Katie Lindsay
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SOCIAL (or anti-social?) MEDIA

 The term “social media” has become a big part of our contemporary vernacular, and it strikes me as an especially dumb expression. Facebook, twitter, instagram, flickr and others that seem to have popped up overnight in many ways are cool, but there are also some negative sides to their existence. A wise friend once observed that despite all the amazing ways we have to communicate today, communication is no better than it was back in the pen-and-ink and face-to-face conversation days — and in fact, perhaps isn’t even as good.

The positive is that these methods of communication are great for keeping in touch with individuals that one otherwise would lose track of completely. From complicated marks on stones, drawings on cave walls, weird symbols on papyrus, formalized writing with pen and ink on paper, to typing, word processing, faxing, emailing, texting, and now facebooking and self-limiting quick notes via one or more of the above named platforms, we’ve evolved. It’s become a game of brevity, bad spelling, and increasing ease of function. All positive so far (except for the bad spelling). Calling a gathering together, asking for event volunteers, getting a quick message out to a selected audience, checking in on Granny. Good. Describing in excruciatingly graphic detail one’s day, one’s flu symptoms, or one’s daily caloric intake. Not bad, but definitely leaning strongly toward the tedious.

Where I take exception is when these instant access methods are used in an effort to be the first to know something. and to be seen as an insider to news whether accurate or not. (I won’t delve into the especially odious misuse in the form of bullying, sexual predatory behavior, etc. I’ll let the authorities deal with that!)

I first became aware of the “being the first to know via social media” syndrome several years ago at the event I ran. A horse tragically died in the dressage arena during a CIC Two Star test. Before order had been restored and the event restarted, something that took exactly eleven minutes start to finish, a report of the incident had appeared on the Chronicle Forum. It turned out that one of the volunteers submitted a not very accurate description of the incident via her smart phone. Really, really tacky. Not the way such things should be revealed. It’s gossiping over the back fence on steroids – and the sad thing is, absolutely nothing can be done to stop this. Watch the evening news if you can stomach it. People beating other people, traffic accidents, scenes from disasters – all grainy, jerky. out of context “true story” depictions via cell phone videos.

My other personal pet peeve is when social media use evolves from being an interesting personal report of happenings into blatant self promotion. It becomes a plunge from “Enjoy this moment through my eyes,” to “Look at me. Look at me. I am unbelievably talented and wonderful and deserve your adulation and support.” I can understand why an individual would want exposure in the public eye. Financial gain, potential political advantage. I’m just not sure this is the way to do it.

Speaking personally, (and bear in mind that writing a blog, by its very nature. is nothing more than an excuse to express personal opinion), I am much more impressed by what a person does than what he/she says he/she is going to do or has done. The phrase “Let the record speak for itself” applies here. I am also mindful of the Sports Illustrated hex. Many athletes who have appeared on a cover of this magazine have been jinxed by it and suffered a streak of bad luck. Alas, pride often does goeth before a fall. Ditto boastful comments.

Maximally effective manipulation of social media is a delicate balancing act. Use it judiciously, but don’t over use it.

Thanks for letting me prattle. Enjoy the day!

 

It’s Been Awhile

When my very own blog space was set up yesterday, I told Visionaire that it was like handing a loaded AK 47 to a hyperactive 4-year-old child. She knows I’m opinionated, that I’ve been around a long time and I’m not afraid to talk about things that may be controversial. I love it when people argue with what I’ve written. It means they are alive and thinking!

Originally a hunter rider and Master of Foxhounds, I’ve been active in the event world since the 1978 World Championships in Kentucky. I’ve competed, organized and served as both a USEF and an FEI official. I worked in the real world as a psychiatric social worker.

I love the sport of eventing, but I am also  concerned about many of the changes and shifting of attitudes that I perceive in the sport of late. In the upcoming months, I’ll write about some of these concerns and hopefully will spark some discussion. Before I start on this voyage, I’ll leave you with a short “Sportsman’s Charter” which was brought to my attention several months ago. It’s worth reading carefully and thinking very hard about.

THE SPORTSMAN’S CHARTER

That sport is something done for the fun of doing it and that it ceases
to be sport when it becomes a business only, something done for what
there is in it;

That amateurism is something of the heart and spirit – not a matter of
exact technical qualifications;

That good manners of sport are fundamentally important;

That the code must be strictly upheld;

That the whole structure of sport is not only preserved from the
absurdity of undue importance, but is justified by a kind of romance
which animates it, and by the positive virtues of courage, patience, good temper,
and unselfishness which are demanded by the code;

That the exploitation of sport for profit alone kills the spirit and retains
only the husk and semblance of the thing;

That the qualities of frankness, courage, and sincerity
which mark the good sportsman in private life
shall mark the discussions of his interests at a competition.

Until next time. Enjoy the day!

Katie

On Letting Go: Eventing Versus Seeking the Perfect Synchronized Twizzle

Olympian Julia Mancuso skis in the 2007 World Cup. Photo by Arthur Mouratidis via Wikimedia Commons.

Olympian Julia Mancuso skis in the 2007 World Cup. Photo by Arthur Mouratidis via Wikimedia Commons.

Like many Americans, I am obsessed with the Winter Olympics. I actually prefer them to the summer version. This year, something has become increasingly clear to me, both as an observer as well as a former mental health professional. Letting it mentally all hang out is even more essential for winning at the elite level of sport than pure athletic talent, preparation and training.

In downhill, the talking heads frequently repeat the phrase: “He/she has to let his/her skis run.” At first, this really didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense to my literal way of thinking. Skis are inanimate hunks of wood never destined to run a 5K on their own, right? I started paying closer attention as the athletes went hurtling down the icy slopes at terrifying speeds and had an AHA moment. The oft-repeated phrase listed above was actually a cutesy way of saying that winning skiers have the ability to stop trying to control every inch of their descent. Instead, they train themselves to pay maximum attention to where the skis are going and how they intend to get there rather than fighting them into a preconceived mold.

“Feeling over thinking” takes an almost super human ability to literally throw caution to the wind and just let it happen. This is pretty much against “normal” human nature that reacts to what is perceived as danger by striving to control the situation. Julia Mancuso, downhill skier, says she “skis with her heart.” Charlie White, half of the 2014 gold medal ice dancing team with Meryl Davis, talks about the movement they are doing “taking on a life of its own.” Jason Brown, a first time Olympic skater, says it all with his smile and his totally infectious enjoyment of living the moment.

Expanding upon this, it is interesting to follow some of the repeat performers at the Games who are there this year seeking a return to the tallest step on the podium. Shaun White, Bode Miller and Shani Davis come to mind. Each was a superstar in his earlier Olympic outings. Shaun and Bode were both pretty loose and unconventional in their approaches. They manifested a sense of joy in their performances.

Fast forward to this year’s Games. Shaun cut his hair and stopped being The Flying Tomato. In fact, he requested not to be called that anymore. It seemed he began taking himself very seriously. Now I’ve never done any extreme sport (except eventing if you want to call it that!), but I’m absolutely positive that you can’t be rigid and controlling while flying through the air upside down. Success at the half pipe, and all the new derivations of it, really is a matter of letting your board run and going along for the ride. A fearsome example of that is Sage Kotsenburg, a first-timer who became this year’s flying sensation. He admitted that he hadn’t been in a gym since January, and he secured his gold medal on opening day with a trick he had never performed before. Unconventional? Yes. Experiencing joy in doing his sport? Definitely. I’ll be curious to see if fame spoils him like it seems to have Shaun. I hope not!

Bode has been in the Olympic spotlight for 16 years. When he started out, he was definitely in the “bad boy” camp with his erratic and unconventional lifestyle and training habits along with his death-defying racing style. He lived his life and his skiing on the edge complete with a fair number of contentious incidents. This year, he seemed to be a changed man. He married a “soulmate” and grew up. His brother died, a tragedy that weighed heavily on him. For his first few races, he was a non-entity and looked absolutely miserable. In the Super G, the old Bode shone through, and it paid off with a bronze earned after a breathtaking run. Though marred by an especially tasteless NBC post-run interview, I was thrilled to see the effort he made to stop intellectualizing and instead concentrate on the feedback he was receiving from his skis. In short, he just did it (apologies to Nike).

Speed skater Shani Davis was another tremendous disappointment early in the Games. (Disclaimer: This is being written in the middle of Olympic week, so I don’t know if he managed to get it together.) I couldn’t help but be reminded of  the rise and fall of Michael Phelps. They both burst on the scene of their respective sports and set records by skating and swimming with blazing speed. This year in Sochi, Shani seemed to have lost the ol’ fire in his belly. He (and the rest of the U. S. skaters) spent quite some time and energy blaming their new high tech suits for their failure, yet when they were allowed to switch back to their old suits, they were still well out of the medals. Instead of that fabulous long-swooping skate that Shani was famous for, he looked choppy and tense. Too much thinking and not enough feeling?

For those of you who have managed to bear with me this far, I’m sure you are asking “WTF does the Olympic winter sports have to do with the sport of eventing, and why is this crap being written for an equestrian blog?” Valid questions, but honestly, there is a point there somewhere!

I was recently watching film clips of the Montreal Olympics, the ‘78 World Championships in Lexington, and a hunter round put down by Bernie Traurig some 20 years ago. True, by current standards, the eventing courses looked somewhat crude and relatively simplistic even though they were considered state of the art in their time. What tremendously impressed me, though, was the riding styles in all three tapes. The good ones were forward, balanced and harmonious. Riders were not chugging down to the fences battling to find the perfect spot. Instead, they seemed to be just listening to their horses and “doing it.”

When did our riding philosophy change? When did the intellectual approach start to supersede the feeling one and why? True, courses have become a lot more technical — but did this happen because of a change in philosophy, or did the change happen because of a change in the courses? Granted, instead of inanimate hunks of wood, we are partnering with living beings — beings as capable as we are of having bad days, nerves, fear, boredom, fatigue, etc. But have we stopped paying attention to that very fact, and are we instead thinking too much about the end by trying to dominate the journey instead of enjoying it?

I love watching the Brits ride. I’m sure William Fox-Pitt thinks a bit about spots and distances, things we seem to obsess about, but I think he mostly eases into the proper gear and pretty much lets the horse he is riding figure it out. Lucinda Green in her clinics never sets schooling questions at any preconceived or traditional distances. She wants the rider to keep coming and let the horse learn how to solve the problems. This is a much more feeling approach.

I started showing in the hunter ring in the days in which a really brilliant galloping horse with a great bascule was highly sought after. Today, it’s gone so far the other way that it would appear that the number of steps a horse takes in between fences is much more important than the actual quality of the fences. It’s become so mechanical that the horse might as well be an inanimate hunk of wood!

I fear for our wonderful sport when I see Novice riders grimly counting strides on course walks and struggling to find distances on cross country. What happened to letting it flow after finding the proper gear? It’s a style I hope we can get back to at all levels. It worked for a lot of years, and hopefully it will have a chance to work again!.

Katie Lindsay: About Level Playing Fields

We’re pleased to welcome back Katie Lindsay with a guest blog concerning the confusion at Plantation Field CIC3* cross-country last weekend where multiple falls happened at the drop into water before it was removed from the course.  As a former event organizer and USEA technical delegate, and current FEI steward, Katie can offer a unique perspective on the matter.  Many thanks to Katie for writing, and thank you for reading.

 

There has been a great deal of chatter in the last few days about the CIC3* at Plantation and the falls that occurred on Cross Country at Fences 15 A,B and C. Four falls happened at or in relation to 15A, a drop into water, and one happened at C., a skinny, where the horse hung a leg. Additionally, there were two near misses after A. The Ground Jury wisely called for a hold on course and Fences A and B were removed with only C remaining. The time was also readjusted to account for this. It was a wise decision.

There are a zillion theories out there about why the falls occurred especially considering that the same complex had apparently jumped well the day before for the national Advanced division. Additionally, a handful of horses went through the complex with no problem before it was altered. I wasn’t there so I can’t join the chorus. What I do know is that falls happen. Every time a horse takes a step, it’s a crapshoot. Life is a crapshoot! Some horses don’t give a damn and don’t try to save themselves. It is hoped that these hapless souls quickly find another occupation.

Any horse and any rider can fall at some time or other, and the chances increase exponentially the bigger the efforts, the more complex the question, and the faster the speeds. This can even happen twice without too much concern depending on the circumstances. When a horse has a series of falls in a relatively short period of time, however, the warning bells sound. A horse who has had such a series, but whose record doesn’t show it might ostensibly be referred to as a disaster waiting to happen for a buyer who doesn’t know the facts.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Our governing bodies keep records of horse and rider performances, and they have built in conditions aimed at furthering safety in the sport. Citing only the USEF rules for Preliminary and above, any horse who falls twice within a twelve month period loses its qualification to compete at that level and must obtain two qualifying rounds at the next lower level in order to be reestablished. Similarly, a rider who falls from the same horse three times within a twelve month period also must reestablish qualification on that horse. There is a caveat that at the Advanced, Three and Four Star levels, a rider may petition the USEF Eventing Credentials Committee for review and redress.

