Thursday, October 22, 2015

In Defense of Eventing

photo courtesy of Alli and Dino
I'm very lukewarm about eventing in general. It's certainly not what I want to do right now with this horse and the national/international scene has made a lot of choices that I find questionable at best. My top 2 favorite eventers of all time are both out of the game right now--Andrew Nicholson suffered a broken neck earlier this season and William Fox Pitt sustained a traumatic brain injury (of uncertain extent) at a young horse competition in the past week.

photo courtesy of Alyssa
These aren't young, reckless, first timers making stupid mistakes. We're talking about some of the best riders in the entire world of any discipline, and the sport is THISCLOSE to killing them.

And that's scary as hell.

I'm violating my own personal rule here (when you have something to say about eventers, remind yourself not to say it), and going out on a limb.

Eventing is reckless. Dangerous. Directionless. Ever-changing.

It offers all the dangers of climbing a sheer rock wall in the wilderness, with none of the safety equipment and adds a vastly-increased risk of head trauma. It involves making a fragile prey animal hurl itself over fixed obstacles at speed while the rider attempts to hang on to anything that keeps them more or less in the saddle. "Style points" refer to desperately clinging on in an inevitable sticky situation instead of any particular definable attribute that you could possibly train for.

photo courtesy of Lindsey
It's a terrible idea, a horrifying concept, and a sport embraced by many around the world.

When I heard about WFP's injury and the hour-long course hold while they stabilized him enough to move him to a hospital, I was tempted to lash out eventing for taking away yet another one of the "good ones".

And yet.

photo courtesy of Carly
Why is safety the most important thing to us in a fragile world where no one makes it out alive anyways? Why does it matter whether I limp sideways into the grave at 93.5 years old with no memory of who I am and who I used to love and who's gone on before versus sliding into it sideways, doing the thing I (hypothetically) love the most?

Eventing is a high risk, hugely irresponsible sport that I could not conscious-ably participate in on a high level. It is sport that you cannot make man or beast do unless they truly, deeply love it.

photo courtesy of 900fbpony
Hats off to you, eventers. May you have the time of your lives, every time. (AND FOR GOD'S SAKE, SLOW DOWN ON THE KILLING PEOPLE THING. I want WFP back. Nicholson is kind of a dick, so I can go either way on that one.)


  1. "I want WFP back. Nicholson is kind of a dick, so I can go either way on that one." Congratulations on being the first blog to make me literally laugh out loud in quite a while.

  2. Not the hearts and flowers I was somehow (stupidly) expecting, but yeah if I want to slide sideways into my future grave that's what I'm going to do. In a world where even going to college has somehow become dangerous who's to say what we should and shouldn't do. I do believe that some change needs to happen, slower speeds safer jumps ect, but I have never ridden advanced so I don't have the answers. Hopefully by the time I am at that level we have some things sorted out, and you better believe that when I'm am more qualified I will be sitting on every committee I can that discusses where this sport is going.

  3. "Eventing is reckless. Dangerous. Directionless. Ever-changing."

    Replace "eventing" with "driving" or "life" or pretty much any other verb and that sentence is still true ("doing laundry"? because that pretty much fits my definition of directionless lol). Do I want all of those things to be safer? Sure, and that's something we should always work towards. But some people throw themselves out of airplanes too, and think THAT'S fun. Everyone's adrenaline rush is different.

  4. I headed into eventing because of the adrenaline rush. I needed it at that point of my life and a part of me still craves it now. But when I took a long, hard look about what I really value in life - my health, my horse's health, and the freedom that accompanies it - I decided that eventing just really wasn't worth it. I had already had too many close calls even at the low levels (even a near rotational fall that had my mother in tears). That being said, I'm of the same opinion as you. Let people live their lives as they wish. My only hope is that the sport reforms a bit to think more about the horses. They may love it, and I know they get impeccable care and love from their riders/owners, but it still hurts to see an animal being put down/dying from any sport really. I just don't really see how it can be justified.

  5. I don't have the personality for eventing, and never will. People getting hurt bothers me less than horses. Not because horses are better than people (not true), but because the people have a choice in the matter.

  6. In many ways I agree with you, and have NO desire to ever reach the upper levels of eventing. Having worked in the administrative end of the top of the sport, I can say that there are definitely changes that need to be made. But, just sitting on a horse at all is reckless and dangerous, and right now, with the horse I have, eventing is the best place for us both. The wonderful thing about equestrian is that there is a sport that suits every horse and rider - from the daredevils to the meek and mild - we just can't forget our responsibility to the welfare of our partners.

  7. i want WFP back too. and Andrew Nicholson dammit. :(

  8. I evented for a few years but obviously settled on dressage. Mostly because I knew I wanted to compete at the upper levels of whatever sport I was in but I didn't have the money for the hunter/jumper world and I couldn't see myself enjoying the upper levels of eventing at ALL. Like I love me some BN, N, and even a bit of T/P on the right horse, but fuck everything above that unless I literally have a horse who will do it for me while I freak out. I don't crave adrenaline like most eventers do though.

