A Season of Change: Could COVID-19 Help Build a Better North American Eventing Calendar?

It has been less than a week since the eventing seasons of riders came to a screeching halt, and we have no true idea of how long this social distancing will last. Between the fact that many of us are goal-driven and all of us are bored, I know that I am not alone in already wondering what the season might look like once normal times return.

Let’s face it; the schedule of 2020 as we knew and planned for is going to change significantly. There’s so much we don’t know, and won’t know for weeks, about how much impact this will be to events and riders all over the world.

However, for fun, let’s pretend that at least in North America, we see things return to business as usual, as much as it can be, by the end of May. Lots of the events have already cancelled outright but other events have stated their desire to postpone, perhaps seek another date later in the season with the approval of USEF and FEI.

What if that happens?

There are undoubtedly challenges that will occur; the footing can be touch and go depending on if we have a monsoon summer or a drought summer. Lots of summer dates are already held by smaller venues and organizers, who might not be best pleased to find a full-blown destination event dropping right on their weekend. And realistically, this is a purely hypothetical exercise.

Ultimately, it may be more realistic to see the events who end up running adding the divisions they are capable of running; Bromont could add a 4*-S to their June event and a 4*-L to their August event and both would likely be well attended. HP of NJ has two different HT dates…might we see them add their Jersey Fresh divisions to one of them? Stable View and Chatt Hills both have summer dates as well, and adding FEI divisions to them isn’t a huge stretch of the imagination.

Essex once ran 3*-L divisions, back in the ’90s? Could events and riders help them do one this year? Area I was the place to be for Olympic-bound riders in the summer back in the day; could any of their legendary venues function again, at least for a year?

The system was broken this spring, not by human hands. If we have to rebuild it, why not rebuild it better?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what we can accomplish if we break the rules, become more flexible, more willing to share in the success of the sport, more willing to transform the misfortunes of the spring venues into something long-lasting and better?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see North America’s calendar transform into something that more resembles that of Western Europe?

This is the shape of Western Europe’s 4/5* calendar, not including Advanced divisions:

This is the shape of the calendar for the eastern portion of the U.S. for the same year, which would have comparable driving distances to competitions. It does include Advanced runs.

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As you can see, the North American calendar is divided into two distinctly different seasons, with a significant break from competitions in the summer, while the Western Europe model has more of a rolling competition schedule that starts later and provides more opportunities for riders to target the CCI-L events at the best timing for their horses.

Our season basically forces any who want to try for a spring CCI-L to spend the winter in the south. While that is sometimes a blessing (Polar Vortex of 2014, I’m talking to you), it can also exclude many from the spring season due to finances or time constraints. The talented young rider who is in public school and can’t get out of attendance requirements. The young professionals who can’t afford to leave a barn full of clients for two months without the lesson income. The working amateur who has a full time job that doesn’t offer working remotely.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a winter season, but it would be nice to see a system like the Europeans, that allows you to put your horse on the shelf all winter if you need or want to and not be excluded from every fun destination event. Something more inclusive, even if smaller divisions are offered, to recognize that finances and trailering time are both huge barriers to success at the upper levels for varying demographics.

Could the postponement and changes from COVID result in seeing a 2020 NA calendar that ultimately brings us closer to the Europeans? You cannot discount the challenges of rescheduling, but the reality is that the dates are there for events to fill the gap in the middle of the summer, climate depending.

Will we see a resurgence in the more compact calendar schedule? If we do, will it last beyond this year?

Or will we rebuild exactly the same as before, satisfied with our two-season system? Or will we rebuild it better?

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