Eventing is a tough sport for both horses and riders and equally as difficult mentally as it is physically. It’s a sport that stretches you to the limits and then asks you for more. When you think you’re on top of the world, there’s only one way to go, and eventing is here to remind you that it’s not up. There is no perfect formula for success, no mathematical equation that produces a string of blue ribbons and no book that can illuminate everything that goes on inside William Fox-Pitt’s mind.
To me, one of the most alluring and simultaneously frustrating things about our sport is that a lot of success relies on gut reactions and intangible feelings. Surely, this is apparent when it comes to cross-country riding and is certainly one of the reasons that we so admire those of us who are proficient in that phase. The same could be said of dressage, where riders who excel there seem to have an impossibly accurate sense of every part of their horse’s body and an even more enviable ability to control those parts.
Apart from the actual act of competing, however, a larger part of success is the process of getting there and then staying there. This is an even more elusive set of skills, as almost everybody has different training methods, different fitness regimes and certainly different superstitions. Veterinary attention, farrier practices and feeding schedules are all part of the grander picture, and there is no perfect answer.
So the question is, with all the possibilities and all the input from different sources, how in the world do you decide what is the best path to success for you and your horse? Here are a few of the small variables at your fingertips: Who do you train with for dressage/show jumping/cross country? How do you tell what kind of fitness regime and/or gallop sets are best for your horse and his level? How many days a week do you practice dressage? Or jump? What kind of jumping exercises are useful for you at this moment? What should you feed your horse, and how much? Who should you trust to look after him every day? Who do you choose to trust with your veterinary decisions? How far are you willing to go with medical procedures? Who shoes your horse? When should you have a lesson? Are you ready for this level? The next level?
Alas, I have no answer for you. Through education, experience and sometimes trial and error, we all find our way eventually and develop our own definition of success. We take pieces of expertise that we find along the way from riders far better than us and compile them into a new solution to the problem.
This is what makes eventing one of the most challenging sports in the world. Yes, the physical requirements are great, and without mental strength and tenacity you won’t survive, but the ability to create a personalized system for each horse that incorporates all the variables and equals success is the true challenge. This is what makes the rare win at a competition even more valuable and admirable and what makes us look up to people who have been able to replicate success over and over on a multitude of mounts. To be able to strike the perfect balance between all of the competing factors in creating a successful horse is the real test of our sport, and what makes us come back for more every day.