The Early Years
Equestrian Events, Inc. (EEI) is a non-profit Kentucky corporation formed in 1975 initially to stage the 1978 World Three-Day Event Championships at the brand new Kentucky Horse Park.
In October, 1976, as preparation for the World Championships, EEI organized the first horse trials ever held at the Horse Park. In 1977, the organization coordinated the staging of the National Pony Club Rally in August and produced the North American Junior Three-Day Event Championships in September.
The 1978 World Three-Day Event Championships, held for the first time in the United States September 14 – 17, were an unprecedented success. Individual World Champion Bruce Davidson of Pennsylvania retained the world title, riding his young and courageous American Thoroughbred, Might Tango. The popular team of riders and horses from Canada were the winners of the Team Gold Medal.
Shortly after the conclusion of the World Championships, the American Horse Shows Association asked EEI to host the first major three-day event of the new year, setting the wheels in motion for the 1979 Kentucky Horse Trials and similar events thereafter.
In 1980, EEI hosted the Final Selection Trial to choose the three-day team that would compete for the United States in Fontainebleau, France, in the fall.
New support and innovative ideas marked activities in 1981. Rolex Watch U.S.A. became a corporate sponsor of the United States Equestrian Team. The 1981 Kentucky Horse Trials was chosen as the initial sponsorship recipient.
Besides again hosting competition for the USET Gladstone Trophy at the Advanced Level, EEl’s modified Advanced Three-Day Event was chosen to be the USET’s Final Selection Trial to determine the team to represent the United States at the International Three-Day Event in Luhmuhlen, Germany. In an effort to maintain the international flavor of the Kentucky Horse Trials, EEI proposed an International Invitational Division at the Preliminary Level and invited leading foreign riders to compete on horses loaned by U.S. combined training enthusiasts. The response from international competitors was enthusiastic, and once again the Kentucky Horse Trials boasted top riders from throughout the world.
In 1982, Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event fittingly provided the Final Selection Trial for aspirants to the Three-Day Event Team that represented our country at the fifth World Individual and Team Three-Day Event Championships held in Luhmuhlen, West Germany.
In 1983, EEI organized the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event which hosted competition for the USET’s Challenge Trophy for United States citizens at the Advanced Level. Recognized as a CCI (Concours Complet Internationale, or International Three-Day Event) by the FÃ©dÃ©ration Equestre Internationale (FEI), European and Canadian riders competed along with Americans. Once again, Kentucky offered a full three-day event at the Preliminary Level.
With the 1984 Summer Olympic Games scheduled to be held in the Los Angeles, California, area, the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event was again utilized as a Selection Trial for horses and riders who would compose our U. S. Three-Day Event Team. The Selection Trial Division was run at the Advanced Level as a Horse Trials in order to enable horses and riders to reach the peak of condition for the Olympics. An Advanced Level CCI hosted riders from around the world, and the Open Preliminary Three-Day Event provided spectators a glimpse of combined training stars of tomorrow.
In 1985, the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event was the starting place for a new four-year cycle leading horses and riders to the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. The Advanced Level CCI that is the hallmark of Kentucky served as the first three-day event in the U.S. at which riders and horses aspiring to a place on the 1986 World Championships Team were observed by officials of the USET Selection Committee. EEI added an Intermediate Level Three-Day Event to provide a more technically difficult competition early in the year for aspiring Advanced Level competitors, and as in past years, a Preliminary Level division was also offered.
The Second Decade
Equestrian Events, Inc. (EEI) began a second decade in 1986, again offering Advanced (CCI) and Intermediate Three-Day Events.
In 1987, with the Pan American Games scheduled for Indiana in August, Kentucky added a Selection Trial division for those already on the U.S. Equestrian Team’s Three-Day Long List and allowed foreign competitors to compete in this division also. The CCI division hosted the USET Spring Three-Day Event Championship and was also used by the USET as a qualifying competition for the 1988 Olympic Games. The Intermediate division served as the first test of the year in three-day event competition for horses and riders heading toward Advanced level competition.
In order to ensure that horses and riders are able to compete under the best possible climatic conditions, EEI moved the dates of the 1988 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event one month earlier to get away from the heat, high humidity and hard ground that had plagued the competition in recent years. The Advanced (CCI) Three-Day Event of the 1988 Event served as the Final Olympic Selection Trial for those under consideration for the U.S. Three-Day Event Team for the Summer Olympic Games in Seoul. The Open Intermediate Horse Trials division served as a major prep for the first Intermediate level Three-Day Event of the year in Virginia in late May.