Rules and restrictions can be really boring. Ask any event official who has to deal with them on an ongoing basis! Most rules in our society are written in response to bad things that have happened – designed in part to “git” the bad guys who do the bad things. Specifically in our sport, however, rules are there for two more important reasons – safety of horse and rider, and the maintenance of a level playing field for all.

There seems to be an accepted though to my knowledge unwritten practice that a Ground Jury can change a Mandatory Retirement (MR for horse fall) and Rider Fall (RF) to R, Retired, if they feel such a move is justified. These horses are out of the competition anyway, but their records do not show either the MR or RF designation, just R which means they voluntarily left the course. Hiding information which can come back to bite someone is just not right. Here comes the diatribe. I feel this practice is wrong on many levels.

First and foremost, it is in effect hiding potentially dangerous events from a horse’s record thus creating a potentially hazardous situation for a buyer. In the case of a rider, perhaps this rider is not capable of riding at this level or is dangerously out of sync with that particular horse. Being made to drop down a level to requalify seems to me to be a pretty damn good idea. Safety first, remember?

The second reason that I feel this practice needs to be addressed is that it is somewhat punishing for the horses who correctly and safely addressed the original problem. Even though it is absolutely right to remove a potential hazard from the course, it in essence is making the problem simpler for the horses who follow. Level playing field? Maybe these horses could be rewarded somehow? Tackling the unevenness is for people much brighter than I am, but I think it is something that should be looked into. Happily, none of the falls at this event incurred serious injury, and assistance was on hand promptly and efficiently.

Katie Lindsay: Three Years Later

Last week, we re-published an article written by Katie Lindsay from April 2010, entitled “Where Have All The Good Times Gone?”  We asked readers if they thought the sport had changed since then, for better or worse.  Katie decided to examine some of those questions, and we’re pleased to bring you her follow up to that original article, now three years later.  Many thanks to Katie for writing, and for her continued support of Eventing Nation.  And thanks to you for reading!

katherinelindsay.jpg

From Katie:

When I checked my email the other morning, I found several messages liking my article on EN. Much as I love getting positive reinforcement, (who doesn’t?), I didn’t have a clue what the senders were talking about. I haven’t written for EN in several months, and I hadn’t yet checked my usual morning go-to sites – EN, the COTH Forum, and Facebook. Instead, I was busy playing a cut throat game of Words with Friends that had taken precedence.

I am flattered to have EN select my 2010 article “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” as worthy of reprinting, and three years later, it still expresses some of my concerns about our sport. At the risk of being accused of talking to myself like a garden variety schizophrenic, I am going to respond to some of my own questions and maybe along the way, pose some new ones.

The gist of Visionaire’s questions in her introduction to the article asked if our sport has changed since 2010. Has the change been for the better? For the worse? Sadly, I’m unable to give a definitive answer. In some ways it’s better, in some ways it’s worse. Playing on the theme of the article, has our sport regained some of the good times that it had “back when?”

I am not going to turn this into an op-ed about the long versus the short format. That topic has been chewed to death. The evident popularity of the Training and Novice Three Days since their inception is encouraging as both educational and fun. However, they must be seen and marketed as goals in themselves, lower level Olympic Games to strive for. I think it is absolutely delusional to believe that these lower level success stories will have any impact whatsoever toward reviving the long format at the upper levels. The di has been cast there. With the exception of Mary Fike’s long format Preliminary in the fall, other attempts have faded off into the sunset because, despite the loud chatter, the entries just weren’t there. It is what it is … Better or worse? In some ways better and in some ways worse.

I am seeing more and more pressure and stress in the recognized events than there was three years ago, and certainly than there was “back when.” Qualifying for this and that is a huge factor at all levels. Riders chase around like mad to make their bones so they can go on to future things – Young Riders, advancing up the FEI food chain of stars, the AEC’s, Area Championships, whatever.

Added pressure has also been imposed on most participants in the game. Organizers, course designers, trainers, clinicians, riders, owners, volunteers, parents, officials. The list goes on and on. Those who put on the events feel pressure to “kick it up a notch,” offer more and more in the way of amenities, courses, prizes. They hear the background rumble for cash prizes along with lower costs to the participants. Simultaneously, they are burdened with more and more rules, “have to’s” and suggestions from the governing bodies of the sport.

I ran a large event for a number of years that hosted CIC *. ** and *** divisions as well as national competition from Training through Advanced. When the event tanked in 2009, I did a one eighty and started an eventing Derby with dressage and two jumping phases. We kind of invented and tweaked our own rules as we went along. The first year, the Secretary called me as he was handing out packets and asked “What is the rule about …” (whatever it was). I answered “I don’t know. What do you think it should be?” “I think we shouldn’t allow it,” he said. “O.K., that’s the rule then,” I decided.

How much less stressful than having to go through bureaucratic hoops and a ream of rule books?  True, there is potential anarchy implicit in such practices, but it sure is fun – and we’ve continued our tweaking every year since then. Competitors seem to respond favorably to the relaxed atmosphere as well. This year, and two years before, it actually snowed on one of the three days, but everyone managed to stay cheerful with that wonderful old time eventing spirit of “We can tough our way through this and find a way to enjoy ourselves!” Forgive the digression, but this is the spirit I want to see more of in our fancier events. Too much grimness and pressure, much of which I suspect is self-inflicted.

Trainers/coaches/instructors feel pressure to show that they can produce winners. They make a living doing what they do, and improved levels of quality are becoming necessary, but elusive butterflies to chase. Riders, an increasing number of whom make their entire living from eventing, are constantly looking for their next equine super stars. This in itself is scarily expensive. Since 2010, there seems to be a marked increase in syndicating horses. Finding and keeping supporters to share a dream adds lots of stress and pressure.

In so very many ways, eventing has completely ceased to be a sport that’s very comfortable for lower and middle level amateurs. Like our society which has lost the middle class, eventing is floundering between the very high profile individuals, and those who are struggling to find a way to enjoy their horses in competition. Better or worse? Sadly, I think the scales have tipped into the worse category.

Probably as a result of the added pressures discussed above, and much to the distress of our governing bodies, there has been in the past three years, at least in my Area, an increase in the quantity and quality of unrecognized competitions being offered as a viable option to the more sophisticated – and costly – recognized events. Previously, the mantra I heard repeatedly was that unrecognized competitions were bad and even dangerous because they weren’t subject to our associations’ rules.

I think this has changed. The “little” events also present a venue in which the “average” backyard horse can compete and maybe even have a shot at placing. They also offer a more affordable place where a potential eventer can get his/her feet wet and see if he/she wants to go on to a higher level of sophistication. Better or worse? Better I think.

The basic core values of eventers’ profiles is basically unchanged. Competitive? Yes. Dedicated to their horses? Big yes. Good work ethic? Mostly yes. A more carefree, can do spirit than that evidenced in other similar disciplines? Again, mostly yes.  What has changed is the environment in which those who make up the heart of eventing came from, and the environment in which they are asked to function. For whatever reason, entry level numbers at recognized events have seen a slight downturn. This is worrisome. Coupled with the rise in smaller more casual events, I believe something has gone askew.

OK then, what to do about it if in fact all the above is reality? It’s easy to point a finger, but really hard to find solutions. It’s like a big snowball rolling downhill. The really upsetting thing that has resulted is an escalation of the “me” versus “them” mindset. Organizers snipe about riders, riders grumble about organizers. Officials are easy blame game targets for everybody. Nobody sets out to do a crappy job, and everyone faces challenges. That’s a given. Simplistic as it sounds, if everyone would agree to “play nice” for just one event, maybe some of the fun would come back … or maybe not.

Katie Lindsay: Organizing — Then and Now

 

I’ve spent so many years organizing eventing competitions that I think I have finally achieved “Relic” status. My first gig was in 1980, two years after switching disciplines from hunters to eventers after attending the ’78 Worlds in Kentucky, and it’s been non-stop ever since. My last National hurrah was in 2009 when I ran the final Maui Jim Horse Trials in Area IV, (CIC 3* through training), and later that same year, the American Eventing Championships at Lamplight Equestrian Center. Since then, I’ve downsized and find myself happily organizing the Wayne Eventing Derby, also at Lamplight, an informal competition run under nobody’s rules except those concerning safety. What a change of pace – from the confines of the F.E.I., U.S.E.F. and U.S.E.A. to derby rules of the road as designed and imposed by us. Yes!!

The reason for this rather tedious intro is to confirm that I have the creds to write about organizing “Then” and organizing “Now.” It’s changed a lot, just as our world has changed a lot. Some changes are good, others not so much.

At the onset of my organizing “career,” there existed in our society a strong commitment to the concept of volunteering. Wonderful people would set aside huge chunks of both time and resources to do all the things that go into prepping for and running an event. We designed our own courses and built our own fences, mowed our own competition areas with our own mowers, housed and transported our officials, and basically did everything. We were very good at scrounging materials for jumps with old railroad ties and telephone poles being the favorites. This was fun, and we were very proud of our efforts. We also avoided spending any money at all, relying solely upon the largesse of others.

As a result, our entry fees were low, in retrospect commensurate with the lack of polish of our finished product. Our expectations were pretty basic too. We relied solely on rain to soften our galloping lanes. The flags and numbers were hand cut, hand painted and lettered plywood that by the second season had warped and faded, and our penalty zones (!) were marked with pieces of lath we scrounged from scrap heaps. I remember the joy of discovering engineering flags that could be poked into the ground without having to drill a hole first. (Yes, we live in concrete clay country!) Water jumps were basically stream crossings with flags (if one were lucky), or non-existent depending on what was available on site. Scoring was done laboriously by hand on huge cardboard charts from the (then) USCTA, program copy was done on typewriters, and postcards with ride times were sent through the mail. Cross country communication was done by a HAM radio club, and safety was a guy with a Motorola bag phone. Computers were things that existed only on entire floors of the Pentagon. Steve Jobs had yet to put the mainstream stamp on our communication culture.

In the mid to late 80’s, things started to change. Eventers from all facets of the sport began venturing outside their familiar comfort zones, and they got a glimpse of how the rest of the world was doing it. Rolex and Radnor became the standards to shoot for. Concurrently, the spirit of volunteerism began to weaken. I suspect that there are many reasons for this. People found that the time they could devote to non-paying activities was dwindling thanks to the demands of day to day living. (Funny how life gets in the way of a lot of things!) Leisure time became jealously guarded as societal pressures and demands multiplied.

The farther afield competitors traveled from their own back yards, the higher their expectations became. Better courses, better fences, better footing, better officials, better amenities. The $75 a day official became a thing of the past. Event organizers realized that they lacked both the resources and the knowledge to deal with the ensuing demands, and they also became aware that they would have to upgrade their events, or watch their market share shrink. Concurrently, our governing organizations began imposing more and more demands. I remember how scary it was when I signed the contract for our first big time professional course designer. I envisioned a life on the street corner with a tin cup selling copies of Streetwise to pay for it!

Like in life, growing up was painful and quite scary too. Organizers understood that they would have to spend money – a lot of money – to do the necessary upgrades that would keep their events alive. Where would these funds come from? Individuals were tapped through fund raising pleas, but it became evident that everyone was trying to draw from the same pot, and there really wasn’t enough to go around. Fund raising activities were devised, some quite clever. Name a jump. Silent auctions. Benefit parties. Horseless horse shows. Hitting up local businesses. In short, the fun, casual, rough and ready backyard competitions were faced with going pro. Some organizers opted to buck that tide with far from stellar results. A few events were very lucky in attracting major sponsorship. This helped, but it was soon obvious that a fair share of the burden was going to have to be assumed by those enjoying the fruits of our labor, the competitors.

Sadly and somewhat inexplicably, side by side with upped demands and higher entry fees, comes a growing sense of individual entitlement. This is seen everywhere in our society and is not limited to our small sphere. “I paid  $xxxx to be here. Why can’t I school now?” “You mean I have to pay for shavings too?” The pitch in and help fix it attitude is becoming more and more rare.

