Lower Levels at Events: Incompatible with a Prestigious Event?

A disappearing sight at an event?  Photo courtesy of Palmer Photography A disappearing sight at an event? Photo courtesy of Palmer Photography

I am going to pose a question to you, and then proceed to answer that question from my perspective.  I realize that we all approach the answers to any question from our own life experiences, so I don’t expect that my position will be shared by everyone.

I can easily see other sides, however, when I feel strongly about something, my friends know I am vocal about my concerns.  (I do hope I come across as fair and open minded and even-keeled when addressing a disagreement, but then you also know how passionate we eventers are, so that might not always be the case!)

Should a recognized event offer Beginner Novice? At what point are the number of entries “too low” to offer a division?

I recently inquired about an event organizer’s omnibus listing for an upcoming recognized event where there was no Beginner Novice division offered.  The event had previously offered this level, so I looked up last year’s entries for the division and it was really light (ten entries).

However, during the winter of 2014, this division was very well attended at both this event facility and another event venue located in very close proximity.  I went through the entries and added them up; the other two events at this venue had 19 and 34 entries across the Beginner Novice divisions.  The other venue fared a little better, with 36, 25, 49 and 21 entries for winter 2014.  Not too bad, some of the shows even had enough entries that the juniors got divided out into their own division!

I get that there is a certain number below which is not cost effective to hold a division: you have a dressage judge to pay and cross country jump judges to find and feed, not to mention the course designer has another level to measure and mark.

Clearly the ten riders at Beginner Novice in 2013 is a division riding that fine line of being offered or not.  However, the reply that I got from the organizer is that they are trying to keep the “standards of the sport high, period”.  By not offering Beginner Novice? Really? Offering Beginner Novice somehow lowers those standards? How? Because kids on their ponies get to experience recognized eventing at the same show where they can rub shoulders with current and former Olympians? Qualify for AECs? (Last I checked, Beginner Novice was the largest division that filled at the AECs).

I believe professionals and amateurs alike need recognized shows to offer the lower levels to competitors for a multitude of reasons. What about those over 50 amateurs who are lifers at Beginner Novice? No one says you HAVE to move up, right?

For me, personally, I like bringing the green beans out at Beginner Novice. I don’t think I am the only rider who likes to do that. I know some trainers bring their horses out at Novice or even at Training, but I am an amateur rider and I breed, so I like to get them going at Beginner Novice first. Have them gain confidence, then move them up.  I readily admit that most of mine do three or so Beginner Novice before they move up to Novice.

But there are Schooling Shows!

We do have excellent schooling shows, where anyone can gain great experience at Beginner Novice (and on up to Training), but the shows aren’t the same feel.  Often the courses are similar, with very good cross country courses, and certainly the schooling shows are well run in our area (Area III).

But if you are a breeder like me, showing young green beans, the first thing a prospective buyer does is look up their show record on the USEA website!  If the local events stop offering Beginner Novice at their recognized shows, a rider/trainer may bump their babies up to Novice too early, trying to establish that record.   The trainer or parent may push the child on the pony too quickly to move up to Novice to get them to a recognized competition.

The trainer/pro/coach may make less money!

The trainer may bring less clients to the shows they are competing at, because their students don’t have divisions in which to compete.  We left behind horses for three separate events in Area III this winter, simply because the shows did not offer Beginner Novice (and in one case, Novice). These were shows that would have been fun to attend, with a group of friends, with a trainer who was disappointed that they couldn’t join us but they chose that show because it offered Advanced (and a lot of venues don’t offer Advanced, at least not at every show).

We could split the divisions to show on different weekends!

I have heard the suggestion that the venues might offer the lower levels the weekend before the upper levels, but I don’t see that scenario playing out very well.  Now you have to find double the volunteers (or try using the same volunteers on back to back weekends).

You have another weekend where you have to have a TD, judges, course designers and stewards on the payroll.  Trainers get to attend the show two weekends in a row, once to show upper level horses and school their upper level students and again to show babies and coach their lower level amateur riders.  If the trainer is from out of state, how likely is that trainer going to attend both?

I have also heard they can offer the lower levels earlier in the week.  That works if you are the pro on your green bean, not so much if you are the amateur owner with limited vacation time or the kid still in school.

Eventing will miss out on a crucial ingredient: camaraderie.

There are other aspects of removing Beginner Novice or offering a split show scenario that come to mind and, for me, one of the things I like best about eventing is that if you are showing at Beginner Novice or any of the lower level divisions, you can watch the pros and higher level amateurs ride and compete.

I learn so much by volunteering to jump judge the upper levels and watch them warm their horses up for dressage.  The eventing community is so open and friendly and I think it greatly adds to the sport that we compete in: pros and amateurs alike are enjoying our horses together – on the same weekend, at the same venue and often times in the same divisions!

And we are inspired by watching the upper level horse and their rider getting the job done on course.  Eventing would lose greatly, I fear, by separating the minions from the pros, and I for one would not like to see that happen.

EN Readers, weigh in!  Do you think offering Beginner Novice (or Novice) at an event in any way detracts from that event?  Makes it less prestigious?

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