Friday, January 30, 2015

SMH

Thank you all for the wonderful compliments on all my babies! I miss all of them, but I know they are in good homes (or heaven RIP Spirit), and I cherish every day I got with them.

If you're like me, you spend the majority of you evenings stalking COTH, blogs and Facebook for horsey related news because as The Boy likes to say, "I'm addicted to the naynays". Its true. I am. Forever.

Recently though I've been feeling pretty discouraged (another post on that later), wondering what am I REALLY doing and getting more & more frustrated with the direction my sport is heading.

It started a while ago when eventing took away the long format. I had just recently entered the sport and was hooked. Back then, I had a little bit of familial support, but I still had to front most of the cost myself as a teenager in HS. And I wanted it, so I made it work. But I distinctly remember the uproar that change caused in the eventing community. I was even "that girl" who chose it as the thesis of my english class research paper.

It was a difficult paper to write since there wasn't much research done on the topic, more opinions floating around than anything else, but I dug in and read more articles and books on equine fitness than I care to ever again.

I still don't have a specific "opinion" on the matter after all of that, but I knew deep down that the sport had been changed forever.

That was just the beginning.


Im not sure if its because I was a spritely young thing, but NOTHING scared me & I always went into each event with vigor and fervor for competition. Even on Spirit, who was fugly and awful at dressage, I STILL loved it, even when we were in dead last after dressage. Even with an awful coach who made me cry, I STILL loved it. I wanted to show every weekend and tried my hardest to do so.

Like, really ugly
I worked SO hard with that horse, and the greatest moment in my life is when we won FIRST place at USPC champs in Novice. I couldnt believe it! My backyard, newspaper horse had killed it and we had WON. 

Our last show together (training level)
I haven't won a recognized event since, and thats okay. I loved it nonetheless. The feeling of galloping XC, getting fancy for the judges and competing against other people and myself. I never had the privilege of riding "made" horses or being able to afford weekly lessons, so I did most of the work myself, slugging day in and out trying to make it work with my OTTB & backyard pony & I wouldn't have it any other way.

I'm not sure when "the feeling" changed for me though.

Shows were getting more expensive. Dressage was becoming more important. The judging changed. You could no longer move up in the jumping phases if you had a less than stellar score. People started riding fancier WB's. XC got harder. It was becoming harder and harder to do it alone, and without a coach I started slipping and it wasn't as fun anymore.


I think it really changed for me when Yankee and I had the best test of our life and placed 3rd after dressage. He was fluid, responsive, & calm all throughout sleeting rain and freezing temperatures. We had trained for YEARS to get to that point. I was so proud of him and knowing *I* had made that test happen. But then we went out for XC and it all fell apart. The cold was unbearable. The course was INSANE. We shared half the fences with Prelim and I had never done some of the combinations before, and I went out already nervous. It was the first show of the year and we shared fences with PRELIM. WHY?!

Such perfection
And then I fell off for the first time at a show, ever.

Done. Shattered.


Every show I went to after that just wasn't fun. Yankee was amazeballs in dressage and we still rarely scored under a 35 or even placed in the ribbons. XC was terrifyingly complex & maxed out, and stadium was always difficult and we barely made it. I was literally throwing away money to show, & I wasn't even having fun. It was really discouraging & I wondered if it was just me being a wuss.


Then there were the converted hunter princess's out there with their headsettin, fancy steppin horses creaming us all, and it was infuriating. I couldn't believe judges were placing horses with no true connection above other people who had the correct training under their belts, but less fancy horses.


I wasn't the only one who noticed either. Dressage was changing, for the worse. In my circle of people, we couldn't believe it. It seemed that if you had a horse with fancy feet that could curl his head, you placed above everyone else. Nevermind that his back was as hollow as a dead tree, no, he could trot like an imported WB (if he wasn't one already).

Not to mention by this time the upper levels were becoming almost scary to watch. XC was way too technical and the speeds remained the same. Even the great riders seemed to struggle with the technicalities of the courses. Horses and riders started dying. The jumps became harder still.

