Eventing on the Olympic Stage: We ARE Athletes, Now Let’s Prove it

Editor’s note: We announced the 6 Finalists in the 6th annual EN Blogger Contest on Friday, and now it's time for round 2! For this phase, we asked the ambitious crew to answer the following question: "As eventing faces the very real possibility of making further changes to the sport's format to align with the Olympic 2020 Agenda, many have questioned whether the sport should remain in the Olympics at all. In your opinion, what is the value of the Olympic stage in eventing?" Thanks as always for reading, and please leave feedback in the comments section.

Laine Ashker rocking her #LAE helmet cover and fly bonnet at Rolex 2016
Photo by: Alexa Bresnahan Laine Ashker rocking her #LAE helmet cover and fly bonnet at Rolex 2016 Photo by: Alexa Bresnahan

Everything I come across online lately has to do with the Olympics, whether it is an article from Horse Nation or an angry Facebook status. The Olympics are the pinnacle of athletic achievement. Millions of diverse athletes from across the world dream of achieving an Olympic qualification in their lifetime. While eventers have several opportunities to reach large career milestones such as WEG’s, Rolex, Burghley, etc., nothing creates a buzz quite like the Olympics does.

When thinking about the future of eventing in the Olympic realm I can’t help but compare my sacred sport to other Olympic sports that would never be contested.  In my opinion swimming will always remain an Olympic sport. I can barely swim myself yet I am still aware of the dedication and hours it takes to become a top swimmer. I would even recognize professional swimmers if I saw them on the street. Now why is this? Why am I educated on a sport that I have nothing to do with and quite frankly have very little interest in? Swimmers are always presented to the public as top athletes. Their long hours of training are made known of and their rippling muscles are shown off for all to see (Disclaimer: I do not suggest that Boyd Martin wears a speedo at Rio…but I do not think there would be many complaints if he did).

The difference is that swimming athletes are presented as celebrities.  They are marketed to the public as the best in the world. When thinking about the history of sport, athletes and celebrity status have always gone hand in hand. So why are equestrian athletes not publically “known” outside of the equestrian community? There may be a fault in the way these athletes are presented. It is time to think outside the box and learn from the younger generation. Eventing needs a fresh face. More specifically, cross country should be used as a tool to educate the public on equestrians as intense athletes. The more we can connect cross country to other Olympic sports/ extreme sports the more the mainstream audience will appreciate equestrians as athletes.

The value of eventing on the Olympic stage furthers the understanding of equestrians as athletes. As you may have heard, a proposed name change for eventing is “Equestrian Triathlon”. I believe this may be a step in the right direction. The mainstream audience needs to be provided with the opportunity to understand Eventing as a true sport that involves serious athletes. We, as eventers, know how hard these teams work, sadly, the public does not. We know how crushing it is to hear “the horse does all the work”. Keeping eventing on the Olympic stage allows for hard working athletes to showcase their passion and careers. Keeping eventing on the Olympic stage and ramping up public awareness will create a further appreciation for equestrian sports as a whole. A 10 minute cross country course is no walk in the park…lets attempt to prove that!!

Now you may ask, how do I propose we do this? How do we turn eventers into well-known respected athletes? We bring them to that celebrity status. Well, I am sure many of you are familiar with 4**** rider Laine Ashker. She is truly considered a celebrity in the young eventing community. At Rolex this year I was amazed to see the large number of young fans that were wearing #LAE shirts and screaming her name as she whizzed by on XC day. She has taken social media by storm and has properly marketed herself and her eventing business. Some of you may be shocked to learn that Laine Ashker has 27,600 followers on Instagram and Boyd Martin has 3,300.

While Boyd Martin has achieved many more career milestones (and is heading to the Olympics in a few weeks), Laine Ashker is more publically recognized rider by the younger generation of eventers and equestrians.  From viewing Laine’s account you really believe that she is an athlete. She offers riders tips and tricks and she is constantly posting video clips of beneficial exercises. The mainstream viewer would understand that this athlete is hard at work. As we know, times have changed, in order to keep up with younger generation we need to reach out to them in a way that they understand. I am sure many of us can agree that eventing belongs on the Olympic stage. However, if eventers want to keep their spot on the Olympic stage then the riders and their teams need to sell it.

Eventing has just as much value as swimming on the Olympic stage. Athletes who have dedicated their time, incomes and lives to a sport should be awarded the chance to compete on a world stage. They should have the opportunity to strive for the title of “the best in the world”. Eventing should be on the Olympic stage in order to display the true athleticism of horse and rider. Eventing provides the opportunity to showcase similarities between horse riding and other Olympic sports.

Cross Country is our claim to fame.  It needs to be marketed and presented as an extreme sport with top athletes. While this may seem like a juvenile way to look at things, the proof is in the numbers. The more fans and viewers we have the more funding we receive and the longer our sport will stay alive. Eventing is the stepping stone for mainstream audiences to understand equestrians as athletes. We must sell our riders and sell our cross country…these athletes deserve the recognition!

Laura’s Biography:

22-year-0ld from Ottowa, Canada

Background: I began horseback riding 15 years ago mainly focusing on the hunter rings and dressage. However, 8 years ago I fell in love with eventing and never looked back. I am proudly stabled at Oakhurst Farm with a fantastic team who never fail to poke fun at my many quirks. I am currently competing at the training level, moving up to prelim next week, with my girl crush “Tatti”, a sassy 9 year old holsteiner mare. I just graduated from University and am exploring the ways in which I can make my equestrian dreams a reality…while not going broke, isn’t this everyone’s dilemma?!

Embarrassing tidbits: At my stables Christmas party I won an embarrassing award for blowing my CO2 air canister by forgetting to unclip my point two air vest before dismounting. I then proceeded to make the same mistake again next spring…and those air canisters aren’t cheap!!!

[Laura’s Round 1 Submission]