By Terri Rocovich
After the many negative aspects that have been discussed on this blog over the past several weeks, I thought I would post a very positive one. As many of you know, I work full time as a trainer and compete in both Dressage and 3 Day Eventing in addition to teaching and being a National Examiner for the United States Pony Club. This past weekend, I took several students, ranging in age from 9 to 20 years old, to a USEA Horse Trails and although sometimes long and hard, the show personified everything that I love about the sport of Eventing and Pony Club.
Eventing is a tough sport where your scores are combined from the phases of Dressage, Show Jumping and Cross Country jumping with the competitor with the lowest scored penalties being the winner. The show this past weekend was one of the largest amounts of entries that we get in southern California with over 300 horses entered in 7 divisions. The shows are a seemingly endless process of warming up, making your ride, then cleaning your horse, your stall, your tack and then doing it all again for the next phase. It is not a sport for the passively involved horseman or the faint hearted. Jumping for some at any level is scary but jumping at the higher levels of Eventing takes serious bravery and skill with horses jumping up to 4 feet in height, with spreads as wide as 6 to 8 feet depending on the type of jump, drops as much as 6 ½ feet, at speeds as much as 570 mpm (about 30 mph). I really think that it is the hard work and bravery factor that makes Eventors a tighter knit community than other competitive riding disciplines.
Unlike what I have seen at Dressage shows and Hunter/Jumper shows, Eventors are a friendly, helpful bunch who is genuinely glad to see each other at each show. It is that community part of Eventing that I like the most, the camaraderie and sense of teamwork even though we are all competing against each other. I think that even though we are all very competitive, type A people for the most part; we all also know that just completing a horse trial is an accomplishment and can easily be happy for others when they are the one with the ribbon.
There were several things that happened this weekend that illustrated this positive side of the sport. The first is the story of little Kaitlin. Kaitlin, who happens to be the daughter of Michele Scot who also writes for this blog, was one of the students with me at the show. She is just 9 years old, a very serious young horsewoman, and this was her first big show. She was understandable nervous and a bit overwhelmed, but rode beautifully. What was even a more beautiful thing to watch was the older girls encouraging and helping her throughout the weekend. Kaitlin unfortunately drew a very early (7:30 a.m.) ride time for cross country on Sunday which meant getting her pony Monty ready at 6:00 a.m. in order for him to be fed, tacked, longed, and then warmed up before her course time. She set her own alarm (how many 9 years olds do that!) and was up and ready without an argument or fuss. Oh and remember that Saturday night was the time change so this is also Sunday with 1 less hour of sleep.
It was only after Kaitlin was on course and had jumped her 3rd fence that I heard a large and very boisterous group cheering her on. It was all of my older students and several of their friends that had all gotten up at the crack of dawn on a very cold (35 degrees) spring morning to route on a little girl in her first big show. Now how many teenagers do that! Kaitlin got First Place for her efforts and everyone at the show, even the people that she had beat, made a huge fuss and made her feel like a star. That is an experience and a sense of accomplishment that she will carry with her possibly for the rest of her life. Isn’t that what showing your horse is supposed to be all about?
Another thing that is unique to Eventing is how we share pertinent course information, even with our competitors. One of my students in one of the higher levels, had been watching an earlier division and reported that a particular fence had caused several riders to have refusals. I then went out to watch and determined that it was because the horses were coming off of a somewhat blind curve and there were many spectators in that area that might be momentarily distracting the horses. I went back to the warm-up and discussed this not only with my students in that division but also several other riders that I knew, that are coached by other trainers. At one point that afternoon, there were at least 5 trainers hanging out together, coaching our students, sharing information, discussing training tips and enjoying each other’s company. Yes as trainers we all compete for clients and horses, but that never entered my mind and don’t think it did theirs. We all like and respect each other and love the sport and the horses more than the competitive element.
With all the bad things that have happened in the competitive horse world I thought I would share some good experiences. The sport of Eventing has had its bad press and has fallen under criticism for the potential high risk of injury to horse and rider at the highest levels, but the USEA does constantly reassess safety and we do regularly reevaluate courses, speed and qualification processes to keep the sport as safe as possible. But there is also a lot that is right about the sport that I wanted to share.
What positive experiences have you had showing your horse in any discipline? Do I have the wrong impression of the Hunter/Jumper world??? Don’t you think that showing your horse should be more about friendships and personal accomplishments than ribbons and trophies? I would love to hear your opinions.