I started to prefer local, cheap, fun shows over anything else.

Spring dressage show
Winter jumper show
And I just don't get it.

What is the actual point of making everything so damned difficult on XC that riders have to consistently push their horses beyond what their capable of?

Denny from Tamarack Farm in a FB article said it best,


If THIS is what the FEI wants the "new" sport to be, tricks and traps and angles, and other idiot crap that no sensible horse would want to jump, then I think they are painting themselves into an increasingly dangerous corner.These are THE BEST horses and riders we have in eventing. These are brilliant riders and elite horses, and even the very best of our very best are having rotational falls.
Seriously, does ANYONE like to see this?
Wake up, FEI.

Its becoming a game of who has the most money, who can dressage the very best and hopefully make it over fences later and how else can we discourage riders.

Perhaps I am being a titch dramatic, but I lost the spark a while ago and I just don't know if I even want to get it back with the direction eventing is going.



Am I the only one who feels this way in the blogsphere, or have you other eventers noticed eventing following a path you don't know if you want to take anymore?



19 comments:

  1. This is a tough one. I am with you in a lot of ways - I brought along a baby through her first show season last year and while she is talented and a touch fancy, I kept getting shit from other riders and trainers that she wasn't running BN, or N because it "wasn't fair" that she was running Starter. She was 4 going on 5 at the time, and GREEN. There was no way I was putting bigger fences in front of her when she doesn't know her job yet, and is spooking at the jumps, the judges, the trees, the flags, the decorations, etc. etc. She can troop over a starter fence when her brain is elsewhere, but BN or N? We'd have stopped out, no questions asked. I am in Area IV and I have strong preferences for where I "like" to show because the organizers have shown a marked interest in the RIDERS - the courses are appropriate and don't start off with maxed fences (especially early in the season) the entry fees are lower than other trials, they are constantly trying to improve their course and the whole show is fun, positive and a fantastic time. If only they hosted more trials so I didn't have to go to the other venue close to me to get the miles I'm looking for this year!

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  2. I know little about the upper echelons of eventing, but I love Denny's posts, and I agree with him that eliminating long format was a mistake, and the beginning of the downfall of the sport. I love to jump XC and I adore the concept of cross training, so eventing really appeals to me. I am not a fearful rider, but I couldn't see myself doing 99% of the stuff I see out on XC these days. As for FEI... unfortunately, that seems to be where a lot of the issues lie across the board in equestrian sports. I know the endurance world is having a knock down, drag out war over FEI, and I've heard the same about FEI dressage. Bummer :(

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  3. I was never a "successful" eventer and I have fallen off at way, way more shows than you.

    But.

    When I got back into riding as an adult, I wanted to do H/J. The minimal dabbling I've done with eventing since then hasn't helped. I watch Rolex and think "that is insane" and have no desire to do anything like it.

    I'm sure it's fine for the right brand of crazy people, but it's dangerous and I'm just not ok with it any more. And that's ok. I don't have to event, I don't want to event, and I'm not going to event.

    I've struggled with this (fairly openly) on my blog--I don't have the nerve I used to and my reasons for being worried are legitimate and it's not like I earn my income from pushing myself on horses, so I just find ways to have fun. :-) I definitely want to keep some sort of showing in my life, and there are lots of non-eventing shows that are cheaper, more fun, and more accessible.

    USEA membership is declining. Is anyone surprised?

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  4. I think Spirt is freaking adorable! I am with you, I have never had anything handed to me in the sport, which is why I still love it. I get flack for not showing Rhyme at Novice, I didn't even start jumping him till he was 6 because he was not physically ready. I think you should do what makes you happy. Eventing will have a turning point soon, people are getting tired of the unnecessary dangers, people and horses dieing. FEI will have to listen soon otherwise they will start seeing memberships and people showing at the FEI level go down.

