Culture Shock Series Part I: Focus On Fitness

Megan Kepferle and Alissa Genovese participate in Howdaa's yoga class at The Fork in April. Photo by Samantha Clark.

It goes without saying that hunter/jumper culture is very different from eventer culture. It is more than just the atmosphere of wine and cheese plates versus brewskis and burgers. There are some things that take some getting accustomed to when you’ve spent most of your life in another discipline.

One of the things that has been on my mind after reading Megan Kepferle’s article in Chronicle of the Horse is the eventer’s focus on the rider as an athlete versus the hunter/jumper focus on being thin and making a pretty picture. The fitness level needed by an eventer, even at the lower and middle levels, is different from what a hunter/jumper rider needs.

The Hunter ring is built around an aesthetic ideal and judged by subjective standards, which is arguably a large part of where this focus on thin rather than fit comes from. I’ve fallen in to that mental trap myself. I couldn’t begin to tally up the number of times I’ve said, “I need to lose weight so I can ride better,” when what I actually meant was, “I want to look better in my hunt coat and on my horse.”

When I am besieged by insomnia and find myself up late at night, I read all manner of horsey message boards. It’s an interesting difference that the hunter/jumper crowd’s threads about this sort of thing often are about diet tips, how to drop X number of pounds super fast and even on occasion joking about “the Equitation Diet” (aka anorexia or bulimia).

In contrast, I see more eventers talking about fitness and overall well-being — how to strengthen the core for better half-halts or suggested cross-training routines. That’s not to say that all hunter/jumper riders are of this diet-crazed, weight and image obsessed mindset, or that all eventers are super fit gym-rats. It’s simply to say that’s what seems to have the most “volume” in those communities.

Additionally, a few weekends ago I was attempting to dig up a schedule for the West Coast training sessions with David O’Connor and caught myself at the High Performance Eventing page. On the High Performance Eventing page, you can find some links about sports psychology, healthy eating, meal plans for training and competition days, some suggested exercises and a document about rider mass and it’s impact on performance.

“Great! Awesome!” I found myself thinking. “This is something that should probably be pushed at all riders, not just the upper-level folks. We can all use a good reminder and it’s nice to have something in hand when friends and family suggest that riding isn’t a sport!” I then wandered over to the High Performance Dressage and Show Jumping pages and was surprised that these same resources were not linked on either of these pages, even though these pages are intended for the elite in their respective disciplines.

Is this significant? Does it suggest that the USEF has bought in to fit-for-some, thin-for-others or perhaps some deeper notion of eventer-as-the-one-true-athlete and all other equestrians as mere passengers? In the grand scheme of things, probably not — just some links missed by overworked IT employees. I still wonder though.

Admittedly, I have a lot to do in order to get as fit as I should be. My mind is finally starting to move in to a space that is about health and fitness rather than body image — and that feels good. It means living more mindfully, paying attention to what I do with my time and what I fuel my body with. I need to think and act as an athlete. I may never fit in to a pair of 28” breeches again, but I can get myself fit enough to say thank you to the Pony Clubber collecting pinneys at the finish line, rather than waving, smiling and wheezing incoherently.

Go Team DF. Go Fitness. Go Eventing.

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