This has been a tough week in the world of eventing. Between the tragedies at Jersey Fresh last weekend and the ensuing storm of criticism for our discipline (and our nosebands), it’s fully understandable why some who embrace our sport are feeling discouraged.
But while participating in a schooling horse trial last Sunday, the day after the news of the heartbreaks had pummeled our eventing community full-force, I was struck with an amazing sense of pride to be part of this sport. Even though most of these riders knew full-well what had occurred the day before, they still chose to climb out of their warm beds early on that chilly morning. They loaded multiple sets of tack, helmets, vest, equipment, brushes, boots, saddle pads and horse in the trailer and they showed up.
Even while their minds might have been mulling over thoughts like “Could the same thing happen to me or my horse?” “Will I be OK today?” or “I can’t believe I do this to myself,” they still tacked up, climbed on their amazing horses and competed. They chose to ride their dressage test and stadium jumping rounds, and some elected to navigate their way around the cross-country course. They chose to push through the fear, cancel out the small uncertain voices in their heads, quell their nerves and focus instead on the task in front of them.
In the midst of the underlying sadness and discouragement that many were feeling last Sunday, I had the opportunity to witness displays of willpower, determination and most of all, courage. I observed myriad emotions: cheers from those supporting the rider who just had the dressage test of a lifetime, tears of discouragement from a refusal in stadium, smiles of pure joy after a double-clear.
After finishing an average dressage test myself (but wishing I had experienced my “Yanni moment” from late last year) and riding a clean stadium round, I prepared to finish my day on beginner novice cross-country, riding my mare Sallie. As we cantered towards our first fence, I felt any fear or nervousness I may have been holding inside literally dissolve. Instead, feelings of freedom, joy and exhilaration filled me as we took flight over our jumps in the open field.
As I relaxed at home later that evening, I reflected on the fact that days like last Sunday are what keep us coming back to the competitions, get us out of bed on the cold mornings, and carry us through our lessons in the exhausting heat of a summer afternoon. We realize that it does take amazing courage, determination, faith and pure guts to take part in this sport. This is what makes up the special heart of an eventer!
As riders we are blessed with the opportunity to allow our beautiful, amazing eventing partners to carry us into a ring full of letters, over colorful stadium jumps, or across a field, flying over the solid obstacles. As for our horses, William Steinkraus summed it up best when he said, “We must never forget, every time we sit on a horse what an extraordinary privilege it is; to be able to unite one’s body with that of another sentient being, one that is stronger, faster and more agile by far than we are, and at the same time brave, generous and uncommonly forgiving.”
As a community we are the first to lend a hand if needed; we are there to cheer on one of our fellow boarders at her first competition, spend the afternoon taking pictures of our friends so we can have “that moment” captured forever, or establish a college fund for Philippa Humphrey’s daughter, knowing that others who feel the pain of her loss will contribute generously.
As for our competitions, whether schooling or recognized, I think my trainer Mark Combs summed it up so well after observing a 60-year old rider finish her first horse trial, coming off course in tears of joy: “This is what it’s all about.”