I have no idea where all this change will go. I can only speak from personal experience. Looking back, I see a gradual, annual increase in the number of people we pay to do stuff that previously volunteers would do. I love doing the Derby because it embodies some of the easy going atmosphere of events that happened “Then.” Nobody is point chasing or running around after qualifying scores. The scoring system, devised by us, is unconventional and designed to be competitor oriented. Stabling is on a first come, first served basis. That being said, there are several “Now” aspects of the event organizing game that I can not or will not do without, and these are individuals we gladly pay because they ensure a seamless experience for our riders. The world’s best Secretary and his evententries.com. Highly ranked National officials. A licensed course designer. A professional announcer. A beautiful, sophisticated facility. Good communications with plenty of rented state of the art radios. Great paramedics. Whatever the cost, I refuse to put on a crummy competition,  and therefore, we do a bit better than break even, but not much.

To anyone thinking of putting on an event, I have a word of advice. Go to as many events as you can and watch carefully how things are done. Don’t be afraid to spend money on essential things like cross country course design, jump building, footing, excellent personnel. It’s pretty scary to hear an organizer boast of the several thousand dollars worth of flowers they bought while their facility is crumbling and their cross country jumps are held together with duck tape.

And above all, have fun doing it! If it becomes a chore, find another way to occupy your spare time.

Katie Lindsay — Some Post Olympics Musing

Event organizer and EN guest writer extraordinaire has kindly sent us her thoughts about the Olympics as the dust settles on a disappointing trip to London for North America.
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There is an urban legend that appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated is the kiss of death for any athlete or team of athletes.  I couldn’t help but think of this as I watched the London Olympics unfold earlier this month.  Had our riders in all three Olympic disciplines been on the cover of S.I. without our knowing it?  Beezie, McLean, Boyd, Phillip, Stefan.  They were all touted as the American steady and reliable Team stalwarts who would lead the charge toward American medals.  The closest we came to the podium in eventing was Karen on a new partner who had nonetheless raised some eyebrows earlier this spring, Rich in jumping, a relative unknown who was enjoying a great streak and Steffen who finished in the teens, dismal for him and the lovely Ravel.  I even read an opinion on a Forum bemoaning the selection of Tiana and Will to the Eventing team because of the pressure it would put on Phillip and Boyd.  Hello?  Sadly, the court of public opinion can be insidious.

I watched a similar phenomenon also in several other sports.  Michael Phelps didn’t medal in his first race that he “had in the bag” and admitted that he had not trained hard enough.  The totally dominating U.S. basketball team phoned in the first part of the gold medal game against Spain and only managed to squeak by.  Gabby Douglas was an overnight sensation and media darling early in the week, but failed on her best apparatus after being labeled a shoo in for a second individual gold.  Michael and Gabby were able to regroup and win medals in later competitions, a luxury not shared by the equestrians.

And the point of all this?

Competition can be a treacherous Goddess, even more so at the Olympic level where everyone is just so damn good.  Lose focus for a nanosecond, cheat on your training regimen, and you flirt with disaster.  In our horse sports, you are also dealing with a living partner who, like you, is subject to bad days.  I’ve yet to see a kayak with a headache or suffering from lack of sleep!

The Brits were nothing short of spectacular.  When they swept the Dressage Team and Individual medals, leaving the perennially favored Germans and Dutch, (including the rollkur Queen herself), in the dust, I was amazed.  It seems I had dozed through the last decade of “Big D” Dressage and never noticed that they had quietly been moving up the competitive ladder.  When I last followed such things, they were in mid pack.  They were seriously hungry for this success; much like the Canadian eventers, going in to the WEG in 2010.

One athlete at the Games during one of those deathless post event interviews said that it is harder to win the second and third medals than to win the first one.  It’ll be interesting to see if the Brits can maintain.  Their eventers have, but they seem to be a different breed altogether.  The Canadians have sadly fallen apart since their moment in the sun in Kentucky.  Did they fall victim to believing their own press clippings?

Success can be a humbling double-edged sword.  Ask anyone who one weekend gets top scores, and the next finishes at the bottom of the heap.  We get lured into a comfortable sense of infallibility and lose that motivating thirst for success.

I can’t accept the “bad luck/what if” string of excuses.  Yes, bad luck does happen.  Otis injured himself on course.  Amistad’s injury caused the sad end of a lovely horse’s career.  These I believe are Acts of God bad luck.  Pilot error/break in focus mishaps aren’t.

What is the answer?  I wish I knew, and I hope David O’Connor and whoever ends up with the Canadians can figure out a solution.  One thing seems to be an important, but not all encompassing factor.  The Brits and the Germans and probably the Dutch are products of nationally funded programs.  The athletes can afford in general to concentrate on their training as well as on bringing along promising young horses at a sensible pace.  In the States, riders are so busy working to make ends meet that by necessity, their focus is split.  Instead of enjoying the luxury of totally concentrating on their horses, their days are spent promoting themselves, doing clinics and camps, teaching, putting together syndicates and turning over resale projects.  There aren’t enough hours in the day.

Lest we think outside funding is the magic panacea however, I think it will first be necessary to face some painful questions. Are our riders hungry enough?  Will our riders put Egos aside and come together to trust and follow one coordinated program?  Are our riders good enough?

None of these are questions that anyone wants to hear spoken, but dealing with these doubts honestly is the only way we can hope to rebuild our eventing program.

Katie Lindsay: Derby Within A Derby

Event organizer and EN guest writer extraordinaire Katie Lindsay has written a brief essay about the Wayne Eventing Derby in Area IV.  Katie sent this in to us just before Rolex, and sadly it got delayed until the mayhem died down a little.  We apologize for being a bit late in recognizing the Wayne Eventing Derby, which sounds like it was a great success.  Thanks for writing this Katie and thank you for reading.

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DERBY WITHIN A DERBY

 

On April 13-15, the third annual Wayne Eventing Derby, fast becoming a popular season opening fixture on the Area IV dance card, added a new division of competition to its schedule. Called a “Derby Within a Derby,” it was a class held on the final day of the regular Derby, in an arena adjacent to the “big guys” arena, and run under the same mantra of relaxed fun. The division was limited to horses who had never competed anywhere – recognized events, schooling shows, mini events – and was basically geared toward youngsters, ex-racehorses, and horses of any age who were just starting out.

 

In Area IV, there are a lot of OTTB’s, (Off The Track Thoroughbreds), and homebreds, and The Wayne organizers felt that there was a big need for a place to start these horses in their competitive careers without the stress or high cost of a regular event or horse show. The format and pricing were worked out with an eye to this market.

 

The D.W.D. was run as follows. Horses were shown as a group in a hunter hack walk/trot/canter format. They then returned to the ring individually to jump a course of 6 fences not exceeding two feet in height. Included were an X to start with followed by several verticals, a flower box fence, and an oxer. The venue was Lamplight Equestrian Center, a well decorated show facility with a “big time” feel to it so there was a lot for these greenies to look at. The owner of a local hunter facility kindly judged it. Horses were allowed to school and familiarize themselves in the morning. As one member of the show committee explained, “This really isn’t about competition. Instead, we wanted to provide as positive an educational experience for the youngsters as possible.”

 

It was interesting to observe horses as seen through the eyes of a hunter judge, and the final placings differed from what they could have been if evaluated by someone with a dressage background. There seemed to be more emphasis on way of going, freedom of gaits and potential. It was judged numerically with points for each gait and jumping performance being awarded and then added together to determine an overall score.

 

 

From the feedback, this experiment was apparently a success with 12 horses of varying breeds and experience levels entered. One local breeder summed up the general opinion of the concept. “The ‘derby in a derby’ class was the single most useful schooling tool ever. The affordability, the relaxed atmosphere, the format – all contributed to a great start for our young horses. I’m restraining myself from begging…. more please.”

 

Thanks for reading. Go Baby Eventers!

 

Colleen Rutledge was a huge hit at the USEA Area IV Annual Meeting

EN contributor and good friend Katie Lindsay was kind enough to send us a recap of Colleen Rutledge’s contribution to the USEA Area IV Annual Meeting.  The report is courtesy of our friends at the USEA Area IV Website.

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From Katie Lindsay:

Nora Endzel and I. the euphemistically named “USEA Area IV Directors of Communication,” (read Web and Newsletter drones), attended the Area IV Annual Meeting on March 24. We compared notes afterwards and agreed that, 1), the evening’s guest speaker, Colleen Rutledge, is both impressive and an inspiration, and 2). Colleen’s speech contained words of wisdom appropriate for anyone involved in any sporting endeavor, specifically in this case eventing. Nora is an active amateur eventer who juggles a full time job and law school in addition to successfully competing her OTTB Nila, (Daddy’s Girl). I retired from both my profession in the Mental Health field and competing, and concentrated on being an organizer and a USEF and FEI official.

The attendees at the meeting represented most every facet of our sport – riders, trainers, coaches, officials, organizers, parents, breeders, facility owners and volunteers along with many Pony Clubbers – and Colleen’s tale touched chords in everyone in different ways. Following is Nora’s recap of the evening from a competitive rider’s point of view followed by a couple of paragraphs from me on why I find Colleen a fascinating human being.

FROM NORA:

I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Colleen Rutledge last weekend at the USEA Area IV Annual Meeting and listening to her speak. My fellow website/newsletter editor Katie Lindsay had a few extra seats at her table with Colleen and invited me to join them for dinner. Because of this, not only did I hear her speak to the group at her allotted time. but I also got to see pictures of her horses and family on her iPad, listen-in as she discussed her other up and coming horses, and hear her candidly describe in a really funny and self-deprecating manner the challenges of competing an upper-level horse.

But you, dear reader, are less interested in my star-struck moments, (a recurring theme from previous entries such as my recap of the USEA Annual Meeting and the High Performance Training Sessions in Ocala, FL), and more interested in what Colleen had to say. What struck me the most about her is how she gives absolute credit all the time to Luke, her “freak of nature” horse. She loves Luke madly and she’s not afraid to show it. As an Adult Amateur who competes a horse that, as my trainer says, “I couldn’t make stop if I tried,” I understand fully how much credit is due to our equine partners. Colleen is too humble though. She has quite obviously developed such a wonderful partnership with Luke that he jumps the Cottesmore Leap at Burghley from a long spot without a second look! And she has the pictures to prove it.

Luke wasn’t always destined for upper-level eventing greatness, but Colleen saw something special in him and worked hard to develop that. How you say? Well, Colleen’s training philosophy includes not limiting your horse, but rather letting him set the limits of his comfort. She never tells a horse he can’t do something, but rather tries to allow him to figure out that he can. She believes in making mistakes while training to teach your horses to think for themselves. Even on a 4-star course, you should be able to make a mistake and have your horse say “It’s OK. I’ve got this.” Not being afraid to make mistakes while training builds a more confident horse who can think on his feet, an essential skill in eventing.

Another takeaway from Colleen was how strenuously she advocates for correct position of the rider at all times. She said that if your trainers are not constantly emphasizing correct position in all three phases, then they are doing you a disservice. She describes how, on the last day of a big four star competition, going into show jumping with a tired horse, as a rider it is her job to be as correct and effective with her position over fences to help her horse jump as efficiently as possible. As someone who struggles with correct position and its effect on my horse’s balance, I can fully appreciate this point. We must allow our horses to think for themselves, surely, but correct rider position is the key to helping and not hindering them.

Colleen is quite open about her flaws as a rider and it was fun to watch her cringe a bit at a stadium photo where she insists she dropped her shoulders at the fence. (It looked pretty darn good to me!) But this underscores a more important point about Colleen. She has an absolutely humble outlook on her success and is really open about her quest for improvement. She knows she has a lot to work on in the dressage, and her commitment to taking near constant lessons with Linda Zang while juggling running a farm, a business, and a family show just how serious she is in pursuing her goal of continued success with Luke.

Her horse care philosophy is simple. You likely won’t find lots of trendy therapy equipment in her barn. Colleen is a BIG believer in bodywork for her horses, especially chiropractic and massage. Luke gets regular adjustments, and she really has seen a benefit in that.

Colleen fielded questions from the group about topics such as her secrets to horse management, (chiropractic): the easiest way to get to Rolex. (buy a ticket!): to how did Luke get his name, (he came with it. She admitted that she didn’t even know Shiraz was a type of wine). Overall, it was really great to meet a 4 star rider and an Olympic hopeful who is humble, committed, talented, and not afraid to tell a group full of strangers how much she loves that little freak of nature horse of hers. Just don’t ask her to measure him.

FROM KATIE:

To say that Colleen Rutledge is focused and intense is like saying Zenyatta was a pretty decent race horse. What I found fascinating about her went way beyond these two characteristics. Our sport at the “elite” level is peopled with focused and intense individuals. What sets Colleen apart from the pack is how centered she is, and what a realistic view she has of how she fits into the life she leads. In a recent interview in Practical Horseman, she acknowledged that humor is something she relies on in all situations, laughing at herself as hard as she does at the world around her. This comes across in a healthy and refreshingly self-deprecating way. She is also outspoken and doesn’t have the time or the inclination to play the games that many of her peers do.

