If you've seen one horse sport, you've not seen 'em all

Oct 7 2010 - 9:20pm

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- There are not many spectators wearing striped neckties at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

It's a different horse crowd here, different even from the horse crowd that will visit Keeneland on Friday for the opening day of the fall meet.

The WEG has more of a country feel to it. Walking through Rolex Stadium, on up through the Equine Village, around the massive Alltech Experience, there is hands-down one sartorial staple.

Everyone is wearing jeans.

And, especially among the women, most everyone is wearing boots of some sort, whether they be riding boots -- even some with those shiny black boots that peak at the knee -- or work boots, or just some sort of dress boots fit for the occasion.

At Keeneland, especially on a Toyota Blue Grass Stakes day, you see hats, both men's and women's stylish lids of all shapes and sizes. Here, you see caps of all colors, and brands, and promotional purposes, many on women.

The differences don't end there. At Keeneland, much of the attention will be on the trainers, like Todd Pletcher or Bob Baffert. The equestrian events have their legendary trainers, as well, but their profiles are not as prominent.

"I think the people in the equestrian events try to keep the emphasis on the rider and the horse," said Jim Wofford, the accomplished equestrian trainer and rider who won five different national titles with five different horses and now does television color commentary on the sport.

Wofford has great admiration for Thoroughbred trainers, mind you.

"In our sport we have three very different disciplines we have to train the horses for across the Olympic spectrum," Wofford said. "The Thoroughbred trainers have to train sprinters and milers and so forth, but much of that training is the same. But anybody who tries to get a horse to do something knows how difficult that is.

"Some trainers make it look easy, and believe me, it's not easy."

The equestrian world is also different in other regards. In Thoroughbred racing, a horse may go weeks, maybe even months, between races. In eventing, horses compete on consecutive days.

"It takes a fair bit of time to build up a horse's muscles through everyday training," said Becky Holder, an accomplished equestrian trainer who won the dressage phase of the 2008 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. The workouts for eventing are smaller and more frequent, "where in racing it's more cardiovascular training. It takes a longer period of time to build up the muscle strength."

For example, if you took a "soft pasture" horse from the racing end, it would take at least four months to get the horse ready for eventing, Holder said. And it might take years for the horse to be fully regimented to the requirements of competing in successive days.

"In equestrian, we try to build the muscle strength on the top line, muscle on top of muscle," Holder said, "where racehorses, it is more toward the back line."

That's why a 3-year-old racehorse can compete in the sport's top race, the Kentucky Derby. In equestrian, consider that Hall of Fame jumper For the Moment was 21 when he won the show jumping grand prix.

The only 21-year-olds at Keeneland on Friday will be in the crowd.

There is one thing Keeneland has over the WEG: Burgoo. At the WEG, you can find a $10 fully loaded Bloody Mary or a $5.50 Derby pie -- chocolate nut pie is written in smaller letters on the menu for informational purposes -- but there is no Burgoo, or none I could easily find, anyway.

There is one thing the WEG has over Keeneland: No losing tickets littering the ground. In fact, there is no litter at the WEG. Thank the 10,000 volunteers.

"From an insiders' perspective, these are by far the best facilities for this event I've experienced," Wofford said. "I haven't seen (2014 host) Normandy, but I can't imagine they will have any better setup or they will run it any better than they have at the Kentucky Horse Park."

That's funny, we feel the same way about Keeneland.

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