What is eventing? The sport, the equestrian contest? I think we all have an idea of what it is; dressage, show jumping, then cross country jumping. Not necessarily in that order.
However, eventing has a lot of variations, especially when it comes to the two jumping parts. Sometimes, the line is blurred between the two disciplines – some cross country type jumps get added to the show jumping course, or, as recently happened in Wellington, Florida, USA, at the “Eventing Showcase”, a very tiny cross country course is manufactured on manicured grounds that don’t resemble any real cross country course in the rest of the United States or Canada, or world, for that matter. This is not eventing with a facelift – it’s a triple D boob job.
Naturally, there was a lot of money, and a lot of cheery, wonderful, nice things said by people who were there, and it looked pretty on the feed and in the pictures taken and posted on social media. Oh, and there was a LOT of money, $75,000 in prize money and next year, a whopping $100,000 promised. And it was only the tippy top of the top level of riders that competed – no “novice” in sight.
Here’s the thing. Do we know what eventing really is? Are we clinging to an outdated version of eventing? Is this new version of tiny cross country with big beautiful “Beyonce” jumps on tiny postage stamp backyards the new way forward? Certainly, media reports and quotes from the man who started the “Eventing Showcase” indicates that he feels that is what eventing is. And he is the one who is also on line to present the American Eventing Championships in Tryon, N.C.
If you are a Novice or Training level rider, or basically any level under Advanced (and that’s 90 percent of the eventing world), you can let yourself think that you really don’t matter to the new “eventing” paradigm. We are like in the tryouts of American Idol and they are like Beyonce. We’re never going there and they’re never coming to us.
What really worries me is what will happen to events like Rolex. The new eventing doesn’t need the galloping hills, the true test of the jumping horse, the footing, the ultimate in horse skill set. They need only the look of it and not the substance. But if that is what is wanted by those at the top, then presumably that is what eventing will become. Or will it?
Horses come and go and owners, too, will come and go, but land lasts forever. Those of us who also foxhunt, and ride over the land, know this – our landowners who let us hunt on their beautiful fields and trails and woods are most precious to us. The organizers, the facilities that provide the sport for us, they aren’t being seen with gigantic checks for the photo ops, but they are still giving us fields full of jumps to ride over and events that test our skill. They haven’t thrown in the towel yet.
So let’s do a reality check here. Who wouldn’t want to be feted, praised, rewarded, treated like royalty, showcased and made to feel special? Of course the ULR’s who attend these top level events love them. I sure would. And they all know that isn’t the real world. They get back in the truck and head back to work, get on the novice horses left at home, teaching clinics for income, buying and selling horses to pay the bills. It’s fun while it lasts but I think we all know hard work makes winners. (The winner this year – Boyd Martin, and second-placed Colleen Rutledge – are among the hardest working eventers in North America, if not the world.)
Eventing still remains the horse trial in all other areas and places I can think of in the U.S. and Canada. We are still going to take our young horses cross-country schooling on real courses with real water jumps, banks, ditches, and that big old trakehner that you are definitely going to conquer this year. And, somewhere, there are new courses being built as you read this. Lots of people are checking the omnibus online, writing stuff down, looking at the calendar for the year and making plans to compete.
We are not losing the sport. There are HUNDREDS of horse trials and events scheduled in the US this year. We are not seeing wholesale change, nor will we see it. Our sport remains healthy and grows each year. The news from down south doesn’t worry me or scare me. I’m not in February in Florida. I’m in June at Fair Hill, when the birds sing because they want to, and the real grass is green from rain and sunshine, the jumps are doable and the course looks awesome. I can’t wait. Eventing for me is still great and still hard and still the best sport I can imagine doing on my horses, even if it’s just a humble log 2 foot 7 inches in height, and no VIP tents in sight.