Every year the EN team looks back on the last 12 months and tries to narrow down the many remarkable stories of hardworking, determined, passionate eventers to include in the annual list of eventers who inspired us. You are an incredible bunch and we are so honored to follow along as you chase your dreams and work in the service of the sport — this list could be so, so much longer.
Here are the stories of five eventers who inspired the EN team this year. Go Eventing.
The eventing community came up with some creative ways to keep one another’s spirits lifted this year. For five-star eventer Cathy Wieschhoff, that has been 270+ sessions of a Facebook Live drum set each night, dubbed “CoronaTunes/Quarantunes” almost every evening since Covid began. It turns out that not only does Cathy know her way around a cross country course, she knows her way around a drum kit! Each morning Cathy posts the day’s playlist to her Facebook page and friends can tune in live at 8 p.m. EST to hear the set.
Our deepest condolences to Cathy, who lost her mother Kitty the day after Christmas this year. Kitty sounds like an extraordinary force of nature with whom Cathy was very close, who unwaveringly supported her equestrian career. The evening after she died, Cathy and Jess took a night off the drum set, encouraging friends to read the heartwarming story of her family’s “Wandering W” and leaving us, as usual with words of hope: “We love you, we’re in this together, we’ll get through this together, see you tomorrow.”
Cathy returned on Dec. 28 to play a repeat of the playlist she did on her mom’s birthday this year, beginning with Chicago’s “Just You ‘N’ Me.”
Thank you, Cathy, for all the positivity and courage you have shown us this year — and every year.
After yet another preventable death on cross country at the beginning of 2020, five-star eventer Jon Holling, already a fierce advocate of eventing safety, committed himself fully to wholescale reform: the implementation of frangible tables at ALL events across country. By year-end, nearly $500,000 had been raised toward this goal, which is now becoming a reality as the technology gets put in place. Going forward into 2021 and beyond, real lives will be saved because of the efforts of Jon and other allies of the cause, as well as all those who contributed to the fund. And there is still work to be done — click here to make your secure, tax-deductible donation, earmarked for Frangible Fence Research, today.
What sealed the deal on Jon’s official status as an eventing safety legend: his pledge in May that, if we could get to the next $50,000 benchmark for frangible fence fundraising, “I will get a tattoo, #FrangibleNow, right across my ribs. But we gotta get there before the next horse leaves the startbox. So the next 50 grand, I’ll get the tattoo and I’ll video it so you guys can see me cry. Alright let’s do it.”
Watch, and feel proud. You’re the hero we need, Jon.
Deonte Sewell shared his experience of being a Black equestrian in his NM diversity scholarship essay, “A King and Queen’s Sport,” this summer. In earnest detail he described his love for horses, his passion for eventing, and the challenges he has encountered pursuing it as a career.
Within hours, Mountain Horse had stepped forward to hook him up with a sorely needed new pair of tall boots. Friends rallied around him and lifted him up. By September, he had begun working for Phillip Dutton and began blogging about the experience for COTH this month — you can read his first post here.
“This winter, I started to find what’s worked for me, finding out where I needed to improve in leading up to coming [to Phillip’s]. Here, I’m learning something new about myself and my riding. I would’ve never experienced that or had known that had I not been able to start sitting on nicer horses and ride with professionals.”
Here at EN, we’re always on the lookout for upcoming talent, and none impressed us more than 4-year-old Laila Alexander. She completed her first mini-trial this year, and she just keeps shooting for more and more. Above, you’ll see her cross country schooling at Stable View like a BOSS.
This year has been discouraging in many ways, but watching Laila updates from her mom’s Facebook page was a shimmering beacon of hope. She went from dipping a toe into the water jump to straight up cantering courses — much to her mom’s chagrin! Keep kicking on, Laila, you are awesome.
With only one CCI5* on the cards in 2020, the winner would have provided us all with a great story and no shortage of excitement no matter who they were. But the fact that it was Laura and her five-star debutante, London 52, made it nothing short of a fairytale.
At this point, we’re all familiar with London 52’s trajectory – after all, we’ve all been riding the rollercoaster together. The talented former jumper only began eventing internationally in 2017, and when he won the Blenheim CCI4*-S for eight- and nine-year-olds the following year, all eyes were on him. But that meant he spent his 2019 season learning about his sport – and making the green errors that come with that learning curve – in the spotlight. A win at Chatsworth was followed by heartbreaking mistakes at Bramham, Aachen, and the European Championships, but a ‘run for fun’ at Boekelo CCI4*-L saw him put it all to bed and take an enormously emotional win. This year, we saw him reappear swaggering, taking the win in his prep run at Little Downham CCI4*-S and then win his first five-star from pillar to post.
But London 52’s journey wasn’t the only impressive thing about the victory. Laura is a young professional cut straight from the cloth of an old pony novel: without money behind her, she got her start in the game as a child, buying cheap, unbroken ponies off the side of the Welsh mountains, producing them to show, and selling them on for a profit – and that method took her all the way to Badminton. Along the way she’s dealt with considerable hurdles with remarkable toughness and a good sense of humour: there was the crushing fall in 2013 that left her half blind, the death threats she received when the remarkable opportunity to retrain much-loved steeplechaser Kauto Star turned into a living nightmare, and all the day-to-day hardships of trying to juggle life at the top of the sport when you’re not born into wealth. If anyone deserved to have all eyes on their finest moment, it was certainly Laura.