Life is not a bed of roses for Colleen. Two of her three children have serious health issues, and she readily admits that her “other” life with horses is what keeps her sane. Her fabulous horse Shiraz, “Luke,” described by her longtime coach, Jimmy Wofford as both wonderful and “unconventional,” is wildly talented and difficult – and she loves him wholeheartedly. She credits the support of her husband, Brian, and her mother, Sallie Morris, a small animal veterinarian, along with a devoted circle of friends with enabling her to follow her dream with this horse.

Colleen does dare to dream, from the mundane to the “ice skate” variety so named because they would probably come true when Hell freezes over! Her 2011 first ever trip to Rolex in any capacity ended up with a 12th place finish. Luke next skipped around Burghley last fall, and things are on track for Badminton this spring. Brian is her chief fund raiser, and they have all worked very hard at it. Being not included on any of the 2012 USET training or grant lists was something that caused quite a furor to the eventing “man on the street.” In response, Colleen has quietly taken the bit in her teeth and forged ahead on her own path. Did I also mention determined and brave to her list of positive qualities? Yes, she dares to dream, but keeps her feet firmly planted on the ground whilst so doing.

I am grateful that this smart and private person let me have a peek at what makes her tick. She is extraordinary, and one can’t help but be a fan. I know she now has many new ones in Area IV!

Donations to help fund Colleen’s Badminton dream can be made through the American Horse Trials Foundation or Colleen’s website http://colleenrutledgeeventing.com.

Thanks for reading!

Katie Lindsay: One Fall and (Sort Of) Out

By now, Katie Lindsay hardly needs an introduction on Eventing Nation.  But, I just wanted to express my gratitude to Katie for, as always, fostering intelligent discussion on controversial issues.  In this particular instance I disagree with Katie for reasons I have already written, but she makes a great case for the other side of the argument, a side which very well could be right.  Take it away Katie…
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One of the “hot button” issues in the eventing world today is the USEF one fall and out rule (EV 141). It seems that everyone has a strong opinion about it, and this has resulted in much spirited and heated debate in many arenas, including but not limited to several threads on the Chronicle Forum. The most recent posting by the ubiquitous and often thought provoking JER once again brought out strong dialogue on both sides of the issue.

Having recently commissioned a rather stylish designer flame retardant suit, I would like to try out its effectiveness and list the main reasons why I passionately believe that the one fall and out rule is a tremendously good one on many levels. I welcome comment, and I’m sure there will be lots, but please don’t drag out the too often used “What about the stupid pop off and land on one’s feet fall. Why is that punished” argument. It’s been used too often. Regrettably, with any ruling, some dolphins will be caught along with the sharks, but that does not make the rule an unfair or ineffective one.

Recently, a recommendation was made to the USEF Eventing Technical Committee that the fall and out rule be rescinded at the lower levels – training, novice and beginner novice – but remain in effect at preliminary and above. The rationale behind this is that statistically, head injuries have been tracked to occur mainly at the levels that run with greater speed and complexity. The more I mull upon this proposal, the weirder it strikes me. What is being said here? Are “lower level” heads less valuable than the “upper level” equivalents?

Moreover, what does rescinding and reshaping this rule say in a broader sense? When the measure was passed several years ago, it was imposed under the guise of being a safety measure. “Carrying on” after a fall and possibly not remembering anything about it can be a pretty dangerous situation. And yes, it has been proven that concussions can and do happen even when one’s head isn’t hit – even when the landing might take place on one’s butt or on one’s feet. Aside from scoring considerations which will be discussed later, elimination after a fall made sense. Now comes the idea of partially taking back a policy which people are just starting to get used to albeit with occasional grumpiness. Are we now saying that safety doesn’t matter as much as soothing the hurt feelings of a person whose day may have ended prematurely with a fall?

Currently, there is a great deal of national attention finally being paid to the long term effects of concussions, especially involving younger people. Being a Chicago native, the tragic suicide of Dave Duerson, a member of the 1985 Super Bowl Bears who lived with the effects of his football related concussions, and whose brain per his own request has been left to science for further study, especially hit home with me as it related to the equestrian sports. If our national federation does in fact rescind, or partially rescind a rule designed to improve safety, what kind of a P.R. message are we sending? “We don’t care about the effects of concussions. We’d rather appease the members of a very vocal group who feel it unfair that they can’t stumble on their merry way following a fall.” W.T.F.?

On the subject of safety, I believe that the one fall and out rule is an important one for the potential well being of the horse. A rider falls. If the fall has occurred in connection with jumping a fence, he has most likely lost whatever placing he might have ended up in along with any potential Qualifying score. Assuming all the parts are functioning, he is thus probably pretty pissed off and also cognizant of the effect his fall has had on his score. Remounting, he scampers off at breakneck speed to make up for lost time. This can be hazardous as can riding in an angry and emotional frame of mind. Sure you’re going to be plenty hacked off if your one fall ends your day on that horse – but at least the horse isn’t going to be possibly placed in harm’s way.

Prior to the passage of one fall and out, the management of a fall on cross country was a cumbersome and imperfect (at best) procedure. Time was to be taken while a medical person evaluated the rider as deemed necessary by the witnessing personnel, usually a jump judge. Now, nobody loves volunteer jump judges more than I do. They are the real heroes of any event. That being said, however, 99% of them would be the first to say that they are not qualified to make such a fitness evaluation. The least qualified person to make that evaluation is in fact the rider. One of the sad symptoms of some individuals who have concussions is their adamant denial that anything is wrong. It’s lumped under the catch all phrase “impaired judgement.” One fall and out is so much clearer and potentially safer and makes the jobs of both officials and organizers so much more manageable.

I could go on, but by now I think you’ve got the gist that I’m a fan. I do welcome comments, but please remember to play nice! We’re all in this sandbox together.

Katie Lindsay — We All Have To Give A Little


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It seems only a few weeks ago that we in Area IV were champing at the bit waiting for the snow to melt and eventing season to start, and here we are already at midseason! That’s one of the problems with our middlewestern weather. It goes from impossibly cold to decent to impossibly hot to decent and back to impossibly cold which leaves us about six short months in which to cram all our events, camps, outdoor clinics, schooling days, mini events, etc.

Nationally, entry numbers are pretty much holding their own despite the continuing woes of the economy. One Chicago area veterinarian told me that her clinic is doing pre-purchases for the first time in two years which is a very healthy sign for the horse industry. Last week, Lamplight hosted a 1,200 horse, two week long hunter/jumper show. I expect the Area IV total starter numbers will be down from last year in part because of three event cancellations, two EHV-1 related, and one from a very unfortunate calendar problem. It will be interesting to evaluate whether individual event numbers are up or down. To date, Otter Creek, which since the demise of Maui Jim is the only event in the Area to host a division above Preliminary, ran a slim Intermediate, but pretty much held its own in the lower levels. This is typical both nationally and locally – the higher the level, the lower the entry numbers and vice versa.

There is one trend which is evident both nationally and in our Area, and it is causing quite a bit of distress. This is the tendency for competitors to enter events at the very last minute, often after the published closing date. Rick Dunkerton from evententries.com who is involved either as secretary, scorer or scheduler, or all of the above, for the larger Area IV and national events figures that roughly 25% to 30% of total entries come in the last few days before and often well after closing dates. This is in effect a Catch 22. The organizers want/need the entries, but are burdened by the inconvenience caused by the late entry practice. Riders understandably want to hang on to their money as long as possible before entering. I know several USEA committees are addressing this problem, and hopefully, a mutually equitable solution can be devised.

Organizers who don’t have the luxury of permanent stabling, have to provide stall counts to their suppliers as early as possible. They also need numbers in order to hire additional judges as needed and to do scheduling. Competitors on the other hand are often faced with stiff penalties or long waits for their refunds if they withdraw. Then there is the ubiquitous “In case of event cancellation, no refunds will be given” conundrum. All this becomes a kind of lose/lose situation, and one that further adds fuel to the “Them vs. Us” fire that exists in varying degrees between the two entities.

A couple of attempts to effect a compromise between these two factions have been tried with some success. At a large event held at a facility with permanent stabling, a “total refund, entry and stabling, less a $25 office fee up until the Monday of the event” policy was put into place with a lot of success. Riders weren’t afraid to enter early and lose all or most of their money if they had to scratch. Obviously, this only works when the organization has permanent stabling. Offering a discounted entry fee for those entering in the first two weeks after opening date worked well for last year’s AEC’s in Georgia. (In effect, this is the same as tacking on a late entry fee, but doesn’t a discount sound much more attractive than a penalty?) The “No Refund” after closing date is harsh, especially in light of our chancy weather and other unforeseen circumstances. Yes, a lot of bills have to be paid before an event takes place, but I believe there is room for some negotiation here. New cross country fences were possibly built and new tracks designed, but they’ll be there for the next event and wont have to be paid for again. Organizers should cover their bases in the contracts they make with the officials they hire to determine their cancellation policies so they wont be caught short handed if cancellation is necessary.

It’s important to try to “walk in each other’s shoes” every once in a while. Things could be a whole lot more pleasant if both sides were sensitive to each other’s needs and were prepared to give a little to come up a comfortable solution.

Katie Lindsay – Ring Crews

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Steve Cwian thinking that maybe Calculus isn’t so bad after all!

 

A couple of weeks ago, I ran a well attended Eventing Derby in absolutely God awful weather conditions – wind gusts up to 40 mph, rain, some sleet, and some snow – all this in mid-April. Welcome to Chicago!

As I was watching the horses cruising around the Derby field, my attention wandered, and I became fascinated watching the two man ring crew, one of whom was also the course designer and builder, and the other who was a college freshman who had arranged to take several days off from a brutal pre-engineering University course load, (including calculus, the thought of which gives me a raging migraine!)

These two individuals were slogging around in the knee deep muck that the all weather footing had become, and never once were they anything but cheerful. In fact, they seemed almost to be having a Hell of a good old time. Awesome!

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Jon (no, that isn’t a rifle)

So, I dedicate this to the ring crews who work events everywhere. They are generally nameless, certainly unglamorous, and frequently unpaid. In short, they are just one among many unsung heroes of our sport. Take the time to thank them. Often all they receive is static for being too slow. Don’t damn them. Thank them!

Hats off to you guys everywhere – and to Jon Wells and Stevie Cwian, a special personal Thank You! You’re the best!

Katie Lindsay – Perception

 

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“In psychology and the cognitive sciences, perception is the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory information.” (From Word IQ on line).

Everything human beings perceive is colored by past experiences, personal preferences and prejudices as well as countless other current physical, genetic and emotional factors. Thus forming an opinion is a complex process that is influenced by a myriad of things.

What’s the point? The recent brouhaha that erupted after the “mini-slate” or “slatelet” (for lack of better descriptions) of U.S. eventing coach candidates was announced is a prime example of a situation that is rife with perception gone way wrong. The situation (for those readers who have just emerged from a month long sabbatical with Marmaduke) – from a group of nine (more or less) candidates, only two were brought forward for further consideration. The two are eminently qualified – but so are many of the seven who were eliminated in the first round.

The climate in which this decision was made is a fragile one. The eventing world at the elite levels, right or wrong, has been severely criticized for lack of transparency. This recent decision seems like the cherry on top of that sundae. Why only two names? What is the rationale behind this move? Was any thought given to what a public relations disaster this was going to be? Did those who did this even care how the eventing community would react? What would have been the harm in presenting a broader slate for consideration instead of leap frogging over a more appropriate and democratic process?

The perception of the selection committee’s action is that the ultimate choice has been preordained from the get go. Now I don’t know if this is in fact the case, and I naively hope it isn’t, but the perception sure as hell looks that way. As I said earlier, I have no quarrel with the quality or the C.V. of either of the two “finalists.” They are both really good at what they do. My problem is with the complete oblivion manifested by the candidate selectors to how their actions would be perceived and the long term ill effects this might have.

The elite levels of our sport culminating in last year’s WEG results have admittedly disappointed, and right or wrong, the American eventing public is itching for a change at the helm. With the 2012 Olympic deadline looming, this hoped for change was eagerly anticipated. It would seem, however, that with the aforementioned first step taken by the selectors, it’s just going to be business as usual.

Could this whole mess be salvaged? Probably. A “Mea Culpa” could be issued, and a more inclusive list of candidates could be brought forward for further evaluation. The ultimate results would probably be the same, and that’s O.K., but the process would be a whole lot better. Will this happen? That remains to be seen. A line in the sand seems to have been drawn. My optimistic side hopes something will change, but realistic side doubts that it will.

