Wednesday, May 2, 2012

One Word: Rolex

Hi, readers! Kimberly James here. Since last I wrote, I’ve tacked on a few thousand frequent flyer miles and heard a lot of good news about Purina Ambassadors. Beezie Madden and Laura Kraut have made the trip to Europe with Cortes C and Woodstock O. Chris Hickey and the US Team won the Nations Cup at the Global Dressage Festival. Kiaran McLaughlin is getting ready to run for the roses this weekend with one of his top horses, Alpha. Be sure to watch the action this Saturday on NBC at 5 p.m. EST.  Our cutting ambassadors, Matt Gaines, Kory Pounds and Roger Wagner, also had strong showings at the NCHA Super Stakes, and Shawn Flarida won his second NRBC title in Katy, Texas.

As frequently happens in my role with Purina, I get the pleasure of mixing my personal and professional passions, and this past week was no exception. Last Monday kicked off my first trip to the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, or known by many horse people as simply, “Rolex.”

Rolex was the cause for my first trip to the Kentucky Horse Park as well, a fantastic venue and a must-see for any horse person’s trip through the Bluegrass State. I was joined on this trip by a few folks you are probably familiar with, including Dr. Katie Young and fellow Rolex rookie Dr. Karen Davison. Dr. Young had the privilege of answering a week’s worth of questions about eventing from me, and they both endured ongoing inquisitions about all things equine nutrition. Having Ph.D. equine nutritionists as coworkers is yet another perk of the job for me and my horses.

The week started off with setting up our booth in Tent #3 in Sponsor Village, where we’ve been for the past several years. If you’ve never had to set up a display booth, it’s similar to rearranging your living room furniture—you know the answer is there, sometimes you just have to stare at all the pieces for a while for it to come to you. After an appropriate amount of staring, we got everything together, the feed on display and were ready to open Thursday morning. The weather was a bit of a moving target, with sporadic rain and wind leading up to Thursday’s start of the dressage tests. But by the time the first event started, we couldn’t have asked for better weather. Purina National Ambassador Boyd Martin rode Remington XXV on Thursday, earning a score of 45.3, which put him in sixth place going into Saturday.

Friday was the last half of the dressage tests. Boyd and Otis Barbotiere turned in a score of 51 to set them up in 16th place going into the cross-country phase. I was able to watch Boyd and Otis train a few weeks ago at their home in Pennsylvania, and it was great to see how the training paid off at Rolex.

Eventer Kyle Carter stopped by to see us and took a group of fans on an informative cross-country course walk. It is one thing to see these huge obstacles, and another to get the lowdown from a professional on the strategy to get over, under or through it. It was a busy day in the booth, we talked with scores of horse owners who had questions on Purina products and stories to tell about the successes and challenges that horses never fail to provide.

I could listen to our nutritionists talk to horse owners for hours. There can be an unnecessary and overcomplicated mystique around equine nutrition, but oftentimes the answers are simpler than one might expect. While each horse is unique, the common denominator is that they all need safe, high-quality nutrition sources appropriate for their metabolic needs, lifestyle and activity level. It’s always a joy to help fellow horse owners with their feed programs, be it one horse or a herd of 80.

Friday was also the first day of the Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup, an event held at the park in conjunction with Rolex for two days. When Craig Schmersal and Shawn Flarida stopped by Tent #3 to visit with some fans, we were able to catch up with the two of them for a few minutes. Check out the Q&A at the end of this post. With a score of 223.5, Craig turned in a third place finish Friday night on Whiz’s Katrina. Shawn brought home the win with a score of 228 on Wimpy’s Chocolate Chip.

Another event that is very dear to all of us here at Purina was held Friday night. As many of you know, there is an astounding number of horses in need of homes and second careers each year, and there are several hundred hardworking rescue and rehoming organizations that work tirelessly to make that happen. I had the privilege of announcing to a group of colleagues, industry professionals and media partners that Purina will be donating $125,000 worth of feed to A Home for Every Horse and the Unwanted Horse Coalition this year. A Home for Every Horse is a much-needed and much-appreciated online tool where rescuers can post their adoptable horses at, one of the largest go-to sites for prospective horse owners. For all the details on A Home for Every Horse, check out the full story here.  

Before I knew it, cross-country day was upon us. A clear fan favorite, cross-country day is also the great equalizer in the sport of eventing. No dressage or jumping score can protect a horse and rider from the demand and barrage of challenges that make up cross-country. While fans take in the sun and brews when tailgating all day, these competitors navigate miles of courses through trees and water; around and over immovable obstacles; down galloping lanes lined with fans, dogs, children and terrifying umbrellas, ponchos and cameras. To top it off, there are time faults and only so many refusals allowed, making a leisurely pace not an option. And don’t forget, these horses already have had a day of dressage in the bag.

