The Future of Eventing Lies in The Caribbean

If you ask Hollywood, x marks the Caribbean Islands as a place of adventure; a location on a map that’s shrouded in mystery, where pirates abound and mermaids lounge along the shores. Today, I want to show you a different side of the Caribbean. It may indeed be the location of the Fountain of Youth, but instead of giving Jack Sparrow eternal life, it may breathe new life into the eventing industry.

As long as eventing remains a sport only practiced in the Western world, namely the United States, Europe, and Australia, its probability of a long lifespan is low. Eventing is also the equestrian discipline that is arguably most accessible in terms of money and horsepower, and can open up new paths of access to the international stage for those who have been routinely denied that access. This is the story of three women who, despite living oceans apart, have been slowly building a beneficial partnership to achieve both those aims.

Our story begins with underdog Monique Archer, the President of the Eventing Federation in Barbados and the FEI Deputy Chair for group IV, which encompasses Barbados, the Cayman Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Haiti, Canada, and Trinidad & Tobago among others. In 2016, Monique decided that she would go to the Central American and Caribbean Games for eventing. But she had just one problem, she had never evented before and the CAC Games were just two years away. On top of her own personal riding background, there were many obstacles in her way.

Monique Archer and her mare. When there’s no aquacizer in Barbados, you make do with the ocean! Photo by Charlotte Headley.

“In small countries, you have limitations that prevent you from making a team or achieving the MERS. Funding, opportunities to compete, coaching, horsepower– all of that is a major obstacle when you live in little tiny places. It really is a challenge. We [import] everything here. Every single thing that you can think of to run a stable,” Monique said.

Land is also in short supply (unfortunately you can’t import that) and today, there is only one cross country course on Barbados, and it’s in Monique’s backyard. Financial difficulties were also an obstacle in her path, with sponsorships unheard of in the small country. “I think trying to get sponsorship for any sport in Barbados is a challenge,” Monique said. “I would reach out to people and say, ‘Oh, this is what I’m doing and I’m from Barbados.’ I feel like as soon as they hear that, and they’re like, ‘No, we’re not interested.’”

Despite the hurdles she had to jump before she even left the startbox, Monique and her team, including her daughter Zoe Archer, won the first equestrian medal in the country’s history by taking bronze at the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games. That bronze medal would start a fire that would spread across the Caribbean.

Three cheers for Barbados! The team won the first eventing medal in the country’s history at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 2018. Photo courtesy of Liz Halliday.

“I know that that really inspired the entire Caribbean, because people felt inspired knowing that all three of us were Barbadians living in Barbados and we managed to do this,” said Monique. “It just made people think, ‘maybe this is a more accessible pathway than showjumping.’”

Less than a mile across the ocean, Patrice Stottlemeyer in Trinidad & Tobago watched Monique gallop onto the international stage. Now the President of the Trinidad and Tobago Equestrian Association, Patrice saw the path Monique had paved and knew that this could be Trinidad’s chance to step into the big leagues in equestrian sport.

“Our long term goal is to go international, in a manner that’s affordable to us. And you know, the cost of the warmbloods for dressage and jumping is beyond most,” Patrice said.

While warmbloods are expensive worldwide, they’re particularly expensive for those living in small countries with few resources. Trinidad does, however, have access to a different type of horse: off the track Thoroughbreds.

Riders working over makeshift cross country fences in Trinidad and Tobago. Photo by Clive Fletcher

“We in Trinidad have done the normal, straight show jumping and straight dressage for many, many years, but our real issue was that the horses that we have are Thoroughbreds off the track. And the Thoroughbreds off the track can jump to a certain level and can handle dressage to a certain level, but not to the level that exists in the FEI,” Patrice said. “It was really very, very hard to get the horses up to these levels. But eventing was something that we really had not started until the FEI introduced a world eventing challenge, I guess about three years ago. So, because of our horses, we started introducing eventing, and the FEI has helped us by introducing a Retraining the Racehorse program.”

While Monique and Patrice connected over their shared goal of using eventing as an accessible way to reach the upper levels for riders in the Caribbean, Monique also connected Patrice with CCI5* eventer Sara Kozumplik, one of Monique’s coaches on her journey to her bronze medal, who she had grown very close with.

