I had not, until this past Thursday, set foot in Kentucky other than a brief stint awaiting a flight change at the Cincinnati airport–which ought to be in Ohio but is really in Kentucky. Go figure. Given how unadventurous I am by nature, I was somewhat hesitant to enter the big time with my booth at the Kentucky Horse Park. I was to be in the Alltech Arena, famous for holding the reining competition at the World Equestrian Games in 2010. It would now host the Kentucky Reining Cup Finals–but–just down the way a bit also at the Horse Park and on the same days, the Rolex CCI**** three-day eventing competition would also be taking place. It all sounded just a bit heady for this small-time artist.
For the first time ever, my booth was next to a window. Not just any window, but a H-U-G-E window. Usually natural daylight at a venue is nonexistent, but in this case it was abundant, so much so that I could hang paintings on both sides of my racks (which I have never done before) and have plenty of light for passersby to see each side.
After I got set up I had a couple of hours to kill before the doors were open to the public, so when I discovered that the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center was not too far away I decided to hoof it up there and visit the off-the-track Thoroughbreds that they are renowned for rehabilitating and retraining for new jobs when their racing days are done. The entrance is dominated by a life-size statue of Secretariat, and even in metal you can easily see how handsome and how perfect he was.
On my way back I encountered these two young ladies in one of the many pastures (yes, the park is H-U-G-E). I’m not a very good judge of a horse’s age, but these two appeared to me to be still in the filly stage, not quite old enough yet to be called mares. And close friends, too. I don’t know if they’re enjoying that famous Kentucky bluegrass, but whatever grass it is it sure looked lush.
Back at my booth, the show began somewhat inauspiciously. I don’t often make a big deal of pointing out what not to do on a horse, but the camera doesn’t lie and I have to at least mention this since it was right in front of my face. All I can say is, there are wonderful riders who, without bridle or saddle, can put a horse into an incredible sliding stop without any contact with the horse’s mouth. If they can stop a horse with their seat instead of their hands, so can the rest of us.
Now, back to the fun stuff. The freestyle reining is the most popular event, partly because the patterns that are run are designed by the riders and partly because of the costumes that range from outrageous to fabulous. The judges have to be more on their toes–they don’t know exactly how the rider is going to put together the elements of the pattern, so they have to watch carefully. Here are a couple of freestyle riders showing off their creativity.
The reining patterns contain various elements besides the sliding stop, including speed changes from all-out gallop to slow lope, change of lead at the canter, and the crowd-pleasing spins. None of these things are a snap to master, and to illustrate the point David O’Connor (who is an eventing medalist at the Olympics, the World Equestrian Games, and the Pan American Games, and who was President of the US Equestrian Federation and coached the US eventing team for many years) came over from the Rolex competition to show all of us just how hard it is to be a successful reiner. He didn’t just do a demo, he competed for a score; but we all had a good time cheering him on while chuckling at some of his less-than-stellar moments.
As you can see from the photos, the front end of the horse is moving a lot faster than the hind end. The light wasn’t the greatest for capturing these fast movements from the distance where I was standing. It probably would have been a lot better if I’d been about 100 feet closer. At any rate, the next photo didn’t require any special conditions and the dust cloud shows why the sliding stop is also such a crowd favorite.