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!