The United States seems perpetually obsessed with youth. Holding onto our age and trying to mimic attractive Hollywood actresses and actors by dying our hair, working out 10 times a day and voluntarily visiting plastic surgeons does not truly make age disappear. When I traveled to India and Bhutan in 2008, the idea of aging and death was viewed as the norm, and this concept was completely refreshing.
This idea of youth and trying to fit into certain programs and meeting specific criteria recently came to mind as I turned 29 on the first of the year. I ultimately realized I would never have the opportunity to participate in certain eventing programs geared towards the younger eventing crowd. All over the internet and in eventing magazines, we are reading about and hearing about a minute group of individuals experiencing firsthand what it’s like to be a part of programs such as Eventing 25 or Eventing 18.
In a recent article on Eventing Nation, we read about how these programs are projected to “to create a pipeline to develop the young riders who will one day represent the U.S. on international teams … According to Leslie Law: The reason these riders have been named to the program is because they’ve shown talent; they’ve obviously produced good results.”
For me personally, one of the most exciting parts of this sport revolves around the fact that you do not have to stop riding or hand in your cross country vest at a certain age. There are countless sports where athletes peek at a young age, like figure skating or gymnastics. Eventing will continue to act as a unique and alluring sport because it allows you to progress at different rates, and anyone can start eventing at any age, really.
The flip side to these alluring features are the inevitable and numerous variables that all have to fall into place if you have any hopes of participating in such a program, such as the number of years it takes to become a really skilled event rider, finding or buying that incredibly special horse, financial support and the list goes on.
I’m all for education, higher learning and training with top professionals in this sport … if I were given the opportunity. Unfortunately, these programs do not factor in how long it takes to become a great rider and how long it might take to get an outstanding horse. For some lucky individuals, this process can take a few short years; for others, it can take a lifetime.
What about the riders who are just turning into superstars right now who are past their prime, so to speak? What about the 29 to 40-year-olds that are extremely talented, but never were able to quite wedge their foot in the door due to financial reasons or finally acquiring a horse of a lifetime? Or what about the riders who were born the wrong year, or because they didn’t have a great horse until now, or because they are finally turning into a seriously competitive and talented rider, but they are 26?
Furthermore, I am in no way insinuating that those named to Eventing 18 and Eventing 25 do not deserve what they’re about to receive as far as training and education. I know that those individuals worked hard to get to where they are and are undoubtedly very talented young riders sitting on top of phenomenal horses.
What I am saying, or wishing, is that there ought to be more programs for avid equestrians whose ages fall outside of those strict confines. Who’s to say there aren’t 40 individuals for every under 25 rider who are more skilled and practiced athletes than the young professionals selected, but will remain unnoticed and disregarded because they are too old?
I also understand the concept of out with the old, in with the new. The idea that the top riders in our country will not remain at the top forever is completely realistic. Similarly, the idea that there are only a certain number of slots for such riders remains a given. Individuals and groups will continue to replace each other in this sport. The older and more experienced riders will pass down their wisdom and knowledge to the up and coming superstars, and this cycle will continue as a circle does.
If you are a tenacious event rider seeking instruction or you are an avid competitor who cannot gain momentum because you are undiscovered, how do you get noticed? If you are not 18 or you are over 25, will you ever be offered an experience or have the opportunity to apply to such a program?
Obviously, this is not a be all, end all conversation. If you are not able to participate in one of these programs, that does not mean you will not go to Badminton someday. If you are not one of these young riders, that does not mean you will not rise to the top in the sport and become a famous event rider someday.
What this does mean, at least to me, is that there are limited opportunities in this sport when it comes to certain programs and training opportunities because of the unfortunate age parameters. Learning how to become a great rider or developing into a good enough rider to qualify for one of these programs can take decades for many individuals.
Where are the developing slightly older rider programs? Where’s the time, money or willing trainers for those students working their butts off, who deserve a shot, but who will never receive it because their ages caused them to expire? What about the riders who are seriously talented but do not have the sponsors or financial backing to really get noticed? Or the skilled athletes who can’t afford the floating horses and Grand Prix show jumper type horses?
I’m not against Eventing 25 or Eventing 18; I’m disappointed and perplexed at the fact that there are limited opportunities to train with some of the best coaches in the country past a certain age. Also disheartening is the fact that one either needs to be young and talented or have money. There’s not much hope for everyone who falls between those categories.
How do we get noticed when we’re “old,” according to the USEF and USEA? How do we gain support and momentum in a world obsessed with youth? Where do we go from here, and what does the future hold for those individuals older than 25, but still desperately hoping for a spot or a shot at success?