Perspective: Is the New Qualification Rule Sending Eventing Down the Wrong Path?

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. Madelyn Floyd shares her perspective.

Madelyn Floyd and Clementine. Photo by Alison Green for Shannon Brinkman.

We need to talk about the most recently proposed rule change by the USEA. The increased number of MERs to move up to Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced.

This change, albeit made in the interest of safety, is dangerous for eventing. It is dangerous for riders and dangerous for horses.

Mandating 10 MERs at Preliminary and Intermediate, as a combination, will phase West Coast non-pros and those on a budget out of the sport. For example, Area VII only has eight intermediate events in a season, and that’s if you run every single event in a season. I don’t know how many horses would be sound at the end of a year like that. Beyond that, I’m not sure how many riders can financially afford to compete in that many events in one year, or would want to. There are amateurs in my own barn who can only afford to do a handful of events annually. They aren’t any less ready to go Preliminary because of this, so why should they be forced to pay more than twice as many entry fees just to do a Prelim?

I know trainers who save their horse’s legs, only running a few times at a level but still taking the time to prepare before moving up. Why should they be forced to pay more entry fees and put more miles on their horses legs?

Personally, all this scares me. I turned 18 last year and am looking at my future wondering: how am I going to afford to keep doing this? Are my dreams worth risking my horse’s health? Is my financial stability worth the sport I love? Right now, show jumping looks pretty appealing. That hurts me.

I doubt I am the only young eventer thinking this way. I hate to say it, but Phillip and Boyd will eventually age out of eventing. Who will replace them? Who will replace their replacements? The next Olympic gold medalist might be out there reading this rule proposal and deciding eventing just isn’t worth it anymore. The future Team USA will have ended before it began.

I don’t hear enough young riders getting upset about this. I don’t think many understand how this will affect us as a community. You should be panicked, upset, and offended that this is how the USEA is trying to keep us safe. This is a lazy solution to a combined problem of poor riding and accident. I can count on my hand the riders I know who this rule seems to be targeted to.

Maybe a better solution is introducing rider evaluations. What if, when an official sees someone else looking like they might rotate or fall, they stop them and address it. Prevent the fatal accident before it happens, instead of continuing to blame the course designer, horse, or venue.

I know that this solution would be effective, because it was for me. I was at Rebecca Farms, running my first long format 2*. My horse didn’t have a huge gallop, but moved her little legs really fast. I came in under the time and had a good round. BUT I was too fast coming into a combination, where my smart little mare rocked herself back and bounced off the ground. I had been trying to slow her down, but she was significantly stronger than she looked. After second jogs, the ground jury pulled me aside to talk. I was not yellow carded or given dangerous riding, but was explained that I needed to be slower in that one place.

Peter Gray, specifically, was very kind in explaining that I hadn’t done anything “wrong” per-se, but if I wanted to go Intermediate, I should work out how to get better brakes. He helped me understand how balance and speed play together, and why a slip-up at Preliminary might become a disaster at Intermediate. The next time they saw me at Rebecca Farms I was riding the same horse Intermediate, but in a curb gag with two reins. I was not too fast anywhere that day.

That talk changed the way I thought about cross country and prompted a lot more conversations with trainers. It educated me in a way that doing more Preliminaries wouldn’t have. I hadn’t considered my mare might be too strong, or that allowing her to fix things wouldn’t be okay at intermediate. That decision, by that ground jury, changed my riding for the better. They might have stopped me from falling down. All I know is that decisions like that should happen more often.

Asking riders to pay for more events, or wait years to achieve their MERs is only successful in making eventing more inaccessible and disheartening those who are not professionals. It will not educate riders or teach them what causes fatal accidents. I’m begging USEA, don’t break my heart again. I love this sport; don’t make me quit now.