The Importance of Looking at Challenges from All Perspectives

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I’ve just now been able to poke my nose out of the snowdrifts and start thinking about the upcoming season, and unhappily, I’m already hearing vague rumblings of discontent from “the ranks” – and it’s only the end of February! At this rate, by July, the world of eventing will look like Cairo’s main square during the demise of Mubarak.

I’m not going to spend much time thinking about the PRO “controversy” prompted by the poll conducted on EN because I don’t think it much matters. I don’t actually have a lot of use for PRO mostly because of its self-serving “let’s raise sponsorship so we can award ourselves prize money” mantra. I’m just not convinced this is the best way to promote the sport, and I sure as Hell don’t buy the “trickle down” theory. What does a financially well endowed PRO endorsed FEI/Advanced event on the east coast have to do with the fate of a struggling lower level effort on the great plains?

One of the “selling points” PRO put forward when its program was launched was that events would be enhanced by its presence, both in numbers and quality. To quote an early press release : PRO is also devoted to elevating the level of competition, contributing to ongoing rider education, improving the standards of competition and promoting safety while working to attract new fans, sponsors and participants.” Has this happened? Really? Have PRO supported events shown an increase in entries that can be directly traced to its involvement? Again, I don’t think so. An example. In 2008, Jersey Fresh started 80 horses. In 2009, 86.  Last year the Jersey organizers made every effort to listen to the negative comments from the sport’s leadership and rerouted and greatly improved their courses. It were included as a PRO tour event, but nonetheless a relatively dismal 52 horses started. Is PRO going to help or hinder Jersey’s efforts this year in keeping with its mission’s “promise?” I guess that remains to be seen.

Admittedly, PRO does have its place, but it hasn’t started out very well in the eyes of the American eventing masses. Perhaps it’d profit more from a concentrated effort to promote a better connection between the top and bottom levels of the sport. The following just announced program seems to be a step in the right direction.

“The PRO Junior/Young Rider Training Level Scholarship focuses on the education and mentorship of juniors and young riders participating in competitions at the training level. The objective is to offer deserving riders, the opportunity to train with a PRO professional based on their merit within these scholarship guidelines. The program will take place at designated events associated with PRO on both the east and west coasts.” I sincerely hope this program comes about.

What is actually worrying me way more than the future effect of PRO on eventing  is the continuation and maybe even escalation of the disconnect between the various entities involved in the sport. There are, in fact, four different ways of looking at an event through four different sets of eyes – the competitors’ way, the officials’ way and the organizers’ way. The fourth side is probably the most accurate way – one that combines all the three others in an intelligent sort of give and take.

I think it can safely be said that all sides agree that there should be more money available in the sport to boost event budgets from mere sustenance to profitability, to offer meaningful prize money, and to ensure that making a living in the sport is possible and sustainable. The question isn’t what. It’s how. Sponsorship is the first answer that comes to mind – but sponsorship is ephemeral at best, hard to get, and securing it takes a special talent not shared by everyone. Believe me, I’ve been there and done that, and it aint easy especially now when corporate entities are themselves trying to stay afloat. So riders, instead of loudly demanding prize money and extra services, why not help events find the extra funds to provide them? In a roundabout way, PRO claims to do just that, but so far the funds it raises seem not to go beyond prize money for winners of selected upper level divisions.

And organizers – what is being done at your end to raise extra funds? There are some very clever methods that some organizers have devised in order to stay afloat, but what about securing the major money required to make the improvements that are being demanded? Does the average competitor have a clue what it costs to build new arenas with state of the art footing? To aera-vate, agra-vate, irri-gate and all the other “ates” being demanded on galloping tracks? To build great stabling? To pay all the extra officials needed to put on an FEI event? To update courses? To pay association fees? Many events are good at securing sponsorship, but many more aren’t.

And demands on organizers aren’t just coming from the riders, but also from officials and from the governing associations. In the past five years alone, breakaway cups, frangible pins, increased safety personnel have been mandated, These things must be provided before any capital improvements can take place. It’s a never ending battle. Does an event raise entry fees and risk losing entries? Does an organizer opt to eliminate the more costly upper level divisions? Does an event go unrecognized? Does an organizer tiring of the pressure and constant carping just say to Hell with it and pull the plug?

Officials are also feeling more than their fair share of pressure in the carrying out of their jobs. There’s enough paperwork to choke an elephant. People seem to be testier and testier in their interactions during the course of an event. The constant cloud of a litigious society looms overhead. Hours are long. Accommodations are often marginal, and the pay sucks.

And on the other side of the coin, do organizers and officials think about the added demands being put on riders – the need to qualify, the added costs of registering, joining and renewing associations, the travel costs and the cost of something as essential as keeping a horse sound?

I feel that eventing right at this moment resembles one of those cartoon animals that goes in circles and eats its own tail. Riders make demands and now even go loudly viral through blogs and various well-meaning, but basically uninformed websites instead of resorting to more civilized methods of discourse. Organizers are afraid to defend themselves because they need the entries so instead they just grumble. Shyer riders fear that their entries will not be accepted if they speak out. Some officials fail to act because they don’t want to make waves and risk losing jobs or losing favor. Riders avoid bringing problems face to face to officials because they fear being punished in the future with bad scores, and instead they resort to complaints made behind screen names in various chat rooms. This whole thing is escalating, and it’s not pretty.

I would love to see various movers and shakers in the sport at all levels and in all aspects come together and rationally discuss possible solutions face to face without fear of retribution and leaving firearms, drama and self-serving interest at the door. We have a bunch of really smart people involved in eventing who come from all walks of life. It’s time to call upon their expertise and experience.

Katie Lindsay – Chasing That Elusive Thing Called ‘FUN’

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This is a God awful time of the year in the northern part of the country. Snow falls and stays Christmas card pretty for about two hours. Any longer and it turns into ice or slush or a black flecked mess studded with airborne crud. Football season is winding down. The playoff games have either made you suicidal, or launched you onto a manic, but short lived high. Even John’s fantasy football picks are as dead as Tom Brady’s original hair follicles. The world news is horrendous – floods in Australia, earthquakes in Haiti, the seemingly unstoppable mischief of Wikileaks, a Congresswoman fighting for her life following a shooting by a pathetic, deranged young man. It goes on and on.

Unless you are lucky enough to be traveling south with your equine companion, (and with the bizarre weather down there this year, I’m not sure that’s even much of a treat!), the riding picture is pretty yukky. Your horse is hairy, smelly, out of shape, and unmotivated. You’re bank account is dangerously slim. Your hands and feet are either freezing or numb. Your damn nose just wont stop running, and there’s not enough Chap Stick in the world to make your lips kissable. There are only a handful of events to follow on line, and obsessing about the choice of Team coach gets old in a hurry. (In fact, given the real crises in the world, seeing the aforementioned selection as a big deal is pretty damn stupid!)

How to counteract “The Northern Blues,” the kind of depression that hits in January because the only thing you have to look forward to is February and more of the same? Ugh. A daunting task at best! I think the answer lies in the “Creative Thinking” category, and in fact, maybe brings up something that we all need a dose of no matter what the climate may be.

HAVING FUN. Two simple words, but an all important concept. A great many members of our eventing community pursue their sport as an addendum to doing other things in life – having a family, working at a “real” job or jobs, having friends and doing the other “stuff” that makes up the fabric of day to day life. They are busy people who work hard for the privilege of partaking in a sport FOR THE FUN OF IT.

Are these busy people having fun riding, and if, after some honest self evaluation, the answer comes up on the negative side, what can be done about it? Are they perhaps putting such high expectations on themselves for whatever reason that the ensuing stress starts to erode the simple joy of sitting on the back of a horse? Is all the hard work, fatigue, and “not enough hours in the day” syndrome becoming a wasted effort? Is riding becoming a chore rather than an escape from the stressful realities of life?

When I was pondering these questions, my mind kept returning to things I used to do with my horse when I was a kid – back before bodily parts hurt in the mornings and before life taught me that bad things sometimes do happen to good people. I remember on mornings following an overnight snowstorm hopping on my horse bareback and galloping through the woods like a stripe assed ape jumping logs that because of the snow on top of them looked twice as high as they actually were. I remember organizing impromptu “horse shows” with friends – (yes, organizing even back then!) – which by the way I always won because I made up and changed the rules to suit. Hard hats? I don’t think we ever wore them unless we had to! I remember sneaking out of the house at night and sitting on my horse in the pasture for hours just wandering around until the poor guy would get bored and scrape me off on his stall door. I remember teaching one of my Appaloosas to fetch and return thrown sticks. He got really good at it! I remember when I was seriously competing my hunter at the indoors and later doing the midwestern eventing “circuit” having my horse’s shoes pulled and giving him six weeks off. Does anyone do that anymore? It was great for him. Better for me! All my competition horses in whatever discipline I was doing at the time fox hunted. They were expected to be multipurpose animals – and they were.

I had fun doing all this stuff. I think if I’d only been limited to doing one thing – riding in a ring, taking lessons, competing – I wouldn’t have lasted very long doing horses. Boredom would have driven me out. I also found that exclusively doing just competing turned me into somebody I didn’t like very much – somebody overly focused on winning the next competition to the exclusion of everything else.

I was talking about the winter blahs with an instructor at a local stable and asked her what she does with her riders to keep them fresh. She said she digs deep for new things to keep their interest – musical drills, broom polo, impromptu “Grand Prix” jumper classes, even horseless horse shows – and as much hacking through the snow drifts as possible.

I love EN’s “View From My Horse” photos. They epitomize to me having those wonderful fun moments of communication between a person and a horse that make it all worthwhile, moments that I fear have become all too rare as riders chase after this or that goal. Maybe after all the value of the northern winter is forcing us to slow down and smell the roses for a while before the rat race starts all over again!

Katie Lindsay — Where does safety start?

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I have to admit, I occasionally find myself pretty much overdosed on the subject of safety. There are just so many articles, postings, pictures, lectures, seminars, presentations, videos, tweets, warnings, brochures, statistics, blogs, etc. on the subject. No, I’m not anti safety measures in our sport, and I do strongly believe that criteria need to be set and adhered to in order to protect riders from themselves, but it currently seems to be a bit over the top. I did a stint on both the USEA Rules and the USEF Eventing Technical Committees, and during that time, we reviewed, discussed, argued about and ultimately voted upon myriad rule proposals. Many of these were great additions to an already crowded rule book. Others not so much. The irony was that if the buzz words “for safety” were added to the proposal, it seemed to have an easier time of it. Does this make sense? It’s like everyone is jumping on the safety bandwagon – and for the record, I do believe in apple pie, Mom and the American flag so I’m not a total anarchist – just a little bit of one!

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the advances that have been made and continue to be made in fence construction that can help a horse get out of trouble when he makes a mistake. Frangibiles, deformables, meltaway logs – all to the good. I also believe that course design has taken a great step forward by reining in some of the awkward technicality and reverting back to more gallopy tracks. Additionally, I think that officials are now enforcing dangerous riding procedures more than before and looking at courses and course construction with a more educated, safety conscious eye. Advances are also on going in rider safety equipment – air vests, better and better helmets, quick release stirrup irons. These are all signs that most of the factions of our sport are listening, learning from past mistakes and moving on.

In light of all this, my question going forward is a simple one. What are riders doing to promote safety in their own personal interactions with their sport? Are they pulling up on cross country when things are going south and saving for another day? Are they ensuring that they are at their peak both physically and mentally – and yes, this includes not partying all night before cross country, avoiding the lure of personal performance enhancing substances, and seeking the best available coaching and training opportunities? Are they moving their horses up the levels before they totally understand the questions in response to an arbitrary human timetable, or are they really listening to their horses’ needs and abilities? Are riders too driven by personal ambitions to hear what their horses are “saying?” Are riders being pushed beyond their own capacity and the capacity of their horses by external forces  – parent, coach, trainer, sponsor, dollars? There are some tough questions which I’m not sure are being realistically addressed.

Where does safety start? Where are riders being introduced to constructive, safe riding and independent thinking? In my Area, and in every other Area around the country, there are some riding instructors/trainers/coaches who I believe are doing a fantastic job teaching their students to think intelligently and ride safely. Most are not “BNR” material. Several have never gone much beyond Prelim, and there is no way they ever had a shot at wearing the USA pink coat, but they are doing a hell of a good job with their riders. I believe most of them have earned ICP credentials – but even before that, this handful of grass roots, “lower level instructors” (for lack of a better phrase) were quietly beating the drum for safe practices. My point? I believe these low profile individuals comprise a too long discounted and desperately important safety foundation. To belabor a point, I’ll go out on a limb and say that this is where safety starts, and this is where we should be placing our emphasis and support whenever possible.