With the 1990 World Championships scheduled for Stockholm, Sweden, the Advanced division of the 1989 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event served as an Observation Trial to assist the U.S. Equestrian Team in selecting horse and rider combinations to represent the United States in competition abroad. A Young Riders (16-21) Open Intermediate Horse Trials division was also utilized by the USET to observe Olympians of the future with an eye toward sending representatives abroad to compete in Three-Day Events for Young Riders.
The Advanced (CCI**) Three-Day Event of the 1990 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event served as the Final U.S. Selection Trial for candidates for the World Championships Team. The Open Intermediate Horse Trials saw Young Riders and the over-21s tackle one of the more difficult and demanding Intermediate level Cross-Country courses in the nation.
The 1991 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event served as a qualifying competition for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. The Open Intermediate Horse Trials provided an opportunity for riders to fulfill one of the qualifications for consideration for the 1991 Pan American Games Three-Day Event Championships held in Georgia in November.
In 1992, Kentucky was the Final U.S. Selection Trial for the Olympics. For those riders whose horses were not yet fit enough or hadn’t gained enough mileage for a major CCI*** the end of April, Kentucky’s new Advanced Horse Trials filled an important place on the competition calendar. With the Checkmate CCI*** in Canada three weeks following Kentucky, the Advanced Horse Trials was the perfect preparatory competition.
Kentucky added the first FEI Americas Cup Final to its roster of championships in 1993, hosting this new international individual championship for competitors who qualified by completing a CCI** in 1992. The Advanced Horse Trials again served as a preparatory competition for Three-Day Events later in the year and for some their first time at the highest level of Horse Trials competition.
The 1994 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event served as a USET Selection Trial for the World Three-Day Championships held in The Hague, The Netherlands, July 27-31. It also again hosted the USET Spring Three-Day Event Championship. The Advanced Horse Trials provided invaluable experience over a top quality course for riders preparing for later three- day events.
The 1995 Event began the road to the 1996 Olympics for riders by serving as an Olympic Qualifying Competition in addition to the USET Spring Championship. Kentucky was also used by the USET as an Observation Trial for the European Three-Day Championships, opened to countries outside Europe for the first time. The Advanced Horse Trials again prepped riders for later Three-Day Events.
Rolex Kentucky 1996 served as the only Selection Trial in North America for the Olympic Games, with the Badminton Horse Trials (CCI****) in England the next weekend the other USET Selection Trial. In addition to the CCI*** being used as a Selection Trial, a special division, called the Pre-Atlanta Invitational, enabled Olympic candidates who had already fulfilled the Three-Day Event requirements to be tested under conditions of an abbreviated Endurance Test (no Phase B, Steeplechase, or Phase C, Roads & Tracks). This division also was open to foreign riders meeting the same criteria and six horses ran in this division. It is noteworthy that seven of the fifteen 1996 Olympic Three-Day Event medal winners either began their road to the Olympics at Rolex Kentucky 1995 or used the 1996 Event as their major prep for the games.
With a record number of Advanced level horses ready to compete in a three-day event at the three star level, Rolex Kentucky hosted the three-day event division in 1997 with a full complement of 66 starters. For the first time, the Event served as a Selection Trial for both the European Open Championships at Burghley, England, and the European Young Riders Championships at Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy, both in September, in addition to hosting the annual USET Spring Three-Day Event Championship presented by Bayer.
A new era in Kentucky, the U.S., and the world began in 1998, 20 years after the fourth World Three-Day Event Championships were organized by Equestrian Events, Inc. (EEI) at the brand new Kentucky Horse Park. Those World Championships were the first held outside of Europe, and the new four star three-day event (CCI****) was the first held outside of Europe, indeed outside of the even smaller sphere of England, and only the third in the world.
The 1998 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event also was the first competition in the world to offer both a four star and a three star competition. The reason was not one of increased revenue or spectator draw but simply one of responsibility to the sport of Eventing in the U.S. No organizing committee was ready to take over the CCI*** and EEI would not leave the U.S. without a Spring three star three-day event even though the new four star provided more than enough additional challenge to resources and personnel. The U.S. Equestrian Team named two champions at Rolex Kentucky in 1998, the first USET CCI**** Champion and the 20th USET CCI*** Spring Champion. The world was focused on the new Four Star at Kentucky in 1998. It did not disappoint. The top five placings, a true international cast, ensured that more riders from “across the pond” and “down under” would be making the trip in 1999.
In 1999, Rolex Kentucky hosted the three star competition for the last time. The new Grand Slam of Eventing, offering $250,000 to any rider who wins Rolex Kentucky, Badminton, and Burghley in succession, added to the excitement at each of these events in 1999.
