Newsflash: Eventing Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

Photo by Jo Arlow Photography. Photo by Jo Arlow Photography.

Jenni got it right in her recent post about event safety: It is time to start asking the tough questions about our sport. And to start finding answers.

I know I’m not the only eventer out there who has concerns. But I also know that most of us aren’t as outspoken as Mr. Denny Emerson, who often writes about his concerns with contemporary eventing.

Maybe we stay silent because we are scared to step on toes, maybe because we don’t believe we have the credibility to have a worthwhile opinion, maybe because we lack solutions to the issues we see. But it’s time to talk and to act.

Let’s be clear on something: I love three-day eventing. But more than eventing; I love event horses and event riders. Currently in our sport I see things that worry me for the well-being of our equine and human competitors alike. Here’s an example:

The first coverage I caught from Burghley this year was a horrific video clip circulating social media of Neil Spratt (NZL) and Upleadon falling hard at fence 18b — an unforgiving white rail corner on a righthand turn.

Scenes like that make my heart hurt. But they also trigger a visceral response in my body.

I’ve survived a rotational fall. When I was 14 years old, my Haflinger pony and I flipped over a homemade cross-country jump. We approached the fence in a strong canter, he dropped a leg mid-air between two poles, the back pole held, and we somersaulted. Mercifully, I was riding bareback and flew clear of the scene, and my tough pony sustained nothing more than a few minor cuts.

But in the moment that I lay sprawled on the ground, not able to feel my legs, wondering if I was permantently paralyzed (I was not!) and watching my horse thrash upside down, I learned my lesson: don’t build stupid jumps; don’t jump stupid jumps.

Before Burghley, I watched the course walk with designer Captain Mark Phillips. I saw fence 18b and said: THAT is a stupid jump. I believe on the day it proved it was, even with a frangible pin. Horses had problems there, including falls. The rider above took a trip to the hospital.

A friend of mine, a longtime eventer, told me she’s glad Burghley didn’t have live streaming because she “didn’t want to see any horses get hurt or die.” And I can’t help but worry, do we now collectively accept that horses and riders are going to die in competition each and every season? I don’t want to. Even if this was the case in the past, it doesn’t have to be the case in the future.

When accidents, mistakes, injuries, or deaths occur, it’s an important opportunity to reflect on our sport: where it came from, what it is, and where it’s going. The riders/designers/organizers/owners/sponsors/spectators/volunteers — all of us — have the power to shape this sport.

So I’m confessing: I was disappointed by what I saw at Burghley this year. I don’t like watching good horses and good riders get into big trouble at Burghley, or any other competition. I admire riders like Andreas Dibowski who publicly acknowledge their concerns and take action to protect their horses.

More of us should voice our opinions. And act on our opinions. And question our opinions. Let’s not gloss over the bad news or write off our own power to make a difference. Let’s make sure our sport is what we want it to be.

Here are some ways you can enact positive change in our sport, if you want to:

  • Share your good ideas about cross-country safety with the USEA Cross-Country Safety Task Force here.
  • Blog or post on social media about your concerns and ideas.
  • Share your knowledge about safety with others and be a role model.
  • Conduct studies that may improve our sport or financially support others who do safety-oriented research.
  • Support the shows and course designers that you believe get it right; don’t support the ones you think don’t.
  • Get involved with eventing institutions and organizations as an employee, volunteer, or political figure and make changes from within.
  • Provide constructive criticism to show organizers and governing bodies; file formal complaints when necessary.
  • Have open conversations with other trainers and riders, especially when you see things that seem dangerous or violate the best interests of a horse or child.
  • Applaud, celebrate, and send business to the riders who demonstrate integrity and a commitment to horse welfare, safety, and sportsmanship.
  • If you’re a competing rider and you have safety concerns with a course, talk to your rider reps or the TD. If that fails, take the long route on course. Or withdraw.
  • Don’t build stupid jumps. Don’t jump stupid jumps.

It’s not constructive to merely point blame and spew negativity. But it’s also very dangerous to remain silent when we see things in our sport that we don’t like. I look forward to reading and hearing other eventers’ ideas for improving our sport. I believe we can make changes for the better.

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