It’s the beginning of the year, and now is a time to reflect on all the things I was so thankful to be a part of. One thing I did not get a chance to write about was participating in Rolex as a Mounted Steward.
For those who don’t know what that is – they are also called outriders, the people who sit on horseback to gain a better vantage point and watch the horses go through the maze that is the cross country course. It is roped off so the horses can travel through undisturbed, but there is no possible way to keep spectators out completely so there are openings in the ropes that people can pass through. These are stationed throughout the course, making for a difficult time when there are well conditioned, extremely fast horses galloping through the lanes at spaced intervals and up and down hills that most people can’t see. When you add in people who have never touched a horse and don’t realize what a threat they can pose if they were to gallop down a hill and crash into a person, it can be a nail-biting thought. That is where the outriders come in.
Outriders see what people on foot cannot – the horse passing from one jump to another. They gain a very agile, mobile, vantage point and have loud whistles where they can alert the volunteers that run the gates to close it before the horse passes through. They also offer a contact point for people who may have never seen a horse up close or touched it. In years past, they also caught the horses when a rider and their mount parted ways during or after a fence, but that is not typically the role of the outrider any longer considering just how fit those horses are. They also help crowd control in case of an emergency.
I have been to Rolex for many years and always dreamed of being part of it. One year I was talking to a woman who was an outrider and asked how one would join. She directed me to a contact and we parted ways after a while watching the horses go through, one after another. Time passed and I forgot about it completely, swept back up into the horse world but all the while dreaming it would be part of my life one day.
Imagine my surprise when spring came about and it turned out I knew a contact in the outrider program! After being accepted, there we were – getting ready for Rolex. I took Rain to the bombproofing clinic, rode her continuously, and attempted to prepare for the crowd of nearly 50,000 spectators that would roll through the course throughout the day. I prepared her as best I could and continually added obstacles and interactions, still knowing that on the big day there would no doubt be things I could never adequately prep for. And I was right.
After settling in at the grounds at the Horse Park, I took Rain on a romp around the newly set up cross country course with a group of seasoned riders. We trotted (well, I gaited) and cantered the beautifully manicured fields with brightly decorated jumps. In years past, I had been on the jump crew and helped mulch those beautiful fences with clusters of delicate flowers adding to the decor. I knew just how much work went in to creating the course and had to take a moment to appreciate it. Rain seemed a little excited but settled down after working in circles and asking for her mind to engage and focus on me. I felt encouraged and knew that tomorrow would be the big day. If all went right, no one would truly notice our presence, besides the pretty chocolate mare I sat upon – they would be locked on to the gorgeous horses who soared over the fences like they were mere cross-rails, not immense obstacles that posed questions mere mortals would quake at. I left Rain to settle in her stall and hoped I would get some sleep.
It came fleetingly, but sleep did come and it was time. After braiding Rain and searching desperately for clippers (why is it always something??), we were in our morning briefing. I don’t believe time passed in seconds, more like minutes and hours in how quickly everything happened. Rain and I were swept into a group with hunt riders who had nearly lost count of how many times they had participated. I was lucky to be a rookie in such experienced company. My mare was good with them, but once they left to go to their posts, she was a bit overwhelmed. We were stationed at a place with an overhead camera that followed the horses from one jump to another on a long wire, making a loud whoosh as it passed. I’m pretty sure she thought we were experiencing the apocalypse and that the world would soon come crashing down around her.
She neighed and showed everyone her spectacular counting skills, not caring they were not much appreciated. Thankfully we had another horse come join us and she settled in with her new best friend. By the time the afternoon session came in, she had settled and even decided to take a nap! I do wish I had a photo of the surprise on my face as she laid down in the middle of the grass by the appropriately named hammock jump.
We came through unscathed and in a rush, it was over and my calm if not a bit exhausted mare was walking back to the barn with me. We were invited back the next year and I have some new arrows in my quiver to show her some new objects and ideas to better prepare her for next year. I have just filled out my application for volunteering this April and cannot wait for the whirlwind to commence again!