one horse and rider combination leave the start box and cross the finish line.
I have a “traditional” route that I follow on Saturday, and that route begins, every year, at the start box. I watch the first horse leave from the start box, and listen to their progress broadcast over the loudspeakers. The start box is in the same area as the finish line, so I can watch at least one more rider start before the first rider crosses the finish line. There is a flurry of activity after a horse and rider team crosses the finish line: The rider jumps off, the saddle and saddle pad come off, and the horse is walked continually, bathed in ice water, and thoroughly checked by a vet. It’s fascinating to watch the care that is taken with these horses after their Cross-Country runs, and I enjoy the snippets of conversation I hear from the riders about how they believe they performed on course.
9. On Saturday, don’t camp out all day at the Head of the Lake.
By far, the most-watched question is the Head of the Lake, and I can understand everyone’s enthusiasm. Though the “lake” isn’t deep, it certainly is spectacular to see the horses splash through the water, and every once in a while one of the horses decides he just doesn’t want to get wet today, thank you very much. While I do recommend that you see a few horses navigate this question at some point during the day, I do NOT recommend that you stay there ALL day. Each question on this course is unique, and each question will test a horse and rider in different ways. Even the straight-forward tabletop questions have a purpose, and, to a tired horse and rider approaching on the second half of the course, they can be anything BUT straight-forward. My favorite questions are the combinations where someone has to apply some thought. Maybe there is a tight turn, maybe there is a choice about which route to take based on how much energy the horse has left, but someone (preferably the rider, but sometimes I think it’s the horse) has to make a decision. I love to watch this split-second process, and it makes me appreciate all the effort it must take for a rider to turn a “mount” in to a “partner.”
Tip: If you walk the course backwards, you will be able to see every horse/rider pair.
10. Put down the camera
Tempting as it may be to record every second of every single thing you see…don’t do it. By watching the action through a constant lens, you will miss the beauty of the moments that are happening right in front of you. It took me MANY years to learn this, and MANY rolls of film and memory cards full of random pictures of I-don’t-know-which-horse-that-is being ridden by who-was-that-guy, and I eventually threw most of them out. I am not a professional photographer, and most of my action shots include only half of a blurry horse entering or leaving the frame. The pictures I take now are of the people I meet at the K3D, or the friends who let me drag them around for four days without complaint (or at least without complaining out loud). I want to remember their faces the first time they see this amazing event for themselves, because there is truly nothing in the world like it, and nothing I love more than turning friends into fans of the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.
It’s Almost Time!!
Springtime in Lexington is breathtakingly beautiful; redbuds and dogwoods in bloom, a fresh coat of white paint on the fences at Calumet Farm, and lush, green fields filled with long-legged foals playing in the sunshine. If you are new to Lexington, check out the website for the Lexington Visitors Center at for more information about the Bluegrass Region. And don’t forget Georgetown. The Horse Park is located between the two.
No matter how you choose to spend your time at the K3DE there are no wrong choices here, and your weekend is sure to be spectacular. The fans at this event are the BEST, so reach out to the folks around you to ask questions about what you are seeing; they will be happy to share their vast knowledge about the sport of eventing and the Kentucky Three-Day Event.
Welcome to the Best Weekend All Year!