Something struck me as odd recently when I was listening to a conversation about building safer fences. In our sport, the trend seems to be more and more toward cross country fences that knock down/collapse/break on impact much like show hunter fences do. However, and bear with me, if you follow the hunter circuit, the hottest new trend is the Derby concept that features fences that are actually solid or solid in appearance. Doesn’t that seem a bizarre switcharound? It’s a weird world!

Another stray thought went through my mind recently, and it centered around foxhunting, something I grew up doing and spent many years actively enjoying. I would be very curious to learn how many rotational falls occur in the hunt field vis a vis in eventing competitions. I would venture to say very few. Fences are solid there and I daresay not usually constructed with much of an eye to safety. They are also generally ridden at speed, and foxhunters are not known for their sophisticated equestrian skills. What makes  the difference then?

My final thought about safety springs from Invictus : “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” No, I haven’t gone all wonky and pompous, nor have I “Over-Marmaduked” my remaining brain cells. I just believe that, all talk and effort by everyone aside, safety ultimately is something that must be taken seriously and practiced by everyone of you who ever get on a horse. Not only are you responsible for your own physical and mental health, but you are responsible for the welfare of your horse. In my mind, no one is exempt from this. I don’t care how many medals you’ve won or horses you’ve ridden – in the words of a pony club father many years ago, “Use your head for something besides a landing place.”

Katie Lindsay — A Conversation with Marmaduke

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Last week at the USEA convention in Phoenix, I had the opportunity to interview the  ubiquitous chimpanzee, Marmaduke, who currently resides in the front section of British event rider Oliver Townend’s brain. (For those readers who have slept through the last several postings on EN, I’ve neither gone completely over the edge, nor have I  overdosed on primo Jamaican Ganja. Several years ago, British Eventing grew concerned with Mr. Townend’s self destructive carousing so they sent a therapist to talk with him. Said therapist told his client that there are two parts of his brain, the back section that is goal and success oriented, and the front section that houses a chimpanzee whose aim in life is to make crummy, impulsive decisions, usually involving booze and fun. Mr. Townend today calls his chimp Marmaduke.) With such a Curriculum Vitae, I felt very fortunate to have been able to track down the elusive simian and corner him long enough to gather enough material for a fantasy interview. It follows.

The setting was the lobby bar at a golf resort peopled with middle aged duffers trying to determine who could talk the loudest and be the most convincingly youthful and important in the eyes of their “trophy” significant others. There was a preponderance of comb overs, hair plugs, chunky gold jewelry, and overly tanned and botoxed faces, both male and female, in the room. It was fairly easy to spot the chimp, though, by the rather outlandish clothing he was sporting – ill fitting 100 % polyester plaid Bermudas, a truly hideous baby vomit green shirt, short black nylon socks, sandals, and a visor with the inscription “X – Perience Your Inner Chimp. www.dothemonkey.co.uk“. He was chatting up an overly endowed bottle blonde while waving around a long neck and – well, never mind what else he was doing.

I approached said chimp with trepidation. Having heard some of Oli’s tales about him, I had no idea what to expect. After several futile minutes spent trying to peel him away from his blonde, (or vice versa as the case was), I got his attention by signaling the bartender to buy him his drink of choice which apparently pissed off the bimbo who wandered off in search of more fertile fields, leaving the ball entirely in my court (so to speak).

ME : “Hi Marmaduke. Following Oliver’s speech this afternoon to a group of eventers at another hotel, you are possibly the most famous chimp since HAM the Chimp was shot into space by NASA in 1961. May I have a few words with you?”

M the C : “Ey Missy, I luff to chat. The trooff is, though, me real name isn’t Marmaduke. That’s somefing Oli and ‘is mates came up wif. Me Mum was living in the French Cameroons when she ‘ad me, and she wouldn’t arf know what a Marmaduke was if it fell on her ‘ead. She’d arf thought maybe it was sumpin you put on your toast at brekkers. She first called me Raoul, but when she became a Brit, she changed it. Me legal moniker is now Lenny. You can call me that if you want.”

ME : “Fair enough Lenny. I guess what’s on everyone’s mind is how did you end up in Oliver Townend’s brain? It seems a really unusual place for a chimp to live.”

M the C (from now on referred to as L) : “I and my mates are part of a large group called CHIMPS FOR CHUMPS. We are sent out by the Big Ape to reside in selected blokes’ brains to assist them in ‘aving fun, and also sometimes to ‘aul their sorry arses away from the brink of complete ruin and embarrassment. Our group was established in the last century to monitor the antics of selected Royals. We go through extensiff training for that gig. Today, if you look carefully, you can pick out a few from that group of toffs who even now ‘ave  chimps in their ‘eads. Some of these ‘ave even made their way across the Pond to be part of your eventing activities. I won’t name names ‘owever. Can you pop for another pint Missy while I run to the bog? Me funds are a bit low, and I’m developing a terrible thirst what wif all the nattering I’m doing.”

ME : “Sure. No problem.”(getting Lenny primed with another tall pint upon his return from the loo) “Before we talk about some of the experiences you’ve had while on Oli duty, could you explain the clothes you’ve chosen to wear tonight? No offense, but you do look a bit out of place amongst this rather well heeled older group.”

L : “Good question, Missy. The only Yanks I’d ever noticed were those what pour out of big caravans at some of our big churches and castles and Badminton and stuff, and they all dress like this. I s’pose I made a mistake, but I’ll haf to live wif it I guess.”

ME : “OK, Lenny. Tell me what spending time in Oli’s brain has been like for you.”

L : “There is never a dull moment, Missy. I haf to be a bit careful because at one point, he ‘aff drownt me wif several pints when I tried to pull ‘im back from making a ‘uge mistake. I was right gobsmacked I was. A terrible waste of a good lager. We now liff in a nice place, but at first, I ‘ad to share a real tip with ‘im.”

ME : “Are you comfortable around the horses that are so much a part of Oli’s life, Lenny?”

L – : “I gotta be honest wif you, Missy. Sometimes he ‘aff scares the S**t outta me. Careening along on a 80 stone dumb, smelly bag of fur into those ‘uge walls and banks is orful. I spend most of that time wif my eyes closed. It’s nuffing to monkey around wif. (Get it?)”

ME : “What was the most fun moment for you?”

L : “That’s an easy one. It was last spring in the United States. Kentucky I fink? Oli made a mistake that I couldn’t prevent, and ‘e ended up like a blob and ‘ad to be flown to ‘ospital. They loaded us into a ‘elicopter. Of course they didn’t know that I was a part of the deal, and it gave them a right start when I told them that as long as Oli was out of it, couldn’t I fly the plane for a bit? I did a pretty good job, and it was ever so much fun. Oli to this day finks I was unconscious like he was. Ha! ‘e’d about go ape if he knew!”

ME : “I’m running a little short of time Lenny, but could you tell me what your plans for the future are, and where we can expect to see you again?”

L – :”Well Missy, I’ve been finking of getting out of this ‘orse game and moving. Too much snow at ‘ome this year, and the wevver here in Arizona is more to my liking. I’ve always taken a shine to golf, and I like wot I see ‘ere. Lots of job opportunities, and the bimbos are sweet. Maybe I can get a gig in that sport? It’s quieter. Say, do you ‘appen to know that Tiger chap? Rumor is that he could use a good chimp to ‘elp him out. Can you put in a good word for me – and by the way, my glass is empty. Funny how quick that ‘appened.”

ME : “Thanks for your time, Lenny. It’s been amazing. I’d never interviewed a chimp before!”

At this moment, Lenny spied another potential recipient of his attentions, and grabbing his newly refilled glass, he skipped away. He was humming, and before he was swallowed up by the increasingly boisterous crowd, I was able to identify what he was humming – “I’m A Believer” made famous by, (no surprise), The Monkees. It’s refreshing to meet someone so unabashedly pleased with what he is!

Katie Lindsay — Marmaduke 101 and Other Stuff Too

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Back from the USEA convention in Phoenix, (albeit 24 hours later than planned thanks to a flight cancellation and subsequent delay), getting over the shock of being awarded the Wofford Cup, and trying to sort out the ton of stuff that there is to write about. John, whom I finally broke down and introduced myself to after several months of playing the stupid role of “Your Ghostly Writer,” did a wonderful job covering most of the meetings and seminars, but before I undertake my promised interview from the weekend, I have a bit of soap boxing to do – or “People Who Live in Glass Houses Redux.”

Several weeks ago, I wrote a piece for EN that basically defended the choice of Oliver Townend by USEA to deliver the keynote speech at the 2010 Annual Meeting. Now, after the fact, I still defend that choice. Oli is a controversial figure in the eventing world, and after hearing him speak, I suspect that he does some major hiding behind his Peck’s Bad Boy image. The delivery of his speech was both self deprecating and wildly entertaining. His comedic timing was so polished in fact that one listener asked if he was a comedian hired by USEA to parody a British “upper level” eventer. His content, however, for all its hilarity, had a dark side. It was in essence a brutally honest peek into his world, the world he grew up in, and the world he makes his way in today. At times, it was a rather disturbing glimpse. He swims upstream, and the enemies he battles in his head are pervasive – an over fondness for alcohol; starting his career from scratch with nothing and climbing the ladder of success in small and often painful steps, all the while haunted by what it was like to have nothing; a self consciousness about where he stands on the British social food chain. All these conflicts lie beneath the surface of an extremely quick wit and agile mind.

The comments I heard after he spoke were sharply divided. Everyone agreed that he was great fun to listen to, but a few people were disturbed by a couple of things. They felt that he failed to express a real affectionate connection with his horses, and his lighthearted treatment of his drinking problem seemed to make others uncomfortable.

OK, about the first. Yes, he is completely upfront both about being driven by a desire to make money, and his policy that everything is for sale for a price. Gee guys, get a grip. I listen to some of the professionals who have chosen to make their living at this sport, and what is a theme repeated over and over again in their comments? Making a living and how hard it is. Money. “More sponsors.” “More cash prizes.” “Lower event entry fees.” Isn’t this in fact one of the major raisons d’etre for the PRO organization?

About the drinking and carousing. His problem was so pervasive that B.E. sent a counselor to advise him (which is where Marmaduke the chimpanzee entered the picture). It’s very hard to admit to a substance problem whatever the substance may be – booze, drugs, chocolate, pills, food, whatever. Yet here was someone standing up in front of a room full of strangers in a foreign country and in effect saying “I’m a drunk.”  This took guts folks. Ask anyone who’s ever been through a Twelve Step program. Are the stone throwers without sin? Hell, Saturday night in the bar I saw several of the critics who had said “Uncle” to their own Marmadukes. Did they have a right to nay say?

I rest my case. Maybe it’s time for everyone to lighten up!

Had to get this off my chest before I start working on my interview with Marmaduke which will be forthcoming in the next couple of days. There’s a little matter of wrapping and mailing Christmas swag in the meantime. Stay warm everyone, (not an easy thing to do in Chicago), and John, no face planting in the Michigan drifts. You wouldn’t be found until spring, and we’d all miss you!

Katie Lindsay — Responsibility

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There is a lot of chatter going around about accepting responsibility for one’s actions. This applies equally to riders, organizers, coaches, officials – in short, to everyone involved in the sport of eventing. I will readily admit that I come into this discussion with a very strong attitude. I hate individuals who play the blame game, I double hate those who have an excuse for everything, and I hate hate hate whiners and “poor me-ers.”. Please keep this in mind in my ramblings on the subject of responsibility and the assuming thereof.

Years back, I offered a cash reward to anyone having a fall in a water jump who did not blame a hole in the base that upon re-examination either didn’t exist, or magically filled itself in. I longed to meet the person coming in dripping wet saying “I messed up. I fell off. Mea culpa.” (Incidentally, no one ever earned that money, but I did have the dubious pleasure of sloshing around checking footing in a helluva lot of water jumps!) This may seem pretty simplistic, but I think our first reaction to any adversity is to shovel the blame off onto something or someone else – and I don’t see this tendency letting up at all.

Given all this, I was terrifically impressed by three opinion pieces by three of our upper level, high profile riders, one in print and two in blog form, that recently aired in which each rider accepted full blame for his individual pilot error. Buck Davidson in his Between Rounds column in the Chronicle of the Horse said “The only thing I know about the 2010 WEG is that no one is more disappointed than I am. There is also no one else to blame for my disappointment other than myself.” Doug Payne blogged about his disappointing two cross country stops at Boekelo : “I should have squared the turn off a bit more. He didn’t read it well. … I should have taken more time on my second attempt.” And finally the ever outspoken Boyd Martin on his rails in show jumping at Pau that dropped him down several placings : “Maybe the horse was a bit tired but I feel it’s more than that. … once the wheels started falling off, I didn’t change the way I rode him accordingly. … I made the mistake of trying to make him try a bit too hard in the warm up which contributed to him losing his form jumping.” Bravo Buck, Doug and Boyd. It’s hard to stand up in a public forum and say “I screwed up,” but they did.

