As Rolex quickly approaches, we wanted to give you the inside scoop on how our Team SmartPak riders are preparing and planning for the notorious event. We spoke to Phillip Dutton, Jennie Brannigan, Jan Byyny and Boyd Martin’s groom extraordinaire Lindsey Taylor to get their thoughts as they set their sights on Kentucky.
“Well I must admit that Rolex seems to be coming up quickly and definitely is something that is more and more on my brain. Cambalda (a.k.a. Ping) has been going very well, and I am pleased with how strong he feels compared to last season when he was coming back from an injury that took us out of competition for nearly a year. This is my first shot at the Rolex four star, but I have been lucky to have traveled with Ping to two European events as well as the three star at Galway Downs, and I am confident that he and I will be ready!
So far, the prep for the event has taken me to Ocala, FL, to showjump with Scott Keach as well as flat with new team couch David O’Connor, and I feel as though it has given me a jump start on the season! I then traveled back to Aiken to start our USEF high-performance training sessions as well as run Ping’s first event at Pine Top last weekend, where he was super. He won he dressage and had a clean stadium course. I did run him slow to save his legs, and he came second. I have to say with all the traveling, I am very happy I have my horses on SmartPaks and even more happy that all the orders for tack I have placed have made it to the different locations I have been in without a slip.
So thanks to the “Pak” for helping me on my journey to Kentucky!”
All the best,
“It’s always exciting planning for Rolex each year even, for a veteran like me. This year, I’m hoping to ride Fernhill Eagle and Mighty Nice. Slowly but surely, Eagle and I are improving the first phase. This will be his third trip to Kentucky, and I really think with some luck he can be really competitive.
Mighty Nice went to Kentucky last year as an eight-year-old and really rose to the occasion. One year later, he is now wiser, stronger, and much more seasoned, so I’m really looking forward to getting him there again.
I’ve just started competing Eagle and Mighty Nice for the season, both running well at Pinetop on the weekend. They both have two more horse trials before Rolex. Fingers crossed that they stay healthy for the next two months. I will keep everyone updated”
“My goal this year is to ride Syd Kent at Rolex. I say this with bit of humor but also determination, as the last time I actually competed there was in 2009. Between injuries to myself and my horses, my Rolex experience has been on the ground as a coach the last few years. So keep your fingers crossed—maybe this time I’ll have better luck!
I was fortunate to compete Syd at Fair Hill last fall, where he finished sixth. I feel that’s a great run before Kentucky because it gives the horse a good fitness base. Syd had a lot of time off before Fair Hill, sidelined due to injuries, so I was happy with our result, and he’s come out this year a stronger and better horse for it.
So far this winter, my prep for Rolex has been great. I ran Syd at Pine Top Winter in the Intermediate and ended fourth, and I was really pleased with all three phases. Two weeks later he ran Advanced at Pine Top and won his division with the lowest dressage score of the three Advanced, just some time cross-country and a clear show jump. I couldn’t ask for more from him! I’ve had a couple cross-country schools here in Aiken and several jump lessons with Phillip. I also did the jumpers one day at the horse show in town. Going forward, my plan is this: run Syd at Pine Top Advanced, where I plan to canter around, then hopefully do the CIC at Red Hills, a combined test at Southern Pines II, and then have my final run at the Fork CIC in April, which is three weeks before Kentucky and a great final prep.
Syd’s always been a horse that gets fit, and he’s such a hard worker—he almost tries too hard. In the flatwork he can get grumpy, though, if I work him in a box too much, so I have to disguise his flatwork schools in the fields. Just changing his environment makes him much better about everything he does. Having ridden Syd at Kentucky before, where I only had 1.2 time even with a stop, I know he can handle the longer course and has the scope for a four-star. I’ve just got to dot my i’s and cross my t’s and not panic if things don’t go completely as planned, which of course is the art of working with horses. So wish us luck—Syd and I will need it.”
