On Thursday morning, the thrifty and time-pressed could have seen in just three hours the entire 16-day, eight-discipline display of divine horse flesh and flash of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
True, you're not seeing the sport's über-elite in competition, but, explained Sue Buckley of Dardanup in Western Australia, the hunter jumpers in the daily demonstrations are the United States' best jumpers. That same high standard seems to be upheld by every group that brought its breed to the Kentucky Horse Park's Equine Village.
And so, on a 65-degree morning, without so much as proper billing, the Connemara ponies — a breed that originated in Ireland — came out as if they were dressage royalty. Billed as "Cowboy Barbie," Danielle Casalett, in a black shadbelly jacket, white pants and a cowboy hat, did intricate dressage moves on Wildwych Eclipse while a recorded Kenny Chesney belted out When the Sun Goes Down.
Casalett's tall field boots are shined within an inch of their leather lives, and Eclipse can hit his marks without faults.
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He was joined soon enough by other Connemaras, who began to jump fences. And we were watching eventing now, and no one had to move from their seats. Over the trellis jump with the yellow plastic flowers. Over the fold-up picnic table laid with paper cups — vaguely reminiscent of the Kentucky Proud jump on the cross-country course that was laden with fresh produce. People had to buy event tickets to watch horses leap over that one.
Granted, the official Games equestrians might not have approved of Kenny Loggins' Danger Zone or M.C. Hammer's Hammer Time as accompaniment, but the crowd was enthusiastic. Soon enough, the stands were filled.
"This is just great," said Tom Bertleheim of Pittsburgh. "We didn't get here but for this last weekend, and we've missed so much. This kind of makes up for it."
To get to Lexington, Casalett, of Granite Bay, Calif., drove herself and her horses, taking 41/2 days for the journey. She had sponsors, she said, who paid for her gas, and she's staying the week in her trailer.
So the glamour is a little short.
These "breed-rich hours" every day are, more or less, "the poor man's Games," she said.
"Everybody should see what these horses can do."
Then, without much ado, came the Arabians, horses rearing and robes flowing, The Impossible Dream in the background. They were reminiscent of the Arabians at the $150-a-ticket opening ceremony.
Without so much as a pause, two other Arabians proved their Western worth, doing reining moves with sharp stops, dazzling twirls and close passes. Days and days of reining condensed into three minutes, whooping included.
"It's a very small taste," said Terry Smith-Daly of Brighton, England, who clearly was a reining fan. "There's more to the sport. People really should learn more about it."
Sue Buckley agreed, saying that the point of the breed show was to show "it's the training. That there are a lot of stock animals with good genes and good temperament that can do it all."
Renowned U.S. vaulting team member Erik Martonovich rides in on six monstrous Belgian horses. "Rides" is a misnomer. Martonovich is standing, gladiator-like, with one foot on each of the backs of two galloping horses in a team of six, holding the reins of all six. Meanwhile, three other riders in black and silver throw themselves on and off the other four galloping horses.
Martonovich, who has seven national vaulting titles, was on the American vaulting team for the Games until he was given a choice between entertaining at Equine Village or competing, he said.
"That was an easy choice," he said. He chose the adrenaline of the thundering Belgians and the joy of the audience.
It's not even 1 p.m., and members of the California Cowgirls drill team are holding their flags, about to enter the arena.
They were also part of the opening ceremony.
All for the price of a $25 grounds pass.