Over the next several days, nearly 50 of the world’s top horses and riders will arrive at the iconic Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington to compete in the Western Hemisphere’s only CCI5*-L, the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Mars Equestrian (LRK3DE).
Prepping for a five-star, eventing’s pinnacle level, is no easy task. The effort is monumental. The teamwork required, critical. The satisfaction of success, immeasurable. We caught up with five of this year’s entrants for a peek behind the scenes to see how they’re preparing to take on Kentucky.
NoelleFloyd.com: How are you preparing mentally? Physically?
Hawley Bennett-Awad: I’ve actually stepped my fitness up a little bit because this isn’t my first time, and I want to be sure I’m in the best shape I can be in to help Jollybo. I started doing Orange Theory three or four times a week and also working out with Clint Hart at Healthy Harts Fitness. I have a pretty good mental game. Everyone has their own thing; I like a calm vibe. I know the people I need to have around me. They are positive and in my corner. And I love music — a mix of rap, country, pop, everything.
Will Coleman and Tight Lines. Photo by Kaitlyn Karssen for NoelleFloyd.com.
Will Coleman: I write stuff down a lot. That helps me organize my thoughts and not get too over focused on the wrong details. I’m a perfectionist and I have to fight that a lot in my mental focus. Writing things down helps me put in perspective what I’m doing with the horses, what I want to do. I’ve also been playing some pick-up basketball down here in Ocala. It’s good cardio and a lot of fun. I love basketball and it’s a nice outlet.
Piggy French: Mentally I try not to think about everything too much. I’m naturally very self-critical, so it’s just a case of getting there and doing the best I can. Physically I have a personal trainer come to the yard once a week which I’ve found really helps with my fitness. We don’t go crazy, but it just makes me do something which I wouldn’t on my own — I hate running!
Chris Talley: For Kentucky I am trying to be as mentally prepared as possible. I have only ever been to Kentucky once a few years ago as a groom. I was fortunate to walk the course so I have an idea of what the size of the questions will be like. However I’ve been spending a lot of time on USEF Network and YouTube watching previous years over and over again. I am such a visual learner that I really enjoy watching videos to get the lay of the land and how certain things rode in years past.
Oliver Townend: I generally ride between 12 and 15 horses a day and go to the gym on a regular basis to ensure that I am as light as possible. Weekly physio sessions improve my core strength and aid general physical maintenance along with recovery. In terms of preparing myself mentally, I make sure I get plenty of sleep and eat well wherever possible. Reading autobiographies and quotes from some of my sporting heroes always provides me with inspiration.
NF: What will the horse's schedule look like seven to 10 days out from the event?
Hawley: Jollybo is going to do two more easy gallops and I’ll definitely have an easy cross-country school. At this stage I’m not going to teach her any new tricks. I just want her super confident and feeling like a badass.
Piggy: Quarrycrest Echo left Maidwell on Monday, the 15th of April, and arrives at Kentucky on Friday evening, so he spends a lot of time traveling! My groom, Amy, will give him a bit of light exercise and maybe a lunge over the weekend and then I'll just be mainly prepping him for his test when I arrive at Kentucky next week and will give him a good blow before cross-country.
Chris Talley and Unmarked Bills. Photo by Sportfot.
Chris: Billy (Unmarked Bills) will do a few nice, long hacks, and an easy gallop. We’ll also continue to focus on his dressage and stadium jumping.
Oli: The horse’s schedule in the seven days leading up to the event mainly involves traveling, which isn't the ideal preparation but obviously unavoidable! That said I was very happy with Cooley Master Class's final run before Kentucky which was at Burnham Market last Saturday.
NF: What are your top priorities in the week before the event in terms of prep?
Hawley: Make sure I have the right jog outfit! [laughs] Everything stays the same. Horses learn from repetition. As soon as I start acting crazy or doing something I don’t normally do, she'll be suspicious also.