Boyd Martin’s Head Groom, Lindsey Taylor
“Last weekend, we took twelve horses to Sporting Days Horse Trials, and next weekend we will take nine horses to Pine Top Horse Trials. In between those two events, I will shampoo one hundred legs per day (to prevent irritation from the Aiken sand), groom twenty-five horses per day, wash and re-roll polo wraps, wash the show laundry and repack it in the trailer, order feed, order hay, call to get the manure dumpster emptied (which is always a twenty-minute phone call because for some reason I have to re-explain where our farm is located each time I call), call to order shavings, administer medications, manage four employees as well as their horses and plan a schedule for their days off, settle disputes among working students, plan out daily schedules and keep the team of employees working efficiently, tack up horses daily for five riders in a barn that only has three sets of cross ties, make twelve cups of coffee for the boss, braid all those braids (approximately 140 braids per week), trim eighteen ears, pull nine tails, and find a way to keep a smile on my face. I struggle to find a job title for myself, because at any given point in time I could be called manager, groom, personal assistant, psychologist, dog watcher, or coffee barista, but to be official, I am Boyd Martin’s head groom, and I am responsible for four employees, twenty-five horses, and sometimes a dog or two. It is my job to make sure everything we do in a day gets done well and with efficiency.
When I was asked by the good folks at Smartpak to write a blog in the weeks leading up to Rolex, I was excited because it means Rolex is not that far away. Looking at the calendar, I was shocked to realize that it is really only seven weeks away! This fact is both exciting and a little bit scary. In the midst of all of the daily chaos of managing young horses, employees, cleaning up the barn and calling owners with updates, I am also responsible for Boyd’s “dream team” of horses: his string of five advanced horses, which require a whole different level of care. On a daily basis, no hair on any one of these horses can be left untouched. A slight change in the way the hairs on a leg lie can indicate the start of a boot rub, which, if left unnoticed, can mean the difference between passing and failing a trot up. As Rolex nears, it becomes ever more important that I know these horses better than I know myself.
With Rolex on the horizon, it is important to remember the bigger picture of why I do what I do. Although the work in the barn sometimes can seem tedious and monotonous, it is events like Rolex that make me pause and take pride in attending to all of these seemingly minor details every day. In what I do, it is easy to allow all of the days to blend together, only differentiated by facts such as that on Fridays, we bathe and braid all of the horses for local horse trials on the weekend. Otherwise, a Tuesday would seem no different than a Thursday. Every day of the week is a work day, lasting at least eleven hours. But Rolex brings clarity to my daily work and gives me my own type of goal to work towards, separate from Boyd’s goals in the riding and training of the horses.
For me, it is always in the minutes just before the awards ceremony on Sunday, when I am juggling a horse or possibly two, their show jumping gear, Boyd’s helmet, and other miscellaneous accessories, that I am able to take a deep breath and appreciate all of the work that goes into getting a horse through a four-star three-day event. All of the long days in the barn thoughout the year, working day in and day out in the rain, sleet, or even snow, whether its one hundred degrees or ten degrees, all of the packing and washing and wrapping and staying up with sick horses through the night are endured to enjoy the short success at events like Rolex. It is in these moments just before the awards ceremony, when they are handing out the ribbons, that I can take pride in my lack of sleep, smelly clothes, and growling stomach, knowing that our horses had a successful weekend doing what they do best. It is admiration for these horses that keeps me going every day.
The weekend before Rolex, we will be taking young horses to Fair Hill Horse Trials, and the weekend after Rolex, we will be taking horses to MCTA Horse Trials. It is easy to look at Rolex as just another event on a busy calendar. But events like Rolex, as well as the the horses and their owners that make events like this possible, are the reason I don’t have a “real” job, the reason I work thirteen-hour days on a regular basis, and the reason I’m excited that Rolex is only forty-nine days away.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks, and thanks for reading.”