Around the time of Pau, Zenyatta ran her final race which (assuming you have been living under a rock for the past year) she lost by inches. Her jockey, Mike Smith’s interview after the fact to my way of thinking was the quintessential example of accepting responsibility. Never once did he blame that grand mare’s loss on anyone but himself. He didn’t protest to the stewards claiming a bump, he didn’t say the mare failed to respond, he didn’t say she was badly trained. He took it all upon his own diminutive shoulders.

Okay, I admit it. I am an unabashed fan of Mike Smith. Ever since the reality show Jockeys, I have casually followed his career. I think what sealed the deal for me was when he summed up his responsibility to the horses he rides by saying that they are trained for months, but he can mess them up in mere minutes.

We all mess up. It’s human nature. It’s how we handle it that is the big tell. Organizers whose events draw fewer and fewer entries every year need to undergo some thorough and often painful self-evaluation. Rather than blaming the economy/the calendar/XYZ event down the road/the price of gas, I defy us all to really take a cold hard look at the efforts we put out. Is our footing as good as we can make it? Is our personnel friendly and helpful to competitors? Is our facility as squeaky clean and fresh as we can make it showing that we are proud of it? Are all the details worked out? Is scheduling realistic? Is stabling adequate? Is parking realistically located? Are the rules of the facility well defined and readily available? Does everyone know what’s going on?

Lastly, and before I stumble down from my soapbox, I read a lot of grumbling about TPTB, (The Powers That Be), and their “unjust” treatment of the lowly participants in our sport. Sorry, folks. You lose me here. This complaint is IMHO just plain horse hockey. TPTB are hard working, busy people who have active lives and who (surprise) don’t exist merely to aggrandize themselves at the expense of everyone else. You don’t like something? Get out of your damn recliner, take some responsibility, and do something about it. Leave the anonymous shelter of screen names in chat rooms and forums and take a stand. Make it be known that you’re a player who would like to be involved. Show that you have energy and are reliable and will do anything to help out something you believe in. Set your initial sites modestly. You wont be invited to be on a USEF Committee where you might have a significant voice unless you’ve paid your dues and proven your worth.

Good luck. We have a wonderful sport. Let’s fight to keep it that way!

Katie Lindsay — Glass Houses

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PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN GLASS HOUSES ………….

I drop in on the Chronicle Forum most every day, and have lately been following the thread about the upcoming USEA Annual Convention in Arizona. A lot of vitriol has been expressed about Oliver Townend’s invitation to serve as the keynote speaker. Now I don’t really feel one way or the other about Mr. Townend. I’ve admired his riding ability, and obviously, per his record, he’s pretty damn good at it. I agonized at Rolex this spring living in situ through his horrific fall, and I now flat refuse to look at any more of the pictures of it. I don’t really feel qualified to evaluate his overall horsemanship skills. Yes, many claim that he ran Carousel Quest excessively, but who am I to either damn or praise the horse’s individual needs, or whatever pressures the rider was under that led to his decisions? Besides, eight starts over a two year span doesn’t seem that horrendous to me on paper. I just don’t know enough about the specifics to offer even an educated guess. Because I’ve not walked in his boots.

What I do find disturbing is the hypocritical thinking of those who are taking it upon themselves to blast him on a public forum. Why do I feel this way? Largely because I believe if these same individuals would bother to look at the public records of some of their own eventing heroes in whose lights they bask, they perhaps wouldn’t be so quick to pull the trigger on the Brit. In short, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!

Without naming names, I believe that many of our elite riders are pounding their horses too damn hard. Look it up for yourselves, folks. It’s an interesting study.The information is easily accessible on the USEA website. It’s not really these riders’ fault, but rather a situation that perhaps is the result of a system that has spun out of control. First comes the qualifying rat race which forces riders to chase around our vast country to get qualified so they then can chase around our vast country some more to compete at the next level – and on and on. This is just plain weird! There is also considerable chasing around our vast country to hit as many of the money events as possible. The select few then further bucket around so they can once again be seen and hopefully selected for a team/grant/long, short or Christmas card list/whatever spot. The treadmill never seems to stop.

Our American WEG riders and hopefuls in 2010 had from 8 to 11 significant competitive outings in the 2010 calendar year. Quite a few, yes – but add to that the strain of hours on the road, whipping in and out of differing environments, varied footing, air quality and climate, and the stresses start to add up. I have made comment in the past that a lot of horses tend to look “flat” toward the end of a whirlwind season, and I’ll stand by that.

Is the system skewed? Are we asking too much of these wonderfully generous animals? Are the elite among us being asked to beat their brains out to remain on top and in the spotlight? Could this be achieved in a kinder, gentler way with better and more longlasting results? Could “we,” in fact be the ones condoning the lack of horsemanship skills attributed to Mr. Townend? I think these are all questions that need to be asked and which cry for intelligent answers.

Thoughts?  

Katie Lindsay — Another Fantasy Interview With….

From John: A few weeks ago I sent Katie an email passing on a reader’s email request that she write one of her funny fake interviews with a special target…me.  My only requirement was that she should have a lot of fun at my expense.  As always, Katie did a brilliant job with this interview despite the fact that I have never had the pleasure to meet Katie in person, although apparently she saw me running about at the WEGs from afar.  Thanks for writing this Katie and thank you for reading.
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We eventers traditionally get excited about “flavors of the month,” (or “fads” as my drunken Aunt Lulu used to call them). A famous eventer wins a big competition using a Schmertz-Meirkenlinker bridle. Sure enough, within a month, Schmertz-Meirkenlinker bridles are seen at every level of competition all around the country. It would seem that everyone hopes to find a one stop shopping solution to whatever problems arise while trying to put together three passable phases of competition.

The latest fad creating a stir in the eventing world is CrossCountryChaos, a quasi humorous web/news/blog type site that popped up about a year ago, and much like The Daily Show’s relationship with traditional news shows, it has slowly evolved into being  the ultimate word in all things eventing – at the moment anyway or at least until the next fad comes along!. The emergence of this site and its subsequent spin offs, YukYukPony and DownTheRoadCountry, came to my attention when someone closely tied to the more conservative end of the sport referred to them as “idiotic piles of journalistic crap.” With such an introduction, and having a strong penchant for both idiocy and piles of journalistic crap, I immediately decided I would like the sites and bookmarked them for a daily read. I liked them a lot. Along the way, I also became increasingly intrigued with “Dug,” the individual behind it all. I decided that an interview would thus be in order. The problem with my plan was that Dug cloaks himself in a sort of weird anonymity that makes a positive ID somewhat challenging. However, being a stubborn Scorpion, and having survived interviews with Brittiffuffy, Gretel and Lance, three “typical” riders in hunters, dressage and eventing respectively, I motored on with probably more determination than sense.

The Dug stalking venue I chose was a large eastern event, Nifty Meadows CIC One and Two Star and Horse Trials at Advanced through Preliminary. As is my wont, I had done some preliminary research on such reliable (?) sites as wikipedia and facebook and discovered that Dug had experienced a successful young rider career not too long ago and currently competes an Intermediate horse, “Kilimanjaro XXIII.” (I wonder what may have become of Kilimanjaro I through XXII?) Referring to the accepted rider list for NM, I didn’t see Dug’s name so I reasoned that he’d be there in 100% blogger mode. The people I talked to who had had dealings with him, described him as smart, fun, passionate about his sport, and generally very UP-standing so I felt optimistic about the success of my day.

(An aside note – any reader who is a clever movie buff may be able to predict what track this interview might take from a couple of thinly disguised hints above. Read on MacDuff.)

It was a gorgeous fall day at Nifty Meadows when armed with my trusty old tape recorder and notebook, I arrived to start my stalking. I hadn’t a clue how I’d find Dug, but decided to play a little game with myself and not ask for help unless totally stymied. (This by the way is a technique I’ve perfected “BGPS,” Before G.P.S., when I’d find myself lost, an all too frequent occurrence.) I had only a vague idea of what Dug might look like – and the general description I’d received could have basically fit 75% of the male population on the grounds of the event – young, tall and skinny. Was he nerdy or jock? Preppy perhaps? Maybe Goth which would add a whole new dimension! I was damned if I was going to ask for help.

I was watching a Two Star dressage test ridden by a “not-so-famous” rider when I was distracted by a mysterious clattering from somewhere behind me. Turning around, I realized that I had found what must be the elusive Dug – or rather he was about to literally stumble into me. He was quite a sight to behold. Young, tall and skinny. That much was true – but this only told a quarter of the story. The apparition before me was clad in well worn jeans, a polo with the name of an event emblazoned on it, and a vest advertising a second event.  Crumpled wads of paper were stuffed into the pockets of his jeans. He had on ratty Reeboks and socks that upon closer glance turned out to be two different colors – one white and one tan. The ensemble was topped off by a faded baseball cap sporting yet another event’s logo jammed down crookedly on his head, a Bluetooth headset, and shades. Maybe this was a part of his anonymity gig? What made the whole look remarkable was the incredible amount of electronic gear he was toting around. A state of the art MacBook, three holstered IPhones, two cameras slung around his neck, and a backpack from which I thought I could see protruding the corner of an IPad. This guy was a walking Apple gizmo store! He was also yakking into his bluetooth while trying to operate a video camera that was running while pointing straight down to his feet. (I recall that he said on one posting that he was a less than adequate videographer. I could see why!)

Onward and upward!

After watching him field at least four calls and two e mails and snap a half dozen pictures within a 90 second time span, I took advantage of a seeming break in the action and approached this whirling dervish with my standard “unintelligible name and credentials” introductory preface.

Me – “I’m mumble mumble hizzat whazza. Are you Dug of CrossCountryChaos fame?”

D – (somewhat breathlessly) “Yeah, that’s me. How did you know me? I try to keep a really low profile.”

Me – (deciding to ignore his question and opting to take advantage of the brief window of opportunity). “I’ve become quite a fan of your various sites and tweets and would be interested in talking with you about your work which seems to have gathered an impressive fan base in a very short time. Would you agree to an interview? How did all this start?”

D – “Great. I’m happy to be interviewed. I love talking about my websites. After my young rider days, I began playing around with the idea of a website about my favorite sport, eventing. I enjoy writing, and I’m pretty tech savvy so it seemed to be a natural fit to combine all these interests. Oh gosh, scores just came up and Karen posted a 30 on a young horse. I have to tweet the live score update. Excuse me for a sec.” (time out while this was achieved in quick time on one of his many mobile devices.)

Me – “You have three websites. How do you keep up with them all?”

D – “I’m really focused. When I’m working on one thing, I – SQUIRREL – I’m really focused. When I’m working on one thing, I …… uh, I’m going to film this next test while we talk. Is that OK with you? I can concentrate on lots of things at once. Have you seen the latest posting on YukYukPony? Have you submitted a caption? You could win something. I haven’t had any breakfast, and I’m really hungry. Is there a food stand nearby? I can hardly hear you over my growling stomach.”

Me – (starting to get a queasy feeling about how all this is going) “Sure, whatever. It’s interesting watching you work. With all this, how do you manage to fit in riding time?”

D –  “I don’t get much sleep – but hey, it’s all in a day’s work. I love horses and love being a rider. I’m hoping to compete Killy next week. We’ll see how …. Oh look, that’s Boyd on his new horse in the far arena. I interview Boyd a lot for CCC. He’s great. Last time we talked, he – er – what was your question?”

Me – (starting to look for a graceful way to end this fiasco which is not really going anywhere and is also making me very tired) “Where do you get your material? Do you have a regular group of contributors, and how do you find them?”

D – “My material? I don’t know. I guess I’m just naturally nosey. People like to tell me things. Like I said, I’m focused and a good …… SQUIRREL ….. I’m focused and …..  oh, a text just came in that I have to answer right away. Please excuse me. It’ll only take a minute, and then I’ll tell you about the writers who contribute to my sites. As I said, I’m a really good at multi-tasking. Isn’t that what you asked me?”

Me – (resisting the urge to stuff one of his mobile gizmos down his throat) “Look, I can tell that this is a pretty busy time for you. Would you have about five minutes to sit down in a quiet spot and chat about where you foresee yourself going with your sites? Maybe later on today?”

D –  “Sure. That would be fine. I think I’d like that. I’m really excited about my websites. So many people seem to like them, and I’ve even gotten some sponsorship. It is primarily a site for and about riders, but we publish a lot about other aspects of the sport too as well as a ton of humorous stuff. I’m going to walk the courses now so I can live blog on cross country day. You could come a long with – or I can call you when I’m through. Maybe that would be best. Which would you prefer? I could post a poll on the site and let the readers decide.”

