Monday, March 15, 2010

Something very RIGHT with the horse world.

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.


Beth said...

I don't have a lot of experience showing, but when I have gone to a few local shows to cheer on some friends, I love to see the supporters. Those that cheer for friend no matter if she gets a blue or skunked. The trainers that go up to a student after a class and encourage her for doing the best she could even if she did not place, but maybe did something else that has been a struggle. There is time to work on the things she need to get better at later.

stilllearning said...

It's too easy to get caught up in the negative.

There are good people out there, and good trainers, and sportsmanship, and's too bad that sometimes you have to look hard to find it, but it's there.

Thanks for the reminder!

Laura Crum said...

Terri, you three day eventers sound like a nice crowd. I also had very pleasant, supportive experiences competing at team roping. You once said (I think) that the cross country course and the stadium jumping separated the "men from the boys", so to speak, and you did not see the same political element in eventing that you saw in the dressage world. Team roping was much the same, in that as it is not judged and you really have to be able to "cowboy up" a little in order to throw the rope and catch the steer, it sort of cut out the dilettante type riders (which, yes, you did see at cuttings). Team ropers are mostly very supportive of each other, just as you say of eventers. Where I saw abuse was in the way the horses were (sometimes) treated. I am not a big fan of competition, but if we are going to compete with each other, it sure would be nice if people treated each other (and their horses) as kindly as you describe.

JackieB said...

I've been horseless for many years (that should change in the next 2 years), but I showed some as a kid (30 years ago). Our local saddle club was rather snotty and stuck up. More of a popularity contest than a horse club. So I didn't get a very good impression of showing or horse people.

I was involved in a draft horse club about 15 years ago. They are some of the nicest horse people I've ever met. They were kind and helpful to each other and to newbies like myself. Very different from the horse folks I met as a kid.

Anonymous said...

I am a beginning reiner and I have had a wonderful experience so far at the schooling and NRHA shows. True some of the trainers look down their noses at us beginners but I have a wonderful trainer who let's us take an occasional lesson and still treats us like his fulltime customers. He roots on everyone at the show and always tells you something you did well, even if it is tough to find it. We've accomplished so much with our o.k. horses and have had so much fun and made tons of wonderful friends. BTW I am middle aged and quite endowed and feel great when I don't fall off but because of his gentle encouragement and help with my horse we have become a great team, trainer, rider and most importantly my sweet gelding.

Terri Rocovich said...

Great comments everyone. I do think we need to spend more time looking for and emphasizng the positive.

Beth your local shows sound a lot like the gymkanas that I grew up riding in. All of us kids hung around the arena and yelled and cheered for everyone whether you were contending for a state championship or just trotting around the course.

Laura, my experience with the rodeo circuit in the 80s is like yours with team roping. Did not always like the way horses were treated but loved the rodeo family. And certainly not everyone in Eventing treats their horses like my standards but for the most part the horse's well being is everything because without they cannot perform well in such a demanding sport. For example, my horse Hank was not quite right this past weekend. Not lame but a little stiff in his back and just not as enthusiastic about his job. So today he got a checkup by my vet. Looks like he is a little sticky in his left hock so xrays tomorrow and possible injections. He also had a few dental points so we did his teeth (which he was due anyway) and he will get chiropractic and accupunture to alleviate the sore back which probably got sore due to the stiff hock. Seems like a lot I know and I shutter to see the vet bill, but it would be unfair and unkind of me to expect him to perform if something is hurting him.

Terri Rocovich said...

Jackie B and Anonymous,

I think we just need to find the show crowd and the type of trainer that we work well with. In my opinion it is always the job of the trainer to teach their students to be safe, kind and considerate to their horse and their fellow competitors and the trainer should always make their student feel good about themselves regardless of their skill level, talent or competitive success. When your students believe in themselves, it is amazing what they can achieve. I wish you both the very best. Anonynmous it sounds like you have a great trainer there..

little K said...

As someone new to the eventing world I was so pleased to see the sportsmanship that Terri talks about. I agree that eventing is not a sport for the faint of heart and I think for that reason a lot of the ego and drama is left out.

I come from the world of hunters and have seen all the stuff that gives competition a bad name. But I had a great coach as a kid and I was largely sheltered from the pressure, temper tantrums, abuse and politics. I was a sensitive, introverted kid so I really owe that coach my love of horses because I think had I been exposed to that at a young age I probably would of shut down and quit riding.

This same coach in addition to going to rated shows all season long also attends all the local fairs and parades in which the show and lesson kids get to ride. Those are the horsey outings I remember most from my childhood and I cherish the picture of me dressed up as Napolean riding an old grey arab schoolie in a parade way more than any ribbon I ever won. She really knows how to keep the fun in riding and judges can spot people who are riding because they love it and people who are in it because they love the attention it brings them. That spirt of fun and teamwork really improves our barn competively.

A.K. Alexander said...

Kaitlin is still smiling and walking on air anmd every time I think about it (especially after reading this now) I get a little emotional. It truly was an amazing experience. Even Dad got a bit teary eyed.

Terri Rocovich said...

Little K

Welcome to eventing, we are so glad to have you and I am so glad that you have had the same positive experiences as I have. I agree with everything you said. Your coach when you were a child sounds amazing and I think she had the same goals that I have as a coach/trainer. The most important success is the development of a responsible and kind horse person who will carry a love and passion for horses with them throughout their lives whether competeing or not.