So often when riders want to get into eventing they do so because they see how exciting it is. They watched the top riders gallop around a four-star course on TV or at Rolex. “I want to do that!” they say. But you don’t start at the top.
The reality is when you get into eventing you aren’t galloping full speed. You aren’t doing a three-mile cross country course, with a 6’7” drop into water. You are jumping small, manageable fences at an easy canter, trotting small banks and simple water crossings. Don’t buy that top level event horse you see online. You don’t need “Flashy Young Prospect” to get started.
While he may not be as exciting, with his wooly coat and bare feet, you need a level-headed, steady Eddie horse that will be brave and safe. He does not have to be the best mover in dressage. He does not have to have the scope to go four-star. He needs to have a brain and not be spooky on a trail.
That is why I recommend “This Old Trail Horse.” An older trail horse has the experience of an event horse and all you have to do is teach him to jump. Chances are he’s already walked or trotted over logs and through water, and gone and up and down hills. It’s an easy transition to get him to jump.
Let’s look at Gus Gus. We bought him as a project for $1. He was standing in a pasture at an older couple’s home and they could no longer take care of him. He was a 15 year old trail horse who needed a job. We fattened him up, got him some routine vet care and pointed him at jumps. He took to it like a fish to water.
Eventually, my student Rebecca (an adult rider wanting to try eventing for the first time) bought him. She has put lots of time and miles into perfecting his dressage and jumping, but she wanted something that would be safe and easy to motor around a cross country course. Her goals do not include going four-star, but having fun, being competitive, and learning the lower levels.
Gus Gus has shown under the name HS Roll Call, and starting with his (and her) very first event, they have always been in the ribbons. They plan to go Beginner Novice this year, and as it turns out, he has the scope to go higher! Not bad for a 14.1-hand POA-looking grade pony who was a fuzzy teddy bear pasture pet.
Even a young rider who is looking to get to the top of the sport should consider “This Old Trail Horse” to get them started. I can give countless examples of similar horses who have come through our farm and took on this job. They are quiet, safe, easy-to-manage mounts who easily pick up their feet over a fence. The riders learn the sport without having to a handle a hot, young horse while they do it.
Low-level eventers don’t have to cost a fortune, but the experience they give their rider is priceless.
Amy Nelson has been riding hunter/jumpers and eventers for 25 years and is based in Rochester, IL. She retrains OTTBs, problem horses, and trains eventers at her own show barn, Hummingbird Stables. She competes with OTTBs in upper level eventing, has qualified for the AECs at many levels, and has competed in the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover. Her goals are to compete at the one-star level this year, and eventually four-star. You can follow Amy on Facebook here and on Instagram at @amynelsoneventer. Check out more of her “Eventing Shorts” on EN’s Blogger’s Row.