Perspective: Are We Trying to Fix a Problem by Creating More?

A number of riders have shared with us their opinions about a recently proposed rule change by the USEA concerning the increased number of MERs to move up to Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced You can read the latest updates on this proposal here, where you’ll also find a link to a survey soliciting member feedback. Alyssa Craig is a junior rider based in Texas who competes at Training on Novelle (a retired 5-star eventer formerly campaigned by Angela Bowles) while her horse Bandini recovers from an illness. To read other Perspective pieces on this topic, click here.

Alyssa Craig and Bandini. Photo courtesy of Jerry Mohme Photography.

As someone who splits her time between show jumping and eventing, I am able to see the good and bad within both sports. Eventing is something so unique and special; we are a community of hardworking individuals who go the extra mile through tenacity and dedication. This is why these new rules completely destroy everything that makes us so rare within the horse world. Long gone are the days when grit and working hard were enough to make it. Working students were given once in a lifetime chances to ride top level horses and get the upper level experience they so desperately needed. This is something that will never happen again.

Under our new restrictions, that horse and rider would have to go back to Training and run 8 times at each level as they moved up. By the time they had completed that, going Advanced wouldn’t be safe.

Someone living in Area II or III could do 4 to 5 shows a season, barring no injuries or falling off, so it would take them a full year to complete each level. People living outside of that holy eventing grail who aren’t able to leave their area would take double that time, making it nearly impossible for those horses that are so imperative for the future of our sport to safely take those riders around the top levels.

Then there is the extra cost now associated with this. The cost to move up to Prelim for someone living outside of Area II and III can reach $10,000. The majority of people in this sport don’t have that type of extra money just to get back to the level where they were already competing. Think of the people who are going Training now and have aspirations for the top level but don’t have a horse that will take them around Kentucky. Let’s say they get to Intermediate with their current horse and then buy something going Intermediate — they would also be returning to Training. Those kids seeing these rules put in place are now considering if they would rather go straight show jumping or dressage. While I understand that there has to be regulations in the name of safety — to try to make something inherently dangerous as safe as possible — I don’t believe these rules work for the majority of people.

If the days since this proposal was announced is any indication of what the future looks like, eventing in America will cease to exist. Are we really ready to let this top group of riders be our last? What should happen is to move the mandatory events to six at each level, but riders shouldn’t have to start over at Training each time they get a new horse. If someone is going Intermediate, they should be required to do six Prelims before moving back up to Intermediate. If someone is going Advanced they should be required to do four Prelims and then six Intermediates before going Advanced.

This also protects the selling market. People are only going to produce sales horses to Training, which involves new danger of a kid taking their horse around both of their first Prelims. This will also happen with the upper level horses. If you are ready to move up to Advanced and so is the horse, you don’t want to go to Training. This means ill-equipped riders going Novice and Training are going to buy these horses, making things more unsafe.

We are trying to fix a problem by causing more. We can’t create a situation where unsafe riding starts to take place at the lower levels. To truly fix the problem we need to hold trainers and riders more accountable. We hold them to such a high standard with Safe Sport, why not do the same thing with actual riding? Make both the trainers and riders sign a form that they both feel ready to move up. Make people take responsibility for their actions. Unless you have declared professional status I think this should happen at every level. Teach kids from the time they are going starter what it actually means to ride and do it well. By doing this it will enforce that riders are fully immersed in a program. If they aren’t, a trainer will be very hesitant to sign off because of the liability of dangerous riding. Let’s train our trainers how to be the best that they can be, make being ICP certified more important, and don’t let people coach at shows if they aren’t certified.

We have witnessed too many bad things in our sport to sit by and let more keep happening. If someone sees something dangerous, go and report it to the TD. What we can’t do is enforce rules that are so outlandish and unattainable for the majority that they stop being a part of the system. If people can’t afford the extra $10,000, they might just go to schooling shows because those stipulations don’t apply, and there isn’t the safety implemented to keep those people safe. We have to do whatever we can to protect the backbone of our sport.