Behind The Scenes At The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event

The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is an annual rite for us, and it was inspiring this time to study the masterful riding of winner William Fox-Pitt and to see Allison Springer?s devotion to Arthur pay off as they finished second.

By the way?I hope you saw the live broadcast of it on NBC-TV on Sunday or that you watched it on the NBC sports network or watched the online streaming on

I’ve returned with lots of impressions and thoughts revolving around my brain. What struck me most this time, though, was the planning and logistics that take place behind the scenes to make this fabulous event happen.

Heather and I work in the media center at Rolex Kentucky, so one of the things I notice most involves communications and video: The equipment and logistics that make in possible for the media, spectators and riders see the action and to talk or write to others. That requires miles of TV cable and electric lines for cameras and the TV-production trucks. Utility lines are also needed for the trade fair in the covered arena and for sponsors? row near the Rolex Stadium, for the dozens of large-screen TVs in various tents and buildings, and for the three Jumbo-tron TVs set around the Kentucky Horse Park.

Electricity and other services are also needed for all the hospitality and official tents and portable buildings that dot the Kentucky Horse Park?from the tents for patrons and sponsors to the building for medical services. I’d like to have the tent and portable building concession, not to mention the concession for the dozens of portable toilets.

The best way to get around the KHP fast if you have some kind of staff or official function is by golf cart, and Devers provides hundreds of them. They keep them parked next to the Alltech Arena, which is on the far western end of the KHP, and when I went there to help pick up the 10 golf carts assigned to the media center, it reminded me of an Army base with its vehicles poised to begin an invasion.

Walking the cross-country course made me ponder the miles of white tape and metal-tipped plastic poles used to cordon off the galloping lanes. Since the course is just short of four miles long, I’m going to guess they used more than twice that much tape?so let’s say 10 miles.

Another requirement for building the cross-country course (and lots of other things) is a fleet of earth-moving equipment. Tractors, bulldozers, graders, plus all kinds of hand-held equipment. And that doesn’t count the equipment that Land Rover brings in before the event to build their impressive test-drive course?and then they put al the dirt they dug up back into place, almost as if it never happened.

Almost everywhere you go, there are signs, and somebody has to make them and other somebodies have to put then up, all with the so-familiar Rolex Kentucky logo. Some are on fiber-board, some are on paper, and some are on banners, from small (2? by 3?) to as big as a room. Some signs to tell you where and where not to go; others mark important locations.

Tickets are just as important as signs, and now all tickets and passes have bar codes on them for the folks at the gates to scan when you enter in the morning. The reason for the bar codes is that the organizers are trying to get a more accurate crowd count than in the past, and I think that’s why this year?s attendance figures seemed a bit anemic (18,000 for cross-country on Saturday and a weekend total of 49,000). This count only included paid attendance and didn’t include the people associated with each horse, the vendors, the staff or volunteers?because it sure looked like there were a lot more than 18,000 people there on Saturday.

But I think the most amazing thing about the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is the people who make it work. They all bring a passion and an intensity to their jobs, and many of them have some remarkable abilities to make things and to make things work.

I’ll start with event director Christina Gray and her crew, some of whom work year-round with her and others of whom come in for the weekend, literally from all over the country. These are people who work in the office (and get those signs, tickets and passes made), at the secretary?s stand, or in the stable office; who handle the hospitality; who handle the media and public relations; who solicit the sponsors; and much, much more.

There are also the Kentucky State Police, who direct the flood of traffic coming into and out of the park; the private security force that oversees the parking and protects the stables and other closed areas; and the dozens of volunteers who assist with parking and crowd control.

A similarly under-appreciated job is the one done by a small army of landscaping and janitorial people. They prepare the KHP to receive the crowds before the event and then clean up after them every night.

And then there is the regiment of volunteers, including the ones who are fence judges, area stewards or other officials on cross-country day. No matter what the whether or other circumstances, they have to stay out there.

There are also the people, mostly volunteers, who oversee the needs of the riders in the stable area; the dozens of stewards who oversee the eventing and the reining; and our staff of about a dozen who take care of about 120 reporters and photographers, not including the dozens of people who produce the TV broadcast.

We weren?t ready to leave the KHP until shortly after 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, and as we were walking and then driving out, I was saddened just a bit by what I saw.

we’d taken down the media center that overlooks the trade fair?pulling up extension cords and telephone cables, taking down and storing signs and other gear, folding up tables and returning radios and golf carts. When we walked down the stairs, the first thing I noticed was that the vendors in the trade fair were almost all packed up and gone, leaving a nearly empty floor in the cavernous covered arena. The flags and most of the flowers were gone from the cross-country jumps. The beautiful show jumping course was mostly dismantled, the jumps stacked on a flatbed truck. The security fencing had been removed from the stabling area, and most of the horses were headed home.

It was a bittersweet scene, one that starkly reminded me that the show was over for another year.