There was that issue of the Kentucky Proud offering on the cross-country course. Stupendous looking thing. Looks like a loaded harvest table laden with the commonwealth’s most sensational autumnal offerings: Sweet potatoes, baby pumpkins, zucchini, Indian corn and red and green Delicious apples by the bushel spelling out 2010.
It’s the job of the decorating crew for the field of play — any of the field courses at the Kentucky Horse Park during the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games — to check on its planted vegetation daily (and nightly) to be sure the flowers, vegetables, grasses, ferns, bushes and shrubs are gorgeous, thriving and up to the standard of the designer and the exacting crew.
But early last week it was discovered that somebody had been eating the apples.
Riders, apparently, who had been walking the cross-country course in anticipation of Saturday’s event, had partaken of the display, injudiciously leaving apple cores behind. Perhaps even stealing some treats for their equine buds. The result: Two signs had to be placed asking that visitors not munch on jump 28.Not until the decorating crew is done with it. And they can be very convincing. And they are everywhere at the Kentucky Horse Park.
On Wednesday night, some of the 80 volunteers from the decorating crew were watering flowers until midnight. On Thursday night, a goodly number of same were hauling 200 ferns, 14 arborvitae and 10 sunglow cypress out of the reining ring at 8:30 p.m. and relocating them to the back of the Alltech Arena. That’s because there was a little confusion about what the vaulting people, who perform in the arena next, wanted to do with the giant Boston ferns.
Multiple cell phone calls rattled between officials. Rita Boggs, decorating crew chief in charge Thursday night, said, “Everybody’s working hard. Nobody wants to make more work for anyone else. But everybody loves the look we add.”
So much so that this team has been the Kentucky Rolex Three-Day Event grounds décor team for 17 years. After the first year, they were told by course designer Mike Etherington-Smith: “Great job. Next year, more flowers.”
Etherington-Smith designs the course and the jumps, but leaves the details to this crew. Details, says Sheila Woerth, the crew chief in charge of it all, include covering where flags show, staying in this case to a $50,000 budget and picking the flowers to match the frog, the kingfisher and the rainbow trout, for example, that show up on jump 5.
“We used tons of mums,” says Kit Woerth, who worked this jump. “We had to have flowers that could withstand 90-degree to 38-degree weather. We picked up the yellows from the frog and the purple from the trout. We used black-eyed Susans for their intensity of color.”
Color matters to the TV audience, which has shown the crew’s work in multiple opening shots of the carved goose sitting near the lake on a bed of flowers. It matters to video games that repeatedly choose the Kentucky Horse Park as background and use its familiar Rolex jumps in its equine games.
No need for perks
Carolyn Palmer has used every bit of her vacation time to garden into the early morning hours for other people. A trauma nurse from Dayton, Ohio, she met Sheila Woerth eight or nine years ago at a horse show, heard about the Rolex flower detail and said “I’d love to help with that.” She came the weekend before the Games started, and has worked at times 20-hour days, living in a camper with other volunteers on the grounds, a perk Woerth negotiated into her contract.
The perks are what you make them. No one is paid, except, sometimes, at the Rolex, potted plants are handed to the volunteers for their own spring gardens.
Palmer notes that it’s not spring.
She doesn’t care about the perks, she says, just being at “this Olympics for horses” is enough. She rides dressage, but hasn’t seen much while here, though did note with a little amusement when an American rider’s horse got spooked by a flower arrangement during warm-ups.
Less than 24 hours before the start of eventing, Etherington-Smith is out at Jump 5, even now making adjustments.
Woerth and her crew are digging up plants and pulling them forward 18 inches. It is, says Woerth, about the fourth or fifth significant change the designer has made on this jump alone.
Robin Trimble, a long-time volunteer, explains that the riders will likely come back out to view the changes and that they should know that the ground line will have changed.
She says she understands the mindset of the rider. Many of the volunteers have horses and many, she laughs, are perfectionists, too.
Question that? At the Flower Barn, which is on the far east end of the park and open to sunshine, the plants are lined up by color, type and discipline, even jump number, in the case of the cross–country course, and are relocated and reused by the budget-conscious as needed throughout the Games.
On Sunday night, the team will be out with tobacco netting.
“The temperature is set to drop,” says Woerth. “I worry about frostbite.”
On her mums, you must understand, not on her volunteers.