In Defense Of The Sport

Will Coleman and Conair. Photo by Jenni Autry. Will Coleman and Conair. Photo by Jenni Autry.

In times of seemingly senseless tragedy, it is very easy to seek a spot to lay the blame. As humans, we are taught from the beginning that most everything has a rhyme and a reason, and we also like to believe that we are mostly in control of our environments. In equestrian sports, when something horrific happens, there are many people who instantly look for an answer, a reason, and a responsible party. Is it the fault of the rider or the trainer? Was it due to the design of the fence, and thus the course designer? Is the problem more deeply ingrained, and can we blame the governing officials of the sport as a whole? Are we as a community asking the impossible and therefore leading our horses into unduly risky situations?

In general, there are very few people who are brave enough to lay blame with the rider. There are assuredly some people who privately think that some fault is with the jockey, but I absolutely dare them to voice those opinions publicly. I also dare them to spend even an afternoon in the stable of an upper level eventing barn, and I defy you to find people who are more emotionally attached to their mounts, or people who are more attuned to the needs of their highly valued athletes. The grooms and riders of these horses know every single detail about their horses, and nothing is left to chance when it comes to their health and safety. They are prized for their athletic gifts, for their distinct personalities, and loved beyond all belief. If, in fact, you somehow disagree with me, then I assert that you do not know what you’re talking about.

For those who look towards the dangers of cross country to find a villain, I question that you have ever really ridden cross country. Of course there is an element of danger, but have you ever really tried to force a horse to jump something that he or she did not entertain in the slightest? Scare tactics may get you to a certain point, but I assure you that the horses that compete at the top levels of our sport LOVE IT as much as their riders, and even maybe a bit more. They are highly intelligent animals, trained to respond to different cues and stimuli in appropriate ways. When 99% of the time the cross country courses are well received and safely ridden by riders and their horses, you cannot scientifically point to the 1% of mistakes made, and assert that cross country as a whole is evil.

And finally, to those who claim that it is the sport of Eventing that is to blame for the tragedies we have seen lately, I bring you my final argument. To condemn our sport as wildly unsafe, cruel, or outside the realms of possibility for an equine athlete is to imply that we riders knowingly put our horses at great risk. If you are suggesting that all of the riders at the upper levels are consciously harming our horses, then I can only assume that you have never met an event rider.

Our sport is the safest it has been in history, with the advent of frangible pin technology and the usage of inflatable vests for the riders. Our courses are designed to challenge the teams, but are always open to review from riders. They are designed so that the horses can read them correctly, and are able to understand the questions asked of them. I defy you to watch a video of Eventing 30 years ago and tell me that the same could be said of those courses. There is nobody, absolutely nobody, involved in our sport in any way that wishes to do anything but decrease the amount of accidents incurred while competing.

There will always be a certain amount of risk in anything that we do with horses, after all, the pure physics of interacting with a several-hundred-pound animal should tell you that from the outset. However, to decry the sport itself is both insensitive and poorly educated. No, the long format is not coming back, no matter how many people complain to one another on the internet. There is not a single rider who has experienced their horse dying who will blame the sport, and to sit on the sidelines and point fingers is an activity that only serves to garner meaningless chatter on social media outlets. Sometimes, tragedies befall us for no reason, and all we can do is gather together and support those who were most deeply affected. What makes Eventing special in part is the understanding and limitless love from our fellow competitors and enthusiasts, and we should not waste a moment forgetting that. 

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