There is a lot of chatter going around about accepting responsibility for one’s actions. This applies equally to riders, organizers, coaches, officials – in short, to everyone involved in the sport of eventing. I will readily admit that I come into this discussion with a very strong attitude. I hate individuals who play the blame game, I double hate those who have an excuse for everything, and I hate hate hate whiners and “poor me-ers.”. Please keep this in mind in my ramblings on the subject of responsibility and the assuming thereof.
Years back, I offered a cash reward to anyone having a fall in a water jump who did not blame a hole in the base that upon re-examination either didn’t exist, or magically filled itself in. I longed to meet the person coming in dripping wet saying “I messed up. I fell off. Mea culpa.” (Incidentally, no one ever earned that money, but I did have the dubious pleasure of sloshing around checking footing in a helluva lot of water jumps!) This may seem pretty simplistic, but I think our first reaction to any adversity is to shovel the blame off onto something or someone else – and I don’t see this tendency letting up at all.
Given all this, I was terrifically impressed by three opinion pieces by three of our upper level, high profile riders, one in print and two in blog form, that recently aired in which each rider accepted full blame for his individual pilot error. Buck Davidson in his Between Rounds column in the Chronicle of the Horse said “The only thing I know about the 2010 WEG is that no one is more disappointed than I am. There is also no one else to blame for my disappointment other than myself.” Doug Payne blogged about his disappointing two cross country stops at Boekelo : “I should have squared the turn off a bit more. He didn’t read it well. … I should have taken more time on my second attempt.” And finally the ever outspoken Boyd Martin on his rails in show jumping at Pau that dropped him down several placings : “Maybe the horse was a bit tired but I feel it’s more than that. … once the wheels started falling off, I didn’t change the way I rode him accordingly. … I made the mistake of trying to make him try a bit too hard in the warm up which contributed to him losing his form jumping.” Bravo Buck, Doug and Boyd. It’s hard to stand up in a public forum and say “I screwed up,” but they did.
Around the time of Pau, Zenyatta ran her final race which (assuming you have been living under a rock for the past year) she lost by inches. Her jockey, Mike Smith’s interview after the fact to my way of thinking was the quintessential example of accepting responsibility. Never once did he blame that grand mare’s loss on anyone but himself. He didn’t protest to the stewards claiming a bump, he didn’t say the mare failed to respond, he didn’t say she was badly trained. He took it all upon his own diminutive shoulders.
Okay, I admit it. I am an unabashed fan of Mike Smith. Ever since the reality show Jockeys, I have casually followed his career. I think what sealed the deal for me was when he summed up his responsibility to the horses he rides by saying that they are trained for months, but he can mess them up in mere minutes.
We all mess up. It’s human nature. It’s how we handle it that is the big tell. Organizers whose events draw fewer and fewer entries every year need to undergo some thorough and often painful self-evaluation. Rather than blaming the economy/the calendar/XYZ event down the road/the price of gas, I defy us all to really take a cold hard look at the efforts we put out. Is our footing as good as we can make it? Is our personnel friendly and helpful to competitors? Is our facility as squeaky clean and fresh as we can make it showing that we are proud of it? Are all the details worked out? Is scheduling realistic? Is stabling adequate? Is parking realistically located? Are the rules of the facility well defined and readily available? Does everyone know what’s going on?
Lastly, and before I stumble down from my soapbox, I read a lot of grumbling about TPTB, (The Powers That Be), and their “unjust” treatment of the lowly participants in our sport. Sorry, folks. You lose me here. This complaint is IMHO just plain horse hockey. TPTB are hard working, busy people who have active lives and who (surprise) don’t exist merely to aggrandize themselves at the expense of everyone else. You don’t like something? Get out of your damn recliner, take some responsibility, and do something about it. Leave the anonymous shelter of screen names in chat rooms and forums and take a stand. Make it be known that you’re a player who would like to be involved. Show that you have energy and are reliable and will do anything to help out something you believe in. Set your initial sites modestly. You wont be invited to be on a USEF Committee where you might have a significant voice unless you’ve paid your dues and proven your worth.
Good luck. We have a wonderful sport. Let’s fight to keep it that way!