    I think there are a lot of good points to be made on both sides of the argument. It's hard to see all these people getting hurt, but we also have to know that information gets distributed a lot faster and a lot more widely than it ever has before, which can make it seem like these injuries are happening more often. As our safety equipment gets better, hopefully we can reduce injuries in every sport. Because riding horses in general is dangerous and reckless!

  9. I'm still coming to terms with my feelings on eventing. Right now, I don't have the right horse. Mi papi is agoraphobic and a bit of a lazy butt. Not a good combination for cross country. But with the right horse? Holy mackrel, it's amazing. A competent, balanced horse jumping well within their abilities on a well designed course is an experience I think every rider should have at least once in their life. The tricky part is that horse. Not a lot of horses have that combination of guts, smarts, balance, and power to make them real cross country horses and a lot are being shoved into the sport despite missing one of those pieces. Yes, accidents will happen. It's 25 mph heading at something that doesn't fall down. Even the best horses and riders make mistakes. But the onus is on the riders to not push a horse past what they can do comfortably and to not try to make a horse that's not a good fit mentally do something just because they're wildly talented.

    CYA statement: I am not referring to WFP whom I have immense respect for as a rider and a horseman and hope he gets well very soon. We need him as a role model and leader.

    Accidents happen across disciplines. You don't have the dramatic crash moments as often in the hunter ringer, but there are plenty of career ending accidents happening off screen. Riding is dangerous, reckless, and deadly regardless of the discipline. Eventers just happen to have a lot more cameras on them when it happens.

  10. I agree with most of this...many die hard eventers (no pun intended, just baby brain lack of another way to explain it) will likely tell you if they go out of this world at 500mpm on course (provided their horse isn't injured) then you'll know they died doing what they loved. Now, I am (was? will be again?) an eventer and I am not in that camp. I don't want to die out there.. However, horses are dangerous, period. Every bad fall I've had has been at the WALK. WALK! But but but, agreed that the upper levels of eventing in particular (I'm going to call that anything above a CCI*) are ridiculous and unfair to the horses in particular. I love watching it and I suppose support it by live streaming and even attending big shows as a spectator. Like Car Racing, Football, Surfing (hello shark attacks!) it's one of the more dangerous sports, particularly at the upper levels when you layer in questionable combination design, high rates of speed, fatigue and a zero margin for error. Do I think eventing should go away, I think we as ammys have a different perspective on what's unrealistic and unsafe than a professional who is riding at the upper levels, absolutely. My sister competed through Advanced and I thought after Prelim her courses were bat sh*t cray cray...she saw them as completely doable. Hence why I never ventured above Prelim and she's competed against WFP!

  11. I think people tend to jump right from 0-60 when it comes to horse sports: "One horse died this year! Two riders sustained major injuries! BAN THIS DANGEROUS SPORT!"

    But there is this huge middle ground - the thoughtfulness that goes into training and caring for these animals, the amount of riders that pull midway round a course to save their mounts for another day, the horsemanship involved. Because this IS a risky sport, and eventers have proven to me time and time again that they, for the most part, are the most compassionate and caring horsepeople out there. For the most part, they would all rather have retired and gone home with a sound horse than risked injury to themselves or their animals. You don't see that in many sports - in a lot of them, you stick a needle in it, or you shockwave it, or you load it up with whatever you have to hide the problem and win the ribbon and the money anyway.

    Think about a sport like western pleasure. That doesn't kill a lot of people. I'm pretty sure it doesn't kill anybody ever. Or halter even. Halter definitely doesn't kill anybody. Or the big lickers in the TWH world. Unless the horse flips over on you, which they sometimes do, you're probably not going to die. And none of those horses are probably going to drop dead in the middle of a competition either. But those sports, and others too of course, are full of THE most grotesque and insane abuse you can think of. Those sports turn out the most washed up, broken down, crippled beasts you ever saw. But it doesn't get much press, so nobody really seems to care. Nobody died in an exciting, gross way, so people shrug it off.

    And we just won't talk about the QH and TB race industry, because that's dangerous AND horrible.

    1. A guy did get killed in halter a few years back. Arab stallion flipped out and killed the handler.

      I like your mindset though. Definitely good things to consider.

    2. Now that I think about it, that doesn't really surprise me at all... I had the image of QHs in my head, I wasn't even think about Arabs. When I was at the mini horse nationals, there was a young stallion who was savagely attacking his handler - rearing, striking, biting her, really being evil. But, it was tiny, so it didn't seem to do much in the way of damage.
      But all I could think of was, good lord if this was a full size horse that lady would be in SO much trouble.

  12. I evented for years and loved it. At the lower levels it really is a lot of fun and goes far to make a "good horse." However, eventually, even with my super event horse, I discovered I did not have the reckless courage needed to push him to jump cross country fences if I had even the least flicker of doubt in my mind. One bad event and I decided enough was enough. One of us was going to get hurt. So, I switched over to dressage. I completed one beginner event with my subsequent horse, but again, knew I would be overfaced if I went any further.

