Caroline Martin on Effervescent  - photo by Cindy Lawler

Because we love this sport – photo by Cindy Lawler

I’ll start with a sad thing. As I write this, it is Father’s day, and my father is not with us today. He died in 2010 from a sudden heart attack that was totally unexpected. One minute he was eating lunch with my mother and the next, he was gone. It was totally traumatic of course, as the death of a parent can be, but we got through it. I found a lot of inner strength when I lost my dad, stuff I didn’t know I could do, and looking back on it, that was the thing I took away and have tried to build on. My mother died last year, and in a way, Dad’s death prepared us for Mom’s. So there is a way in this life to get through things, I know this now, but of course, at the time, you can’t think about anything but the tragedy you are living through.

Eventing is a sport with risk. We know this. We sign an entry form often months before the actual event takes place, signing away our right to pursue any legal action should something awful happen, so the organizers and stakeholders in the sport make sure we know it’s risky before we even get there. We are required to wear accident-adverse apparel (helmets and vests and armbands with medical information). We have pages and pages of rules we need to know basically relating to safety in competition. We train with professional trainers with more experience than ourselves in order to ride with the best ideas toward safe competing. We walk courses again and again to see if there is anything we’ve missed, and plan our rides even from Beginner Novice on up with hours of inspection, study, discussion, and attention. We ride, and train, jump, gallop, school at home all at risk, and that at every step we take around horses, around the barn, and not always on top of a horse — accidents happen everywhere with horses.

We know this risk. We embrace and become comfortable with it but not complacent. It’s there. It follows us and it keeps us on our toes. I don’t think we ever really ignore it, and I don’t think anyone ignores risk when galloping at speed at the four-star level toward a maximum oxer. Or a beginner novice rider cantering carefully toward Log Number One. We do this because we love it. Because despite all the risk, the things that COULD happen, we want to make eventing part of our lives. We live, we breathe, we risk, we can’t help it. It’s part of our existence, testing ourselves, knowing we can live with risk, that we can work to handle all aspects of the sport of eventing at whatever level we choose. In a way, wanting to compete is an expression of life, of freedom to do what thrills us. Death should not be a part of it and it shocks us and saddens us that two riders in our sport lost their lives on Saturday, June 14, 2014.

Unfortunately, in living our lives in this universe, it’s sad to say that suffering and death are an unavoidable part of it. When someone old suffers and dies, we expect that. When someone young dies, we don’t expect it, and we look for answers. We look at the horse, the course, the event, the organizer, the crowd, the circumstances, the time of day, and the sport, and whatever else looks like it fits in to the picture to blame, but it’s our normal way of trying to find out how to deal with the unexplained. (Unfortunately, some people, with the added soapbox of free internet speech, go a little overboard on speculation). We know the sport. What we don’t know is when something might happen to us, or to our loved ones. We don’t know how we will react when it does. We don’t know what the other people of the world are going to say about our sport — until IT happens. Then we read things we never thought we’d hear or see from people who know better, or we thought would have known better. The thing to do is to remember, it is a way we have of trying to explain the mystery of our journey through life, and a natural reaction to bad news.

I would prefer to find the good in this. For instance, I’ve read about courage and strength – like the mother of the German rider at Luhmuhlen who urged the event continue (how incredibly unselfish, courageous and strong of her, I cannot imagine in her grief having the ability to stand up and “sell” her son’s wish just hours after his death on the course.) And I am sure there are other courageous ways that the families of the two deceased riders are going on, and putting one foot in front of the other, and getting through it. To me, that’s what the sport is – strength, courage, focus, and an immense envelope of family throughout the world who comes together not only to celebrate our great wins at the international level, but also to give virtual and real hugs in times of deep sorrow. This too is instinctive — to share the grief of families. Remember the riders were doing what they loved, and were on cross country, the best and most fun part of our sport, and from all accounts, may not have suffered.

Let us share our grief, rather than our judgment, in this way – do something to reaffirm your love of freedom and eventing. Get up,  go out, and compete. Send in an entry. Take a lesson. Walk your course one more time. Focus on strength. Talk with friends in person rather than online. Be grateful. Enjoy your barn time. Yes, feel sorrow and empathy with those who have lost, and pray for their peace (or the equivalent of prayer in your religion).

Look for the good.

Hug your pony.

— Holly