Katie Lindsay — Glass Houses

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I drop in on the Chronicle Forum most every day, and have lately been following the thread about the upcoming USEA Annual Convention in Arizona. A lot of vitriol has been expressed about Oliver Townend’s invitation to serve as the keynote speaker. Now I don’t really feel one way or the other about Mr. Townend. I’ve admired his riding ability, and obviously, per his record, he’s pretty damn good at it. I agonized at Rolex this spring living in situ through his horrific fall, and I now flat refuse to look at any more of the pictures of it. I don’t really feel qualified to evaluate his overall horsemanship skills. Yes, many claim that he ran Carousel Quest excessively, but who am I to either damn or praise the horse’s individual needs, or whatever pressures the rider was under that led to his decisions? Besides, eight starts over a two year span doesn’t seem that horrendous to me on paper. I just don’t know enough about the specifics to offer even an educated guess. Because I’ve not walked in his boots.

What I do find disturbing is the hypocritical thinking of those who are taking it upon themselves to blast him on a public forum. Why do I feel this way? Largely because I believe if these same individuals would bother to look at the public records of some of their own eventing heroes in whose lights they bask, they perhaps wouldn’t be so quick to pull the trigger on the Brit. In short, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!

Without naming names, I believe that many of our elite riders are pounding their horses too damn hard. Look it up for yourselves, folks. It’s an interesting study.The information is easily accessible on the USEA website. It’s not really these riders’ fault, but rather a situation that perhaps is the result of a system that has spun out of control. First comes the qualifying rat race which forces riders to chase around our vast country to get qualified so they then can chase around our vast country some more to compete at the next level – and on and on. This is just plain weird! There is also considerable chasing around our vast country to hit as many of the money events as possible. The select few then further bucket around so they can once again be seen and hopefully selected for a team/grant/long, short or Christmas card list/whatever spot. The treadmill never seems to stop.

Our American WEG riders and hopefuls in 2010 had from 8 to 11 significant competitive outings in the 2010 calendar year. Quite a few, yes – but add to that the strain of hours on the road, whipping in and out of differing environments, varied footing, air quality and climate, and the stresses start to add up. I have made comment in the past that a lot of horses tend to look “flat” toward the end of a whirlwind season, and I’ll stand by that.

Is the system skewed? Are we asking too much of these wonderfully generous animals? Are the elite among us being asked to beat their brains out to remain on top and in the spotlight? Could this be achieved in a kinder, gentler way with better and more longlasting results? Could “we,” in fact be the ones condoning the lack of horsemanship skills attributed to Mr. Townend? I think these are all questions that need to be asked and which cry for intelligent answers.


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