“It’s the hope that kills you.”

—John Cleese and Ted Lasso, among others.

Life’s rituals and routines can be calming, grounding and sometimes the only thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. But what the hell do you do when the rest of the world seems to be getting on with their rituals and routines and you can’t?

COVID strikes again: for some, not all. And I for one, am having a really hard time dealing with that at this moment.

At time of writing, it’s the Sunday before the Kentucky Three Day Event (K3DE) in Lexington. This would ‘normally’ be the day I would be driving to Michigan, to stay with my BFF en route to the Kentucky Horse Park. ‘Normally’ as in every year for at least the past 20, probably more. The routine was very well established.

By now I would have unpacked my car in order to be able to PACK my car (don’t ask). I would washed nearly every piece of clothing I own, from turtlenecks to tank tops. (I’m taking a car, and I have friends who fly. What if someone needs a sweatshirt or an extra pair of shoes?) I would’ve packed my bags, unpacked my bags, remembered how little I actually ended up wearing the year before (hello, washing machine at the house where I stay), and then I would have finally put it all in the car with all the rain gear, snow gear, sun hats, and on and on.

But I live in Canada. And on this Sunday before K3DE 2021, Ontario is once again in full lockdown, experiencing its worst COVID case count yet (upwards of 4,500 new cases daily.) Thanks to decades of domestic mismanagement we have next to no vaccines and the entire U.S./Canada border remains closed. To almost everyone.

So while in Kentucky the event is able to run, without spectators and with a very select few others, I’m not packing my bags. And while I’m of course happy and excited for the organizers, competitors, officials and everyone else who is able to be there; in my heart of hearts I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it’s hard to watch.

It’s hard not to be jealous of those who are able to travel. (Britain, New Zealand and Germany are all sending horses and riders and I can’t come down from Canada? Are you kidding me?) I’m sure my friends and family are honestly tired of hearing me whine about it and I don’t blame them. But surely I’m not the only one who is genuinely sad at not being able to go?

It’s one thing if K3DE is cancelled outright—we all share in the disappointment of the outcome. But the fact that it’s running and we can’t go? Seems unfathomable.

If you’ve ever been to camp, I think you will understand. It’s people you might only see once a year. It’s people who book their vacation time year after year at the same time, to travel to the same place from all corners of the globe. I can probably navigate Lexington by car more easily than I can Toronto these days. For years, Myles at the Embassy Suites knew us by name and you better believe the FIRST stop I make once I’ve unpacked the car is to the Liquor Barn.

It’s shared experiences for better and worse—tornados, rain, sun when combined with cool temperatures and a light breeze, resulting in a sunburn so bad it made my forehead bleed… (hopefully my father will never read this).

It’s funnel cake between dressage tests, walking tacos, shopping and margaritas. It’s last minute Saturday afternoon cross-country tactics (where to be? when to move?)

It’s “we’re good, it’s only Wednesday” followed by “how is it Saturday already?!”

And every once in a while it’s realizing you’re headed back and not everyone will be there. Life gets in the way. But sometimes, and as time passes it will be more often I know, it’s because those you love have passed away in the time between. And that’s really, really hard.

Rituals and routines. Tradition. Hugs. Family dinners. I will be glued to the livestream and cheering from afar—with a lump in my throat I’m sure.

Hopefully those tasked with broadcasting and bringing this year’s experience onto our screens will take to heart the responsibility of INCLUDING us. The fans who pitched in to make it happen, knowing (but always secretly hoping) there would likely be no chance they could be there in person.

Pity party, table of one. I get it. And I’m sorry. It’s so much harder than I thought it would be, missing the #bestweekendallyear. And since attendance numbers are usually in the 80,000+ range, I’m sure I’m not the only one.

My last ritual is an annual Saturday morning prayer for no tornados and no helicopters. On cross-country day, they never mean good things.

Go safely everyone and my goodness if you’re there, please don’t take that for granted. Thank the organizers who have moved heaven and earth to figure out how to make it happen safely. Thank the volunteers. As always, remember to thank your groom and above all else, thank your horses. They are the reason we’re there at all.

See you next year, I hope.

Feature image: ©Michelle Dunn Photography