    It takes a certain mentality along with talent to compete at the upper levels but the risk factor starts to get really high. There are elements of courage, confidence and a really good "gung ho" horse that all need to come together. Even then accidents happen.

    Frankly, I can still remember the absolute exhilaration I'd feel after finishing a cross country course, and I'd not trade that for anything, but it's not for me any more.

  13. I love to watch eventing. I love to ride cross country AT THE LOWEST LEVELS. Haha. Hats off to the eventers indeed. I am not, and will never be that brave.

  14. I have never evented and doubt I ever will. If I did it would be at the very smallest of Intro events and I would be FIIIIIINE with that. I'd really like to experience a XC course, even if the jumps are 1', just once in my life!

    That said, I 100% agree with you that things are frankly out of control at the upper levels. It just does not seem right or fair to the horses. I know eventers are generally the best kind of horse people but some are not (from what I've seen and heard)... some definitely are pushing youngster too hard, too fast. You can't MAKE horses go upper-level XC, they have to want to leave that start box and hurl themselves over jumps, but bless them, they have no freaking idea of what they're getting into and can't help but make mistakes. And then they pay with their own lives and/or those of their riders.

    I am one of the gang hoping that WFP is going to be alright. I do not like the deafening silence from his team at this point, not one bit. No news does not equal good news, I don't think, but I sure hope I'm wrong.

  15. PS. Andrea, a Big Lick TWH damn near died of respiratory distress right smack in center ring at a big show about a year ago, I think. He was KICKED while down. The plight of those animals makes me hysterical if I think too much about it.

    1. Maybe that is why people get SO freaked out about event horses getting hurt - people involved with eventing in any way really genuinely care about the welfare of the horses. The big lick people really just don't give a shit about those horses - only people that aren't directly involved with the sport are the ones that get upset.

  16. Such a mixed bag of responses and emotions. I think the upper level evening pushes thinks a little too far IMHO. But its a different thing from the grotesque WP and Big Lick snows. To me those are far worse, they are torturing these horse to get unnatural !movement. Eventing is taking what a horse does naturally as a prey animal and push it (xc anyways). I just think it's a little too far as well as we no longer just let people 'brush off' head injuries anymore so we hear more about them I think than in the past.

  17. Have you ever heard of confirmation bias?? Let me demonstrate how it works:

    2010 - Olympic dressage rider Courtney King Dye suffers head injury in fall from horse
    2010 - Gunter Seidel, a three-time Olympic dressage rider for the United States, fractured his pelvis in a horse fall
    2011 - dressage rider Debbie McDonald thrown from horse and suffers concussion
    2014 - Grand Prix dressage rider Silva Martin hospitalised with head injury sustained from falling from a horse
    2014 - Scottish dressage rider Jo Hamilton sustains serious head injury in horse fall
    2014 - Dressage rider Fiona Bigwood suffers severe concussion in fall
    2015 - Italian dressage rider Valentina Truppa severely injured in horse fall
    2015 Dressage rider Samantha Cawkwell dies after being kicked by her horse


    1. So one or two injuries per year? While eventing seems to have multiple injuries and DEATHS per year? You are comparing apples and oranges here.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. Low blow, anonymous. Play nice or don't play. ;-)

  18. I have no horse in this race, but I do enjoy watching videos of the major events on YouTube. What I have seen in the past few years is starting to scare me. Horses and riders careening around courses that are getting much bigger and much more technical. People and horses are dying, on a regular basis, and it seems pretty norm to report injuries. People are becoming numb to it. "That's just eventing." It just doesn't seem fun any more.

  19. I'm not in eventing though I would like to give it a shot at least once in my life.

    However, the sport of driving with our CDE's are much the same and modeled after eventing only with carriages. When you consider the sport of driving alone is more dangerous than being ON the horse, now you're whipping around a course through Obstacles (they don't like to call them Hazards anymore) you've upped the ante and the danger factor. Bringing my pony along from Training to Prelim and being allowed to RUN on the course, changes things across the board. I LIKE to go fast. I LIKE feeling the wheels break loose and the cart SLIDE sideways thru the turns. I also know I am not the norm. Some people get all freaked out over that stuff. I get that. Maybe I'm a little nuts out there and my competitive streak shows thru in spades. Yep, it does.

    But in driving, as with eventing and a lot of the other equine sports, there are levels in place for a reason and you and your horse compete where you are both comfortable as you learn and grow. If you don't want to push it and move up? Nobody is forcing you to. If you're talented enough to move up quickly? So be it. But keep in mind, there is danger at every level.

    Training level riders and horses- anything can happen and all bets are off. Horses freak out as they learn the ropes, riders make mistakes and shit happens. As we age and move up, hopefully we have a better grasp, calmer horse and better rounds. When we get to the upper levels, sometimes we get a little lax on things because we don't feel it is as important anymore. We have different things to focus on now. Bigger things, tougher things, etc. It's all a matter of what we choose to do and how far we want to go with it, but at the end of the day it's a risk. Just climbing on their backs or into the cart is a risk. It's one I'm willing to take.


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