Looking to One Another to Make Sense of the Senseless

From EN reader Stacey Chepren: "As I was coming home from Plantation this past Saturday, only hours after the tragedy at Jersey Fresh, I looked out toward the direction of the Horse Park of New Jersey and saw a beautiful rainbow. I couldn't help wondering if it was Philippa saying goodbye."

From EN reader Stacey Chepren: “As I was coming home from Plantation this past Saturday, only hours after the tragedy at Jersey Fresh, I looked out toward the direction of the Horse Park of New Jersey and saw a beautiful rainbow. I couldn’t help wondering if it was Philippa saying goodbye.”

It’s hard to find words in the aftermath of such a tragic weekend. It’s hard even to know what to feel. But we’re navigating our way through it, this dark labyrinth of thought, emotion and action, and we’re doing it as an eventing community.

What does it mean? Why did it happen? What comes next? These heavy discussions are taking place around the country and the world. Some of them are face-to-face in barn aisles and tack rooms; others are via social media, which has facilitated an unprecedented openness of discourse in recent years.

There’s plenty out there on the internet to sift through, both of the constructive and not-so-constructive variety. When someone gets it just right, though, platforms like Facebook allow us to share these perspectives as a sort of mirror of our own, and then by a democratic system of algorithms the most-shared perspectives are disseminated further out into our network of friends.

In the wake of Jersey Fresh, the voices we’ve lifted up as being the most representative of our community have spoken not out of reactive anger but of strength, compassion and solidarity.

Below we’ve compiled a reading list of some of the most thoughtful, most shared articles and essays that have floated to the surface of our news feeds, and likely yours as well, this week. Not all of them are new or written in direct response to the losses at Jersey Fresh, but they address the same over-arching theme: We all want a safer sport.

The tough questions we raised yesterday are the ones we must raise again today. We must continue the dialogue.

Eventing Lives in the Balance by Jimmy Wofford, published on Practical Horseman with an extended version available at Jimmy’s blog here (May 14, 2008): Jimmy outlines a number of changes to the sport, ranging from format to the type of horses we are riding and differences in the way we train them, that may be contributing to the rise of cross country accidents.

It is clear in my mind: We now have an event that was designed by humans for humans rather than by humans for horses. Because of this, we have forced riders to cross the line between discipline and domination. It is sad to say, but all the changes our sport has recently endured have, each and every one, failed to produce the benefits that were predicted.

I see no way back to the classic format, because the FEI is often in error but never in doubt, and the FEI makes the rules. In addition, our present bureaucracy is deeply and emotionally invested in the mistaken belief that there is some magic rule change, if only they can write it. For them to make a massive change in their mindset is too much to expect. I only wish legendary event horses like Charisma or Kilkenny had a voice in those committees to say, “Have you really thought about what you are asking us to do?”

The Problems in the Eventing World Today by Lesley Stevenson, republished on EN from Lesley’s website My Virtual Eventing Coach (March 25, 2015): Lesley considers trends in modern course design, including the shift from old-fashioned, ramp-y tables to tables with vertical faces, that were intended to improve safety but may be having the opposite effect.

People were claiming that these forgiving fences were inviting bad and careless cross-country riding and that we needed to do something about that. So the trend unfortunately went back to putting vertical faces on the jumps … and rotational falls and deaths began to occur with more and more frequency.

We already have the show jumping phase to test the horse and riders’ ability to jump vertical faced fences cleanly. And there is always going to be some bad riding out there, unfortunately. Riders are always going to make mistakes. That will never change. We can’t legislate good riding. We can try … but it will never work. Instead we have to create a situation on cross country where they will not be as severely punished for their mistakes.

Left to Left by Carley Fedorka, republished on Chronicle of the Horse from Carley’s blog A Yankee in Paris (May 15, 2016): Whether we knew Philippa or not, Carley says, we’re all struggling to make sense of her death and the grief we are experiencing.

I will not make an excuse for the fence, I will not make an excuse for the fall. I will say a prayer for the family and friends that Philippa left behind, including a beautiful child. And I will give a strong nod to her from the warm-up arena of life, acknowledging that we have lost a great woman, a great person, and a fabulous rider. One more warm-up fence, and then off to the other side.

She got there doing something she loved, and while that is not enough to bring her back, it is enough to settle just a small amount of the heartbreak that so many are feeling.

Memories for Millie by Lesley Grant-Law, published on Horse-Canada.com (May 16, 2016): Lesley, the eventing mother of a young child herself, pens a letter to Philippa’s 6-month-old daughter Millie.

While it may have been the riding that took your mother away from you it was also the riding that made her the person she was, the passionate, driven, beautiful woman your father fell in love with and the woman that created you. 

My son is six now and almost every single night before bed I whisper to him and ask him if he understands that no matter what happens in life that he and his father are the most important things in the world to me and that I will never know a love greater than him. I do this because I know that working with the horses my chances are perhaps greater than others of injury and it is imperative for me that he knows above all else was my love for him. I guarantee to you your mother did, in some way, the same before she left out for that final event. You were so very loved.

When your mom died an entire community wept for her, for you and your father.

Where Do We Go From Here? by Amanda Chance, republished on EN from Amanda’s blog The $900 Facebook Pony (May 17, 2016):  In the face of tragedy it’s easy to feel helpless, especially when we’re not in a position of power. Amanda reminds us that we have more agency than we realize.

What can I do to help? I’m not a scientist, I’m not an engineer, I’m not an upper-level rider, I’m not a course designer. I personally can’t fix this problem. But I do know one thing: change requires money, and I’m 100 percent capable of controlling where mine goes.

Really want to help the sport of eventing? Let’s support the organizations, the events, the venues, the officials, the course designers, and the course builders that are dedicated to making everything safer for horses and riders.

As a final note, we invite readers to use EN as a safe, supportive discussion space. We are a community. We are a family. You are among friends.  

Go Eventing.