“[Sara and I] are very much kindred spirits in terms of really wanting to promote the sport and help riders. We’re both very, very passionate about growing the sport,” Monique said.

Sara Kozumplik teaching in Barbados. Photo courtesy of Sara Kozumplik

Sara has traveled across the Caribbean giving clinics; she even teaches lessons to Rómulo Roux, who is running for president of Panama, at her home base in northern Virginia. Acting as a missionary spreading the good word about eventing, Sara believes that eventing will only survive with global support.

“I personally think the biggest threat to eventing worldwide will be loss of venues. Yes, of course safety is an issue. But we need to get more countries involved in this sport. It can’t just be the United States and Europe and Australia,” Sara said. “We have to get more countries involved in the sport. And so we have to involve ourselves down there and not turn our noses up. We have to get more people involved and more venues involved worldwide.”

Sara is practicing what she preaches. Just last month, she hosted a Pony-Club-style camp for riders who flew in from Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago. “A lot of these kids they’ve certainly never gone cross country. They’ve never even hacked down the road, right? They’ve never been out of a ring. They hadn’t really done any dressage. And we do basically a glorified pony club type camp, only much more sophisticated in the sense of the people putting it on,” said Sara.

Riders from Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados at Sara Kozumplik’s week-long camp. Photo courtesy of Sara Kozumplik

Instructors at the week-long clinic included highly experienced five-star groom Max Corcoran, cross country course designer Megan Rowsell, and dressage judge Debbie Adams, among others. Needless to say, it was a hit.

“You can see how excited they are to be able to come to this farm and see the open space and all of that kind of stuff. You can hear their excitement, they’re all stopping the car and taking videos and pictures and for them to be able to go canter across the field– it’s not something they get to do. So they’re all really really excited,” Sara said.

The group of ten ranged in age from adults to young kids. The Ocala community came together to make the week a success, allowing Sara to lease out their experienced event horses to make sure the riders from the islands had a safe and fun introduction to eventing. Even Sara’s former 5* horse Rubens D’Ysieux stepped up to the plate after one of the horses developed an abscess.

“He certainly wasn’t supposed to be doing that, although he is one that I would do that sort of thing with like, let them just trot around and things like that, simply because I trust him implicitly,” Sara said. “But he was supposed to just go have a few stretchy days and then just chill out after TerraNova because he’s had a pretty busy season showjumping. But also it wasn’t like it was very hard work. He enjoyed it.”

Sara Kozumplik and Rubens D’Ysieux and a rider from the Caribbean. Photo by Shannon Brinkman

During the week the riders went cross country schooling, rode in a dressage show judged by Debbie Adams, had their own mini show jumping show, and got to watch the Grand Prix at the Florida Horse Park. By the end of the week, the group was feeling inspired to say the least.

“We have some very fired up youngsters for sure and some people that are now willing to invest in their own horses or lease their own horses or just try to find a way to take those next steps. So that was really encouraging to see coming out of [the clinic],” said Monique.

Looking to the future, Monique and Patrice both say that they hope to see their countries represented at first the CAC games, then the Pan American Games, and someday, hopefully, the Olympics.

“One of the main goals from this trip was not just to introduce the kids to eventing and see the scene over here, it was also to set them up in the future. If they wanted to further their education and wanted to try to become riders that could represent Barbados for the Central American and Pan American Games, they would have connections that they could trust to come and train with,” Sara said. “It’s really a very big world and you don’t know where you should be going or who you can trust or who’s capable of doing these sorts of things, right? So it just opens up new doors so that then you have someone you can connect with and you can ask them questions or advice and figure out the best path forward.”

Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

There’s a long road ahead for these island riders, but there’s also a lot of passion and hope to help them along the way. “It’s all stepping stones and it all starts somewhere with a little bit of passion. This is kind of what lit a fire within the Caribbean and made people think that this could be a fun path [to the international stage],” Monique said. “For me this is a sort of legacy. Just to pass this along to future generations and make sure that we have a really big group and this doesn’t just die after a year or two. So, it’s exciting to see countries like Trinidad and Jamaica, following in my footsteps and looking to [start eventing] as well and make it a reality.”

This small group of riders from a collection of very small islands has a big dream riding on their backs. Not only to elevate equestrian sport in the Caribbean, but also to breathe new life into the sport of eventing at a time when we’re on the cusp of ever so slowly fading into the background.

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