Will: The biggest thing we try to avoid is over training in the last week to 10 days. We don’t have another five-star to enter the next week. Your whole season comes down to what you do at Kentucky. That’s a hard outlook to reconcile, not getting too jumpy and wanting to train too hard. I try to be very disciplined and not expecting more than I expect every day out of the year.
Piggy: To have him feeling in top form mentally and physically for the moment that counts. Nothing else matters in the end!
Chris: We’re trying our best to treat Kentucky as any other show.
NF: Who will be traveling with you and supporting you, and what roles do they play?
Hawley: I have an amazing working student, Bri Maskus. She’ll be driving with me to Kentucky. My husband, Gamal Awad, will be there, and my mom, Gerry Bennett, and one of her great friends from home. Maralee Paul is my head groom. She worked with me at Kentucky and the World Equestrian Games last year.
Will: My wife, Katie, and our daughter, Charlie, will be there. We bring our camper. I wouldn’t call it a family vacation, but it’s nice that they’re all there with me. We cook dinner every night, and relax as much as we can. Sarah Rupert will be looking after Tight Lines this year. She’s been a great asset to our team. It’s a small outfit but it’s a family deal. I have a couple of owners that are coming and they are more like family, too.
Hawley Bennett-Awad and Jollybo. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.
Piggy: My groom, Amy, is traveling with the horse and she will be looking after him for the time he is there. My partner, Tom, will come, and he’s a big help with making sure I’m in the right place at the right time, wearing the right thing, and generally doing what I’m meant to be doing. My owner, Jayne McGivern, and her husband, David, are also coming, and I hope they can just have a lovely time watching their beautiful horse in action at such a great event!
Chris: I will be traveling down to Kentucky with Hannah Salazar. She really plays too many roles to list but she’s my best friend, business partner, trainer, and mentor. My parents, our students Antonio and Ricardo, Billy’s owners, and our incredibly supportive barn family will be traveling down throughout the week.
Oli: The support team will be relatively small largely due to the obvious geographical issues and the fact that Badminton follows in such close succession. Obviously Cooley Master Class will have his trusty groom by his side, and we are lucky enough to have a British vet traveling. My manager and friend Karyn will travel with me; her support is invaluable, especially at the big ones! I am eternally grateful for the support from my owners who are always keen to see their horses complete at such an incredible event.
NF: What's one of the most important items you're packing for Kentucky?
Hawley: In 2001, when I did my very first three-star, Chelan Kozak gave me a Canadian beaver, and it’s literally been to every single FEI event I’ve been to all over the world. It’s 18 years old now. It doesn’t have eyes, it has pins on the sweater [holding it together].
Will: I’ll probably pack a yoga mat. I do it poorly but I do yoga as often as my can. It helps me relax and it’s good for my body. It’s awesome for riders to keep us from getting stiff. My dad got me into it. He thought it was the ultimate exercise for riders.
Chris: My medical arm band which has lots of little lucky charms in it. I have a Canadian coin from Billy’s first CCI4*-L in it, a four-leaf clover, and a blue jay feather.
Piggy French and Quarrycrest Echo. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.
Good luck to everyone attending the Best Weekend All Year. In the words of Hawley: “Safe travels. No matter what, enjoy it. Keep negative thoughts away and positive thoughts coming.”
The Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Mars Equestrian, takes place April 25-28. Single and multi-day ticket packages are still available to purchase. Get your tickets now! If you are unable to attend in person you can still enjoy the thrill of the three-day by tuning in to the USEF Network live stream all four days of competition.
Feature image of Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class by Kaitlyn Karssen for NoelleFloyd.com
Written by Leslie Threlkeld
Having grown up on horseback, Leslie Threlkeld, Managing Editor at NOËLLE FLOYD, treasures her career in the equestrian industry as a writer, photographer, and eventing technical delegate. Leslie thrives on frequent travel but never tires of returning home to the serene mountains of North Carolina.