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  5. I am not an eventer, and I rarely comment, but I went through a similar "wtf am I doing" moment with dressage- I can totally identify with this post. I couldn't/didn't want to afford the bazillion dollar horse, and I sort of work up one day and realized I was not longer enjoying it. Spending all my riding time fighting my horse about a perfect shoulder in or half pass was making us both miserable. The sport is changing, what's currently trendy has more influence than it should, and it is crazy expensive.

    I was so disheartened I sold my big fancy WB, bought a pony, and am spending all the money I'm not using for showing/training to travel. Maybe in a few years I'll regain my vigor for the sport, but for now it's really nice to take the pressure off myself and say it's ok to ride purely for fun. It wasn't an easy mindset to get to for someone who has competed seriously my whole life though, so I feel your struggle!

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  6. What I think is sad is that the hubs has noticed all of this, and he doesn't even keep up with anything eventing wise. He has only been to my first even derby. And he always tells me he gets mad because, basically, if you don't do GREAT in dressage then you are not going to be towards the winning end. I just got into the sport, and I love it, but I have barely dabbled and I see all of the bad. I love Denny's posts, as he is much wiser than me. Others need to listen to him as well. I guess we can only hope for good things to come.

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  7. I of course had a very similar upbringing like you, ugly super event pony and all. Things have been changing for me over the last few years, especially when Jordan was killed this summer over in England (canadian boy). Then I see this shit going in Wellington today and I'm like???? WHAT are they trying to do to eventing.

    It is extremely hard to watch quiet horses win dressage. There was a movement to get the judges to stop penalizing tension in event horses but I don't know what ever came of it. I used to get talked to after stadium at every event because they thought my old horse Archie was dangerous. He did a three stride in 2 strides, the jumps were like 3 feet. So my horse who never stops and is 17h with a 13ft stride is dangerous but the horse who stops and pops every jump taking the whole thing down in Training level isn't? People expect eventers to be hunters in the ring but they just won't be.

    I am still torn about eventing but the thought of all other disciplines just bores me. I don't really know what to do.

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  8. I think eventing has a near impossible setup for long term success. As sports grow and develop, people get better at things. For example, (I used to be a competitive figure skater FYI) Olympic winning figure skating rounds in the late 90's had a few triple jumps, but rarely a triple axel. Today, skaters are better and equipment is better so winners are doing almost every combination with a triple and have triple axel.

    Eventing has the same thing, except the very nature of the sport is that the horse has to be perfect at all three phases.. which is damn near impossible. I don't like eventing. That doesn't mean I don't like eventers, but it's not my sport and it never will be.

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  9. I have to say, I think the West coast is very different from the East. I'm not sure which is better, but here are the differences I've noticed.

    Courses out East seem to be like you said -- maxed out, monster courses. Out West, we have courses that change drastically every few years, but within a year just a few numbers get moved around. The courses start out a little easier and get a little harder as the season moves on. From pictures of East vs. West coast courses I can see this. There are fewer competitors out West, and I see lots of shuffling in the rankings of the amateurs after dressage. Especially at the lower levels, but even at the upper levels, people are moving around, taking rails, and getting refusals, so there's also room for movement.

    Dressage is super emphasized, of course, and horses aren't always rewarded for classical or correct dressage training. I still see lots of hollow backs and cranked necks, but I also think that style of dressage is starting to be rewarded a little less. (Side note: talk to some DQs about the cranked necks and hollow backs in their FEI levels! Valegro is the first winning FEI horse that I've though moves correctly in a long time, though this is my lowly, amateur opinion.)

    Sadly, I think it always will be a game about money. In my opinion, what is sadder than this is that the horses that Americans are interested are always from Europe -- why is there no good American breeding program? What on earth is going on THERE?

    Me? I'm content to suck at my level or not, and keep training my horse the way I think he should be trained and move up when we're ready and not a moment before. Because that is how it should be.

