It’s an event where the impossible becomes possible, where the unimaginable becomes imaginable, and where dreams come true - the Kentucky Three-Day Event first started in 1978. Organized by Equestrian Events Inc. (EEI), the Kentucky Three-Day Event is one of only seven CCI5*-L events in the world and is held on the last weekend in April at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
As the sport has evolved, so did the event, and with over 40 years of running the competition, there have been many milestones made throughout the years.
1974 – At the World Championships at Burghley, the U.S. wins the team gold medal by a huge margin and Bruce Davidson and Irish Cap claim individual gold and J. Michael Plumb and Good Mixture win individual silver. With their wins, the U.S. also won the rights to host the next World Championships, but a location was needed. Enter the Kentucky Horse Park.
1976 – The first horse trials are held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
1978 – The Kentucky Horse Park hosts the 1978 World Three-Day Event Championships for the first time in the United States. Bruce Davidson on Might Tango defends his title to win the individual gold medal and Canada wins the team gold medal. After the conclusion of the Championships and in recognition EEI’s great success, the American Horse Show Association (now USEF) approaches EEI about hosting the following year’s first major three-day event, and from that moment the Kentucky Three-Day Event is born.
1981 – The event changes its name. Rolex Watch U.S.A. becomes the title sponsor of the Kentucky Three-Day Event and the competition is known as ‘Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event’ for the next 36 years.
1982 – The event becomes a CCI competition. The Kentucky Three-Day Event switches from a modified format event (no roads and tracks) to a full three-day event with a CCI3*.
1989 – Bruce Davidson wins the event with Doctor Peaches, making it the third win for Doctor Peaches. The pair won the event in 1984, 1988, and 1989. Only three riders have won the event three times on the same horse: Bruce Davidson on Doctor Peaches, Kim Severson on Winsome Adante, and Michael Jung of Germany on FischerRocana FST.
1993 – Bruce Davidson wins the event for the sixth time, which is the greatest number of wins out of any rider. Davidson won in 1978 with Might Tango, 1983 with J.J. Babu, 1984 with Doctor Peaches, 1988 with Doctor Peaches, 1989 with Doctor Peaches, and 1993 with Happy Talk.
1998 – The event becomes a CCI4*. Twenty years after the original World Championship event, the Kentucky Three-Day Event becomes the only CCI4* to be held in the United States. Nick Larkin of New Zealand riding Red was Kentucky’s first CCI4* winner.
1999 – The Grand Slam of Eventing is introduced. The Grand Slam of Eventing with $250,000 in prize money is awarded to a rider who can consecutively win Kentucky, Badminton, and Burghley. The rider is allowed to ride different horses in each competition. Since 1999, only two riders have been able to win the Grand Slam of Eventing.
2003 – The first rider wins the Grand Slam of eventing. Pippa Funnell of Great Britain on Primmore’s Pride win Kentucky to help secure Funnell as the first rider to win the Grand Slam of Eventing. Funnell won Kentucky on Primmore’s Pride, Badminton on Supreme Rock, and Burghley on Primmore’s Pride.
2005 – Kim Severson and Winsome Adante win Kentucky for the third time. Severson and Winsome Adante won in 2002, 2004, and 2005. Severson is the only U.S. rider to win the Kentucky Three-Day Event at the CCI4* level three different times on the same horse.
2006 – The long format of three-day eventing is removed. The Kentucky Three-Day Event permanently shifts to the new modern format of three-day eventing with the removal of roads and tracks and steeplechase.
2008 – Phillip Dutton and Connaught win the Kentucky Three-Day Event. This makes them the last American pair to win the Kentucky Three-Day Event. Also, the Grand Slam of Eventing increases its prize money to $350,000.
2010 – Allison Springer is the first rider to wear a helmet in dressage at the Kentucky Three-Day Event. Starting in 2021, the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) will require all riders to wear helmets in all disciplines.
2016 – The second rider wins the Grand Slam of Eventing. Michael Jung on FischerRocana FST win Kentucky to help secure Jung as the second rider in the world to win the Grand Slam of Eventing. Jung started by winning Burghley in 2015 on La Biosthetique-Sam FBW, then won Kentucky in 2016 on FischerRocana FST and Badminton on La Biosthetique-Sam FBW.
2017 – Michael Jung and FischerRocana FST win Kentucky for the third consecutive year. This makes them the only horse and rider combination in history to win Kentucky three consecutive times.
2018 – The event changes its name. Land Rover North America joins as title sponsor and it’s the first year the Kentucky Three-Day Event is known as the "Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event." This year is also the 40th anniversary of the 1978 World Three-Day Event Championships.
2019 – The existing levels of international events increase by a single star and the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event is designated as a CCI5*-L competition. On January 1, 2019, the FEI restructured the international event classification system, changing the system from four stars to five and changing CIC and CCI designations to CCI-S and CCI-L.
From 1978 to 2019, an American rider has won the event a total of 23 times, Great Britain has seven wins, New Zealand has three wins, Australia has three wins, Germany has three wins, and Canada with two wins - totaling to 41 years of running the event.
Eight riders have won the event more than once: Bruce Davidson Sr., James Wofford, David O’Connor, Karen O’Connor, Kim Severson, William Fox-Pitt, Michael Jung, and Oliver Townend. Bruce Davidson Sr. has won the event six different times, the highest amount out of any rider.
For more information on the Kentucky Three-Day Event, please click here to visit their website.
Having this historic competition close isn't the right result for the sport, and the United States Eventing Association (USEA) is working hard to find a solution. The organizer and landowners operate exceptional events on a beautiful piece of land. We are deeply sensitive to the history of the word "plantation" and its connection to slavery; however, this property has no known connections to slavery and was instead named after 'plantings' on the property.
After a quiet spring season due to COVID-19, the fall season is ramping up and this weekend we have the first of two West Coast CCI4*-S events taking place at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, California.
Dawn Robbins is a current USEA Board of Governors member, Area VI adult rider, and a contributor to the development of the Event Management System (EMS). Note that this article was written more than a year ago and serves as a guide for future USEA software development.
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