In 2000, Rolex Kentucky became the first Four Star of the New Millennium and served again as the primary U.S. Equestrian Team Olympic Games Selection Trial. Commensurate with the importance of the Four Star, prize money was been raised to $150,000, with title sponsor Rolex Watch U.S.A. providing $100,000 and organizer EEzI. putting in the additional $50,000.
In 2001, Kentucky served as a Qualifying Competition for the 2002 World Three-Day Championships in Spain. A large foreign contingent was entered, due in no small part to the tragic outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the United Kingdom and on the Continent. The cancellation of all events on the Spring calendar left competitors with no place to go except the U.S. EEI willingly accepted entries well past the closing date to ensure that these owners and riders had a place to run their horses.
The 2002 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event marked the 25th Anniversary of the Kentucky Three-Day Event that began with the 1978 World Championships. It also marked the 10th year of Michael Etherington-Smith’s superlative cross-country course design. The Event served as the primary U.S. Selection Trial for the World Three-Day Event Championships of the World Equestrian Games scheduled for Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, September 11-22. A strong foreign contingent challenged a remarkable group of U.S. horses and riders. With an additional $40,000 from Rolex Watch U.S.A. enabling prize money to increase to $190,000, Rolex Kentucky 2002 was going to be a major player in equestrian competition worldwide.
What a major player it turned out to be! Five of the six members of the U.S. contingent came from the 2002 Event, and the sixth, the inimitable Giltedge, won Kentucky in 2001. The U.S. was the only country to finish all four team members and its two individual riders and capped it off by winning the Team Gold Medal. It doesn’t get much better than that!
In 2003, EEI published a commemorative book, celebrating the 25 years, 1978-2002, of championship Three-Day Event competition at the Kentucky Horse Park. The Event served as a Selection Trial for the Eventing Championships of the Pan American Games, a qualifying competition for the 2004 Olympic Games and a U.S. Equestrian Team Observation Trial to assist in determining horse and rider combinations to represent the U.S. abroad later in the year.
Another stellar group of foreign riders was on hand, including from Great Britain the 2002 FEI World Leading Rider William Fox-Pitt and 2002 European Champion Pippa Funnell in her first try at Kentucky and, indeed, her first trip to the United States. First time was charm for Pippa and she and Metier Consulting’s Primmore’s Pride captured the coveted Rolex Trophy. History was made when Pippa returned home and repeated her 2002 Badminton win on Supreme Rock and in September won the Burghley CCI**** on her Kentucky winner Primmore’s Pride to become the first to capture the $250,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing.
In 2004, as it often does in Olympic years, Rolex Kentucky offered a special division for riders and horses that had already met the Olympic qualifying requirements. The Bayer Modified Four Star Three-Day Event was patterned after the new Olympic format that doesn’t include the Roads and Tracks and Steeplechase phases of the classic competition. The established Rolex Kentucky CCI**** served as a Qualifying Competition for the Olympic Games in Athens in August and both classes of competition were used by the U.S. Equestrian Federation as Selection Trials for the 2004 Eventing Team with spectacular results.
Kim Severson and Winsome Adante won the classic Rolex Kentucky CCI**** for the second time and went on to win the Indivdiual Silver Medal at the Olympic Games and a Team Bronze Medal. Fellow Bronze Medal Team Members Julie Richards and Jacob Two Two placed 5th in the classic format. The other three Bronze Medal Team Members at the Olympic Games, Darren Chiacchia and Windfall 2, John Williams and Carrick and Amy Tryon with Poggio II, all competed in the Modified Four Star with Darren and Windfall capturing the win.
The Rolex Equestrian Championship was shown on NBC television May 9, 2004, a first for an Eventing competition in the U.S. outside of an Olympic Games. The ratings for this program were much greater than NBC expected, so much so that the network agreed to air the Rolex Kentucky program for another two years.
In 2005, Rolex Kentucky returned to the classic format as its only division, believing that the full test of speed, endurance and jumping ability on Cross-Country Day, when combined with the tests of Dressage and Show Jumping, is necessary to fully showcase the complete equine athlete and the horsemanship of its human partner. A highlight of the 2005 Event was celebrating the 25th year of title sponsorship of the Kentucky Three-Day Event by Rolex Watch, U.S.A. If there are any other event title sponsors with as long or longer an association with a specific event, we were unable to find them. EEI knows for certain, however, that there cannot be any more supportive, constant and generous sponsor than Rolex Watch, U.S.A. has been since 1981.
Kim Severson and Plain Dealing Farm’s Winsome Adante won the Rolex Kentucky Four Star for the third time and back to back, a feat that, in the classic Eventing format, will never be repeated. Their 2004 win put them in the history books and stamped “Dan” as what will forever be looked to as a true Event Horse.