We staked out a couple of good locations at the head of the lake, the infield and the finish line to watch the steady stream of horses comes through. Some weren’t lucky, many had to retire before even finishing, but both Remington and Otis finished in good form. I’ve said it before, but it’s such a huge sense of pride to know we are fueling the engines it takes to make these athletes successful in three very different phases of competition where recovery, endurance, consistency and performance are crucial. The riders themselves are no fitness slouches either – hats off to Boyd for doing it twice in one day! Boyd even stopped by Tent #3 to sign some autographs and pose for pictures with fans.

Sunday was a lovely day for Rolex, but it was completely nerve racking, with only a few points separating the top five riders. Boyd and Otis were fourth going in to the jumping phase and Remington was eighth. Before we would see Boyd on either mount, Regional Purina Ambassador Jordan Lindstedt was the first in the arena. While Jordan would finish Rolex 27th overall, the fact that she finished the competition in her first attempt at Rolex is quite impressive for the young eventer. She is certainly one to watch!

Boyd and Remington were in the first half of the ride list, and we were watching and cheering every stride. Although they had one rail down, the pair still rode very well and were a clear testament to the training and conditioning that Boyd and his team invested in. As the last five rides approached, so did the excitement and anxiety. It was a “Who’s Who” of eventing with Karen O’Connor, Allison Springer and William Foxx-Pitt in the mix. Boyd and Otis had a beautiful double clear round that luckily only took a few minutes to complete, because I don’t think I took a breath during their whole ride. Again, Boyd and his horse left no doubt about the care and time it takes to get one, let alone two, horses to the top levels of the sport. Otis looked fit and confident on the last day of a very long weekend. With a rail down by Jonathan Paget, Boyd and Otis would finish Rolex third and in some very good company. Otis and Remington also get to join their barnmates Ying Yang Yo and Neville Bardos on the U.S. Eventing Team Long List for London.

And so wraps up my very busy first trip to Rolex. Congratulations to Boyd, Otis and Remington for a spectacular showing. For those of you who have been there, you know that not one word or one blog entry can quite describe the experience of Rolex. So I encourage you to make plans to go in 2013 and live it yourself. If you do go, be sure to stop by and see us at Tent #3, we’d love to catch up.


Kimberly James:  Tell me a little bit about your recent accomplishments. Shawn, I know you were the recent NRBC champion, and, Craig, I know you are a top performer as well. Can you tell me a little about what that experience is like?

Shawn Flarida:   It was really fun; we just got home about a week ago. I had one horse that was absolutely exceptional and then I actually got three of my horses in the top eleven. So we had a great week, I’m glad to be back home and glad to get this weekend started.

KJ:                     Awesome. How about you Craig?

Craig Schmersal:   Well the NRBC is one of the funnest horse shows every year. I went on a really nice horse a couple of years ago, Boom Shernic, and it’s just a fun horse show. It’s really low key, and plenty of time to ride in the arenas. It’s just a ball to go there every year.

KJ:                        You’re on the road together quite a bit, is there any rivalry between you two or is it a friendly competition?

CS:                       We’re not friends! [laughter] Oh, I don’t know, it’s just competition for us.

SF:                       We actually grew up together, so we’ve known each other for a very long time. We have a lot of respect for each other.

CS:                       We eat a lot of chocolate cake and drink iced tea together. That’s probably how we got our sexy physiques. [laughter]

SF:                        That “sexy” part is debatable! [laughter]

KJ:                        Shawn, you have a younger son, Sammy, who’s been getting involved. How’s that?

SF:                        He’s started showing and, in fact, we’ll be going back next weekend to show again. I’m having a lot of fun with that. He’s doing really good and he’s given me a breath of fresh air to go. It makes me a bit nervous just watching, but he’s having fun.

KJ:                       Awesome, so last question: What does it mean to wear the Purina checkerboard? What does that mean to you guys?

CS:                       Well for me growing up, I’ve seen the Purina checkerboard my whole life, so to be able to be a part of it as an adult is always a thrill for us and I believe it is the greatest feed made today. We’re honored to be a part of it.

SF:                        I think they work as hard as we do at making a great product—as much research, as much energy, as much education that goes into making their product as we put into making our horses good. It’s fun to have somebody that you’re teamed up with that works so hard at doing something right as we do. It’s awesome.

KJ:                       Okay, one more question, how excited are you for tonight?

SF:                       I get to ride an old horse I’ve been around forever, so I don’t know that I’ve got the best horse here tonight, but I love him to death and I think he’ll be good and we’ll have fun with it.
CS:                       Same for me, I’ve got Whizs Katrina here and she’s just been a steady eddy for me and it’s always a thrill to walk thought the gate on her and she hasn’t let me down so far, she’s always been good.

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