A PSA to Eventing’s Armchair Quarterbacks: If You’re Not Doing This, You Don’t Get to Talk

Eventing is HARD. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Full Moon Farm Horse Trials on Sunday morning. Photo by Holly Covey.

After the glow of the big win at Waredaca, I entered the very last Area II event of the season at Full Moon Farm. This is a legendary “last hurrah” in our area, being scheduled for the second weekend in November, when weather could be anything. In years past, the hardy souls who have competed there come ready for snow, heat, wind, rain and cold.

We were delighted with only cold this year; the frosty parking field slid a few trucks around but a helpful parking person suggested putting it in four wheel drive while on the gravel road (which I did) and the parking was non eventful. So the beginning of the day, and the end of the day went well for me but just about everything in between wasn’t quite as successful. More on that below. First, a couple of thoughts, and because I am a Fossil, I get to have an opinion based on experience.

I evented back in the ’80s and ’90s.  I watched a lot as a journalist and spectator, too, in addition to riding in events. I can tell you that there is a big difference in the way events are run today and the way they were managed then.

The entire experience today is a long way from the rough and ready stuff we used to be subject to, and I for one am glad of it. Our horses weren’t always the first thought back then, but I am happy to say in my experience as a 40-year-plus horsewoman, today there is a much different adherence to horsemanship principles in our sport and that’s a good thing.

There is much safer course design for both show jumping and cross country at the lowest levels, which are what I primarily see and compete in. I cannot understand the criticism and nay-saying of people who do not challenge themselves in these events as they are conducted today. The rules keep it fair, but the competition is intense and to a high standard! The footing requirements, the angles, placement, height, width and construction of the cross-country courses is NOTHING like it was 30-40 years ago. We don’t need to impress anyone in this sport; we’ve paid our dues. Now we are looking for excellence — across the board — in all divisions from our Starter/Amoeba levels on up. Doing it WELL matters in eventing now.

In the days, “git’r dun” was the overriding mantra. Those today who are whining about “endurance” obviously haven’t gotten up at 4:30 a.m., driven two to three hours on the interstate with three or four precious horses in a 26-foot trailer, organized three riders, walked three cross-country courses, and ridden a dressage test before 8:30 a.m.

Obviously, those who complain about “events today” haven’t seen the hours and number of volunteers who have been working for weeks on the footing and the cross country jumps and the dressage arena and the show jumps. Where are the complainers when the parking lot volunteers are in two layers of Carhartts in the dark helping people park those big trailers with precious horses. What part of this sport do you get to complain about?

Those people who showed up to compete are the ones who really get to talk. They are the ones who have it all on the line, not you. They are the ones who do the hard work schooling and training at home to be ready to the high standard required of recognized competition today. The standards are higher. The work is harder. The endurance, skill, competition requirements far eclipse the events I attended three decades ago. I would rather listen to a rider who has completed a recognized Novice right now, than the highest Grand Eventing Poobah.

You can no longer skate around cross-country looking dangerous but getting between the flags, and get a ribbon in recognized competition (at least in Area II) today. Today, in our eventing, you have to be good at dressage, good at show jumping, and good at cross country to be close to the top of the classification, and I’m here to say THAT IS THE WAY IT SHOULD BE. I don’t want to lay down a lovely dressage test, have a perfect show jump round, and a good cross country and get beat by someone who had a crappy dressage test or dangerous show jumping round. Just because they have more “endurance” by some outsider’s cockamamy standard. The people I compete against work hard. They are good. They can ride. It’s an insult to say that we need to add anything to the sport, to change it by going backwards because someone is nostalgic for the good old days.

It’s hard as it is to get it just right in all three phases, and that’s why we love it. As horsepeople we embrace this unique three-way challenge that our sport provides. We may have been attracted to it by the fun of the cross country, but the intrigue of good dressage basics and the difficulty of achieving a perfect show jumping round kept it interesting. No longer is it enough to have “just OK.” You have to be good at withstanding the pressure of competition, too, as the sport has doubled in growth since the ’70s, too. The standards are all ratcheted upward and should be. No longer are we “just passing through” the dressage arena and show jumping arenas so we can get out on the cross country field.

So, the last event of the season in Area II was a good place for me to get out some of my thoughts, and the conclusion I have come to is this: you non-riders and non-eventers that somehow get to drive the emphasis in this sport need to shut the hell up. You need to come to a recognized event with a hundred smiling volunteers despite the fact that it is 29 degrees. You need to park in the frosty field and watch beginning riders warm up horses on a side hill for dressage, trainers courteously working with students and each other, all happy to be here yet sad it’s the last event of the season.

You need to see a carefully prepared cross country course with ice in the water jump and beautiful decorations that were lovingly placed by volunteers. You need to show jump in a greasy field with landing divots that your horse cleverly avoids by jumping off to the side. You need to walk a course in 29 degrees. You need to sit by a firepot and warm your backside and talk to friends who also got up at 4:30 a.m. You need to see four dressage arenas running on time, like clockwork, and one bundled up dressage warmup steward in the field keeping it all going with a smile, all day long. You complainers, where are you? You need to be with the organizers and course designer out in the field watching all day, monitoring every single horse and rider, ready for anything, but having constructed courses with years of experience behind them, knowing good riding and proper preparation by the competitors will make your day boring.

You complainers: You need to see eventing as it is. Today. A sport with a bunch of really great people in it, working really hard to keep it great. A sport with a bunch of really good riders from Starter on up who care and know they have to work hard at home to be good in all three phases. A sport that isn’t looking backward for future questions, but that is building on the expertise and experience of its most engaged leaders, people who listen, people who lead, people who have shown by example what it means to volunteer, to change the rules for the better, lift all the boats with their own rising tide of excellence.

So, I’ve made you read all of this two cents before I got to my own summation of the day, and I can tell you that mistake after mistake sandwiched by the good parking spot and great cross country round pushed my results to a third place finish. While I misread my watch and was an hour early for dressage — then had a fairly poor show jumping round which was thankfully missed by most of my friends — the cross country rode so well and it was great to have Hamish pull me up and down the hills.

He’s getting fans, people keep telling me they love watching him — I think it’s just his big ol’ tail — but I am darn near sad we don’t get to compete any more this year. There are things I need to fix and I want to get them right! I can’t wait for the first events of the season next year. I had a great time competing this year and the sport just keeps getting better. No complaints. Back to work over the winter — see all of you real eventers again in 2018.

Go Eventing.