Me – “Yeah, fine. Your call. Here is my number. I’ll wait to hear from you. Good luck – and Go Reporting.”

D – “Hahaha. That’s funny. Maybe you could write something for CCC?”

I wandered off in mid sentence, but I don’t think he noticed because at the same time, one of his mobile phones rang while another text-chirped, and he had to do some serious gizmo juggling to deal with them. I was feeling both overwhelmed and exhausted by the energy and pure passion I’d been in the presence of and decided to head for some peace and quiet. What I most needed was a dark, stimulus free environment where I could try to make some sense of it all. Maybe a padded cell? There is little doubt that Dug has made a positive impact on the eventing population and on me, but at the rate he’s going, I wonder if he has the energy to keep up with what he’s undertaken. I hope so! He is indeed multi-faceted with I suspect a sensitive side in there somewhere, and that makes him interesting. I hope I get my interview later on.

Perhaps switching to decaf would help smooth out his day to day operation?
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*Note: this video might help clarify a couple of the movie references

Katie Lindsay: The Best Things About the WEG

After heckling me all weekend in the comment section for not giving Courageous Comet enough attention, Katie Lindsay–event organizer and one of EN’s favorite guest writers–came through in a big way by writing her favorite things about the WEGs.  As an aside, I have asked Katie to write one of her somewhat degrading but entirely hilarious fake interviews about yours truly so we will see what comes of that.  Thanks for writing this Katie and thank you for reading.

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From Katie: 

(Home at last after a relatively construction free scamper up I 65 to Chicago during which I had a ton of time to think about the week just past. I don’t even know if John wants this for EN after the static I gave him all week. He did say I have a temper! We’ll see!) 

The “C” words – 

Canada – I heart underdogs! Shades of the Miracle on Ice in 1980. They weren’t supposed to do it, but they did, Determination, focus, talent, lack of Ego. 

Courageous Comet – I am the first to admit that I am totally “barn blind” about this glorious horse. He is everything I love about American Thoroughbreds. He and Becky are just flat out class acts. 

Cool Mountain – Cool is the fitting adjective. Add intelligent, athletic, talented – and oh yes, a Thoroughbred. 

Cross Country Course – Mike E. S. outdid himself. The less experienced riders were able to complete thanks to intelligent black flag options. The top dogs could run for time. As it should be! 

The Costello Crew – What a gorgeous course Mick and his gang built, and what a superb Crash Crew (Yay! More “C’s!”) he put together. The only green grass amidst the Kentucky Browngrass was on the galloping lanes thanks to Mick’s ongoing watering and agravating. 

The “J’s” 

Janie Atkinson who is the passion behind Rolex and WEG eventing, and for whom so many of us have spent hours and dollars volunteering our service. This was her last hoorah. She leaves a hole in our hearts and huge shoes to fill! 

Jimmy Wofford – If you’ve not read Jimmy’s WEG blog, or anything else he’s written, it’s a must. “Blackberry Jam,” Jimmy? Really?? 

Boyd 

Watching Boyd and Neville all weekend, my admiration is sky high. Here is a rider first time representing a country – a new one at that – riding a really quirky horse with fierce talent and a brain that seems to work like a toy with little balls rolling around that need to be guided into proper holes – and there they were in the top ten with the big guys. Not sure anyone else could have risen to that occasion with such aplomb! Capital I impressive! Boyd for President!  

Endurance Vet Gate 

Absolutely fascinating. I felt as if I’d stumbled into a twisted middle eastern Fairy Tale. The Sheik’s tent with chandeliers (and it’s pronounced “shake,” not “sheek.”) The odd trot ups. The science. The GPS on each rider. Those somewhat skanky, lean tough, fit little Arabians and Arabian crosses. The cacophony of languages. 

The British hat trick silver in Dressage 

“Alf,” aka Mistral Horjis- (Yep, I know why he’s called Alf!) All the attention was given to Edward Gai’s Tortilas who is spectacular, but I really preferred Alf! What do I know? 

The WEG volunteers 

These folks from the checkpoint guys to the shuttle drivers were invariably cheerful, polite and upbeat – and their feet must have been killing them at the end of their shifts. The lovely guy outside the FEMA village trailer assignment desk who said “We know there are glitches. We are volunteering to make it work – and we will.” 

Sam’s Truck Stop 

Sam’s is the iconic greasy spoon a couple of miles from the Park where everyone eventually goes. The best BLT’s in the country and a breakfast concoction called a “Spanky,” (eggs on an English muffin smothered in sausage gravy) that’ll make you smile – and raise your cholesterol about ten points just by ordering it! 

Security 

I add this for what it wasn’t! The protocol volunteers received was terrifying. No food, no water except that in a water bottle provided, uniforms, correct creds. Having a back gate pass, I avoided most of the check points, but I did get to watch the bomb sniffing dogs as I chugged by on my golf cart waved on by Kentucky’s finest after a cursory glance at my creds that could have sported a picture of Osama Bin Laden for all they were looked at. I did tell one that I’d left my AK 47 at home, and he seemed disappointed. 

Success despite all odds 

Despite a paucity of communication, the organizational decisions by committee that changed hourly, the outrageous prices (two bucks for an order of go? Yikes!), and the budget cutting in weird (to me) places, the great behemoth known as the WEG Eventing phase worked. 

Yes, results were disappointing to us Americans – but life goes on. A good friend and fellow cross country Area Steward probably summed it up best at dinner Saturday night. “I stood today and watched fabulous rider after fabulous rider go by on the world’s best event horses and had to pinch myself. I am working the World Equestrian Games. Wow!” It was definitely one for the books.

Katie Lindsay: Fun and Games at an Event

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As promised, here is the third of my Fantasy Equestrian Discipline Interview Trilogy (FEDIT) for Eventing Nation. It’s been a struggle in which I’ve used “delete” more often than “enter” and even had my hand slapped (rightfully) by John for being too realistic to the point of being grim and sad. After sulking for three or four minutes, I discovered that I totally agreed with him and in fact hated the first draft I’d sent him. In my hunter and dressage interviews, it seems I was able to step back and produce a Carl Hiaasenesque bit of ironic fluff. With our own discipline, I know all sides of it too well and therefore ended up inadvertently taking some swipes at the underbelly of the sport. Let’s see if the following works any better! Here goes ……… 

FUN AND GAMES AT AN EVENT 
 

Rounding out the trilogy, I zeroed in on my own sport. eventing. Actually, dressage riders believe that we eventers are flat out nut cases who have innate death wishes while hunter riders (when they bother to think) think we are people who are too dim to count strides, and who can only afford to buy their rejects who are too hot to be hunters and too untalented to do the jumpers. Eventers and/or eventer wanna be’s on the other hand tend to enthusiastically espouse whatever the eventing guru du jour opines about most any and everything. Our conversation (when we actually take the time to sit down and carry on some form of cogent dialogue) is laced with first name references – “Jimmy said …” “Boyd thinks …” “Bruce told me …” – secretly hoping that we will be regarded as part of the hallowed inner circle of uber-coolness. 

I sought out my “typical” eventer at a small, local one day held at a venue aptly named Missed by the Tornado Park located in one of the Great Plains States where the buffalo used to roam, but which the deer and the antelope long ago abandoned in pursuit of fresher playing fields. It was early in the morning of a hot, humid and very buggy summer day, and the competition was getting off to a somewhat rocky start. I amused myself for a few minutes watching the two organizers shrieking abuse at each other over the radio as they ran around trying to get the sound to work and scrounging about for a volunteer scribe because the ubiquitous “someone” had forgotten to fill that job! So much for the seldomly heard discouraging word of fable. Great stuff though that would have made both Dr. Phil and Jerry Springer proud. These two must be a ton o’ fun at a party! 

Going forward ….. The journalistic “prey” I had selected was easy to spot. She had finished her dressage test an hour previously and was struggling through the weeds juggling two saddles, assorted saddle pads, two bridles, a breast collar, and two Cosequin buckets, one filled with sweat scraper, sponge,  poultice, fly spray, grease, wraps, cotton, and galloping boots, and the other with pinney, stick, spurs, safety vest, Point Two vest, helmet and boots. She was also dragging a totally uncooperative sunburned-sort-of-bay horse of indeterminate heritage who was much more interested in snacking his way across the field than in anything his rider had planned for the rest of his day. She was slight, blonde, and probably in her early to mid 20’s, and at that moment, she looked sweaty, disheveled and grubby and also appeared a lot pissed off, but still game. She was wearing a ragged Rolex baseball cap, faded blue running shorts over once white breeches, the trademark towel hanging from her belt, mismatched knee socks, lime green Wellie type boots, and a vintage, ill fitting greyish tee shirt whose color in a former life could only be guessed at. This is not really an ideal ambience in which to conduct an interview, but seeking to establish my journalistic creds, I soldiered on. 

Prior to actually speaking with my quarry, I had been able to discover some baseline facts about her from the gaggle of younger girls who were doggedly following her, and who, I was told, made up her “Facebook Friends’ Forever Fanclub.” Her given name, I was informed, was Heliotrope Louise Matthews, but she is known to her friends as “Lance” because her chosen mode of transportation is a bicycle. Her horse’s show name is Hayley’s Firecracker with a stable moniker of Pudding, the etiology of which I don’t care to go into. Thus armed, I moved in after assuring myself that Pudding had been securely anchored to one of the FFFF bevy, and Lance appeared in better humor. 

Me : “Hi. I’m from Eventing Nation and would love to have a few words with you if you have time. I’m especially interested in what sacrifices you have made along the way in order to participate in this sport.” 

HM : “Oh cool. I love EN. My computer is broken, but when I get it fixed, I’ll read it every day. Do you know John? Could you introduce me to him? I hear he’s really cute! What did you say your name is? Damn it Pudding, get off my foot. I just got that cast off.”  

Me : (carefully sidestepping Pudding who was staring malevolently at the Lance clone who was holding him while having fly spray applied to his rather generous ears) “For starters, tell me how you became interested in eventing.” 

HM : “I was working for lessons at a small barn near my Mom and Dad’s house, and my instructor took me along with him to an event he was riding in. I was hooked. I fell in love with Pudding who was at that same barn. He is the horse of my dreams! He is part Mustang and part Thoroughbred, and his great great grand uncle ran in the Kentucky Derby, but didn’t win. He has really good feet. I read an article by Dr. Richardson at New Bolton, and he said good feet are really important for an event horse. Do you know Dr. Richardson? He’s really smart. I read everything he writes. If anything ever happens to Pudding, I’ll take him to Dr. Richardson. “ 

Me : (anxious to refocus the direction of the interview, but fearing for the worst) “What is a typical day like for you?” 

HM : “I feed and muck stalls every morning at the barn to help with board, and in the afternoon, I sometimes pick up some shifts at Denny’s. Eventing can be really expensive. You need so much equipment! I ride Pudding twice a day because as Phillip says, fitness is essential no matter what level you are competing. I watched Phillip teach last year and learned so much. Have you ever interviewed Phillip? What is he like?” 

Me : (starting to feel weary) “Do you live with your parents?” 

HM : “No. When I told my father I was giving up school to follow my dream of riding for the U.S.A. in the Olympics, he told me I was on my own. He hates horses. I had to make other arrangements, but everything is cool with them now.” 

Me : (quickly moving on) “The Olympics? That’s great. What level do you ride?” 

HM : “We did pretty well at the local events last year, but Pudding doesn’t like ditches. I read an article by Buck. and he said the best way to get over a fear of ditches is …” (at that point, Pudding took violent exception to having his forearms and stifles greased for his upcoming cross country test, pulled back from his holder and fled for freedom with stirrups flapping in the breeze followed in hot pursuit by Lance and the whole FFFF troop.) 

All’s well that ends well…. 

This abrupt, unplanned ending to a pretty unproductive conversation was in retrospect pure serendipity. Lance’s chatter had given me a headache, and her manic energy made me long for a nap. Striving to banish all these feelings, I decided the Hell with the interview, and instead I settled down to observe the progress of the actual event which amazingly enough, had found its equilibrium and was chugging along in fine form. I was happy to note that Lance and Pudding got reunited and eventually finished their cross country, also in fine form, even negotiating the Dread Ditch with great élan to the noisy approval of the FFFF. You never know. Maybe I had witnessed the first steps taken by tomorrow’s super star. I hope so! I liked her, and I especially liked her recalcitrant friend Pudding. A morning that had started out weirdly evolved into a really pleasant day. This sport is amazing! Go eventing!!