From Visitor to Competitor: a Reflection on the Kentucky Horse Park

©Chris Birkmeyer

Spring is in the air! For normal people this means warmer days and blooming flowers. For equestrians this means Rolex is right around the corner.

I just received my tickets in the mail and for the first time I am going to be able to enjoy the entire event from the venue itself—the great Kentucky Horse Park (KPH). I’ve been going to Saturday cross country since I can remember, but I’m so thrilled to be able to see all three phases finally in person. Of course, XC is the real reason most of us are excited to enjoy this event.

I remember visiting KHP when I was just a little kid with my family. We used to always take a trail ride with their trail horses. I liked to try and give myself a lot of space between myself and the horse in front of me so I could trot to catch up to the group and pretend that I was not actually on a trail, but galloping down the gently rolling hills of the famed bluegrass cross country course.

I remember walking around the Breeds barn and being in awe of the Hall of Champions. This place was special to me even as a little kid.

©Chris Birkmeyer

There was one day I remember walking around near the hunter jumper complex and watching as a few girls had a lesson. I assume a show was running that week. I was so incredibly jealous. I was taking lessons at home but I didn’t have my own horse, I wasn’t going to shows, and I wasn’t jumping yet. I wanted to be them so badly but knew that wasn’t likely.

Fast forward some 15 years. I was finally able to buy my own horse as an adult. A few boarders from my barn were planning on going to one of the open cross country schooling days at the KHP, and one of them had an open spot in her trailer.

Oh my—this was happening.

Not only do I bring my horse to Lexington, but I get to stomp around the actual KHP Rolex cross country course. Over 84,000 spectators come to the event each year, how many of those are able to take their own horse for a gallop across the field? Of course, I’m not actually jumping into the iconic Head of the Lake or taking on the ever challenging Land Rover Hollow. But who says I can’t pretend? We’ve already established I love to pretend!

©Chris Birkmeyer

I eventually ended up being able to school several more times and come to two USEA shows at the KHP. The significance of this unique opportunity is not lost on me. It’s amazing to me that I have been able to ride down the same path as Philip Dutton and Michael Jung.

Last year, the Derek di Grazia designed the Rolex course to use the common water complex—the same one I ran through as just a humble BN rider, and hundreds of other amateurs like myself. Who says that my horse didn’t get to sleep in the same stall as Teddy O’Connor or Winsome Andante? You don’t know and you can’t prove to me otherwise!

We are so fortunate as equestrian athletes to be able to share this place, no matter what level you are riding. My bags are packed, my wallet is full, and I cannot wait for the last weekend of April—it truly is the best weekend all year.

About the Author

Jennifer Lunkenheimer is a crazy cat lady and veterinary technician that lives in Cincinnati, OH with her husband, horse, two dogs, and six cats. She and her horse Paisley enjoy pretending to be eventers and trail riding.

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