2019 will be my fourth year traveling to Lexington, Kentucky to watch the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event (LRK3DE), formerly known as “Rolex” prior to a title sponsor change in 2017. My first trip there was overwhelming. Each day offers endless opportunities to shop, eat, watch educational demonstrations, tailgate… oh, and don’t forget about watching the actual event!
Since I’ve been lucky enough to experience the only 5* in the U.S. a few times, I know what my favorite parts of the event are. There are things that I absolutely cannot miss over the span of the three-and-a-half days we are in Kentucky, which seem to go by in seconds. Everyone has their own opinions of what not to miss. For me, I don’t like shopping that much, so I don’t spend too much time in the vendor area, but I know other people who could spend their whole trip there!
LRK3DE is right around the corner. If you find yourself making your first trip to what I would describe as the eventing mecca of the U.S., I put together a helpful list of things you won’t want to miss. But it’s not just about my own favorite experiences, so I gathered input from frequent event goers to learn what others love about LRK3DE. Hopefully this will give you some guidance if this is your first time going, or some new ideas if you are making the trek in April again.
“For me, it is standing at the rail of the warm up ring, away from others if possible, and taking in each rider, their horse, and what their coach is offering. It is an incredible learning experience if you take advantage. If you can’t get away from the crowd of spectators, try and wiggle your way in near where their grooms are standing, because 9 times out of 10 the riders will come over to their grooms for final touches before heading in, and it is a great spot for the coaches to have one final pep talk.” -April Melato
This is a great way to find out what the secret is to a horse and rider combination having a great round. You can watch the exercises they use in their warm up and what advice their coach gives them (if they are with a coach). Some riders I have seen school over very small jumps the morning of show jumping and then later that day school over a few more jumps that are more sizable. Others only do a few jumps and are ready. I’ve also noticed that some horses and riders look completely different in the warm up than they do in their actual round, so seeing that change is always interesting.
“Look at the schedule, and make sure you don’t miss the demonstrations in the Walnut Ring. They have some interesting ones, especially the police horse demonstration. I saw it last year, and it was hands down one of the coolest things I’ve seen about horses.” -Ilana Subramanya
“I’m going to have to go with the demonstrations! Elisa Wallace’s is always spectacular.” -Izzy McSwain
The demonstrations in the Walnut Ring are often overlooked because everyone is watching the event action or shopping. But you definitely do not want to miss these unique demonstrations! You should try to fit at least one that sounds interesting to you in your busy schedule.
I could not find a list of specific demonstrations for 2019 on the LRK3DE website (other than the times), so you’ll have to keep an eye on that ring as you make your way around the horse park. In the past they have had demonstrations with Elisa Wallace and her mustangs (my personal favorite), carriage driving, games, and police horses to name a few.
Here is a list of demonstration times at the 2019 event:
Thursday, April 25
12:45–3:30 p.m. US Equestrian Demonstrations and Exhibitions — Walnut Ring
Friday, April 26
9:45 a.m.–4 p.m. US Equestrian Demonstrations and Exhibitions — Walnut Ring
Saturday, April 27
8:30–10 a.m. Prince Philip Cup Mounted Games — Walnut Ring
10 a.m.–2:15 p.m. US Equestrian Demonstrations and Exhibitions — Walnut Ring
“My favorite thing to do is actually standing at the finish line and watching the horses finish cross country and being able to see how the riders, grooms, and support people take care of the horse and celebrate.” -Jaime Wright
This is one of my personal favorite parts of LRK3DE. I spend a significant amount of time on cross-country day standing at the finish line as close as I can get to the vet box just to watch how each individual team takes care of their horse afterwards. They will often toss the tack close to the fenceline, so you can see up close what types and brands of tack your favorite riders use. Some riders are also interviewed in the vet box, so you can hear what their thoughts are immediately after their ride before the interview is posted to the public. I always think this is just as much fun as watching the action!
“The Dubarry tent is so fun. I definitely recommend checking that out.” -Madelyn Leahey
“The ‘Spin the Wheel’ at the Devoucoux booth!” -Patti Stempien
There are so many amazing vendor booths at the Sponsors Village, but a few definitely stand out to spectators.
The Dubarry Tent is an essential part of the LRK3DE Sponsors Village. It always draws a crowd mainly because of the unique way they advertise their boots. They have people standing in tubs of water in their boots to show just how waterproof they are. The tent is always decked out with wood floors and couches, and the kind people of Dubarry have offered champagne to adults.
The Devoucoux booth is another popular place, as they have a wheel that you can spin for a chance to win products such as saddle soap, stirrup leathers, and more.
“Tailgating, for sure. Of course, that’s only XC day, but it’s the best part.” -Lila Brown
Tailgating is a huge aspect of the event. On cross-country day, vehicles are lined up at the best spots along the rope line. Most groups who spring for a tailgate spot set up food, drinks and games as a fun way to experience the event. Even if you don’t have your own tailgate, there are plenty of kind and generous tailgaters who offer food and drinks to anyone.
My favorite tailgating tent on the XC course happens to be the Eventing Nation tent. They always have fun giveaways, snacks, starting with pastries and OJ (and mimosas and bloody marys for the adults) in the early morning. As a bonus, you might even get the chance to meet Chinch, the famous event-loving chinchilla!
“Definitely the XC. You have to get the best seat by the water obstacles because that’s where you get the most action. And if you get the chance, walk the course and get autographs from the riders.” -Taylor Brinsfield
The best advice I can give you for XC is to get there VERY early if you want a spot by the head of the lake, the horse park’s iconic water complex. It gets crowded faster than any other spot on course.
We always move around from spot to spot throughout the day so we can see how the whole course rides, making sure to note our favorite riders’ times so we don’t miss them. There are also course walks the day before XC. The SmartPak course walk, usually featuring Boyd Martin, is always popular. Boyd gives a fantastic preview of the course and explains how he will ride certain questions on course, but be prepared for it to be crowded. If you want to avoid the crowd, seek out a smaller course walk. Also, bring a hat or something to get signed, because there are plenty of opportunities where you can get autographs from riders!
“Bourbon chicken… Horse wise- I think right after stadium watching the riders that completed the event walk up the ramp. It makes my heart really happy because there are lots of hugs and tears.” -Jj Sillman
As many people who travel to LRK3DE frequently know, the bourbon chicken is VERY popular. It comes with just the chicken or with chicken and rice, and it is something that I now have to get at least once every year I go. The sweetness of the sauce is something that just makes me think of Kentucky and watching the event on a bright sunny day. Sorry… I got a little off track with how good the bourbon chicken is!
Another thing that you definitely want to try to watch is the horse and rider combinations walking up the ramp after they complete their show jumping round. If they are walking up that ramp, they have succeeded in completing one of the most difficult three-day events in the world.
There are so many emotions, and it is a very powerful thing to watch. Whether they have a clear round or a round that is not their best, they completed it. Even if you are nowhere close to the level of these riders, they are people just like us. Even though this seemingly superhuman, elite group of riders walk into the ring with unwavering focus and confidence, their “human” side shows as they come out with smiles and happy tears after they complete this prestigious event. Their emotions show just how grateful they are for each and every person on their team, and most importantly, their incredible equine partners. Moments like these, though often overlooked by spectators, are reminders of why we all do this crazy, time-consuming, heart-wrenching, but fulfilling and humbling sport.