Three USEA recognized horse trials are revving their engines to run this weekend following a months’ long suspension of events due to coronavirus: Plantation Field H.T. in Unionville, PA; Feather Creek H.T. in Norman, Oklahoma; and River Glen H.T. in New Market, Tennessee.
It might be easy, when you’re back in your happy place with the sun shining and the birds singing and the startbox beckoning, to revert to a business-as-usual mindset. It’s easy to forget, when you are surrounded by the familiar, that the out-of-body experience of the past three months even happened. But the reality is: We’re still living in a fragile moment, and you’ve got more responsibility than ever to yourself, to your community and to your horse.
As several hundred horses and riders countdown to events this weekend and the weekends following, let’s take the time for a reality check.
Reality Check #1: HEALTH
We’re just now poking our heads out from a global pandemic that has claimed 106,000 American lives and has sickened 1.8 million Americans, and four times that globally. Chester County, site of Plantation Field, has had 284 coronavirus deaths. Cleveland County, site of Feather Creek, ranks #3 out of 77 counties in Oklahoma for coronavirus caseload. Jefferson County, home of River Glen, is as out-in-the-sticks as it gets but has still seen dozens of cases. So don’t think that just because you’re at an event you aren’t capable of contracting or spreading the virus, or taking it home with you to the people you love. We may have flattened the curve but we’re far from being out of the woods.
We’ve got to police ourselves here. All USEA events are require to adhere to the USEF COVID-19 Action Plan, which can be found in the USEF COVID-19 toolkit. If an event isn’t complying with protocol, report it. If the people around you aren’t complying with protocol, report it. You can view Plantation Field’s protocol here and Feather Creek’s protocol here. I’ll be out at my local event River Glen this weekend, taking notes (in a mask, from a safe distance), and I’ll be reporting back to you on Monday morning about what I saw. Please don’t let me down.
It’s great that our sport is back up and running, but coronavirus took us down once and it can take us down again, all the way back to square one, if we don’t all do our part and stay vigilant.
Reality Check #2: SAFETY
Way back before a deadly novel virus and nationwide protests were consuming our bandwidth, the event world was facing another crisis: safety. On Feb. 29, at one of the last events before our show season went dark, Katharine Morel died in a rotational fall at Rocking Horse Winter III H.T. She was the fifth rider in eight months we lost to cross-country related accidents in North America alone.
I’m done writing obituaries.
The next time you head for the startbox, be it this weekend or a month from now or three months from now, remember that this is your horse’s first outing in some time. Take into account his physical and mental readiness, and yours as well. Nobody expects you to go for broke out there. Don’t gallop faster than your angels can fly, as a coach once told me. Your life is worth much more than a blue ribbon, and trust me: in a week or two from now, nobody will even remember who won Plantation Field, or Feather Creek, or River Glen June H.T.
If your horse doesn’t feel 100% in the warm-up, call it a day. If you get out on course and feel rusty, call it a day. If you’re entering an event and it’s been a hot minute, bump down a level. This checklist from the USEA is a great tool for self-evaluation. Can you tick ALL the boxes?
Reality Check #3: GRATITUDE
If anything, I hope the trials we have faced over the past three months — the trials we CONTINUE to face — have served as a reminder of just how fortunate we are: for our health, for our family’s health, for our horses, for the opportunity to be part of a sport and a community that welcomes us with open arms. What a privilege, which we too often take for granted. Whether you are eventing or not this weekend, take a quiet moment to let that sink in.
Feel gratitude, and express it. Thank your event organizer for going out of their way to create a space for you to do the thing you love, despite all the hurdles and uncertainty. Thank every volunteer you see — they are there by choice, and calculated risk. (Bonnie Kibbie, Chair of the USEA Volunteer Committee, suggests PATIENCE as Reality Check#4: “Please bear with event officials, volunteers, and organizers as they navigate a change to pretty much every aspect of how events are run. Scores will be slower to post because we are trying to limit passing papers around.”)
Thank your barn help, your trainer, and the family and friends who have anchored you through these tough times. And social distancing be damned, go give that horse of yours a big hug.
Now, more than ever, Go Eventing.