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  10. As a fellow eventer, rider of ratchet horses, and "that girl" who wrote an English paper on the decline of long-format eventing, I understand the struggle.

    I've long been frustrated with how eventing seems to be attempting to prohibit new riders from entering the sport. When you are a person who's entering an event for the first time at a low level, it's terrifying to see maxed out fences early on the course. It's anxiety-inducing to think you have to have a solid Second Level horse to be competitive at Beginner Novice. It's disheartening to pay hundreds of dollars in entry fees.

    I grew up in an area with access to many unrecognized horse trials. Entry fees ran about $50, I could drive there within an hour or two, and many of these events were great confidence builders before big regional USPC Rallies or USEA recognized events. It seems like those types of events are fewer and fewer, but that might be just a function of where I currently live (Area V).

    I hate to see so much emphasis placed on dressage. Many horses that are phenomenal jumpers and brave cross country horses dislike dressage and don't move very 'fancy'. Gone are the days you can be dead last after day one to finish in the top three. I think this discourages newcomers from competing (because no one wants to show to lose) and encourages the proliferation of horses that aren't suited to the demands of cross country. Obviously, XC has changed a great deal in the last two decades, but it still requires a horse that can get quite fit and needs to be very brave.

    I've had a lot of fun doing schooling dressage shows, going to casual hunter paces, and foxhunting. I'd like to get back to eventing this year, but how much of it I'll do, I can't say.

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  11. I'll never have the confidence for XC, I just barely have it for H/J now. There's a lot of the same in that land too. Fancier, horses will always get rewarded. Sad but true I've certainly seen it all the way down to cute kids on ponies. I hope like reality tv and other lets-watch-society-self-destruct parts of our society, the crazy big and too complicated xc courses will come back and dressage will be 1/3 of the show, like its supposed to be..

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  12. It's hard to say really. I'm in a similar boat.
    When I had Gogo, we won tons of stuff on the east coast. I didn't see judges rewarding much in the way of incorrect stuff - but I was always in the open division with the pros, and those guys can ride the pants off their horses. I was always surrounded by excellent riding and it was always a battle for the top 6 placings - 1st place and 6th place was almost always less than 2 or 3 points apart. Optimum time won it, or the occasional rail. Those courses were HARD, and fast, and maxed out, but I always felt like they were appropriate for the area. They have a reputation for being tough and if you can make it out there, you can make it anywhere. But this was about 5 or so years ago now, and at the lower levels.
    Now that I'm in Area 5, I feel sort of... ehhh. It's just not the east coast, you know? I don't know. And it hasn't been the same for me since Gogo died anyway, but I still miss it like crazy sometimes.
    Which is partly why I'm getting into combined driving now. It's eventing while you're in a moving box!

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  13. First off, I just want to say that I really enjoyed reading this post as well as all the comments. Deep stuff guys.

    I got into horses and eventing at what I feel is a bit of an older age than a lot of riders (13) and I've only ever been able to take lessons once per week in HS and then catch-ride friend's horses while I was college. At 13 I used to go watch the Groton House Farm Advanced division (which no longer is running - they only go to prelim now due to lack of entries and rules/qualifications/politics over CIC and FEI rules or something...) and just after watching that one event I KNEW I wanted to do eventing someday. Now at 26 I finally own my own horse and can finally take more consistent lessons and actually show. I'm a competitive and goal-driven person by nature, so I think I will always be compelled to show and frankly I don't know what other discipline I would do. I like dressage. I like jumping. And I like riding in a 'natural' setting....so eventing it is! I also see the value of cross training as well. I think I'd get bored with just dressage or jumpers and frankly, hunters outright bores me.

    Having gotten into the sport a little "later in life" I've never watched a long-format event so I feel like I can't really comment on what that's done to the sport. This type of eventing is the only type of eventing that I really know first hand. I see Denny's posts about how the sport has changed and it certainly makes sense to me...I can definitely see how dangerous is it, but I have nothing to compare it to. So essentially, I just don'y know what to think. Even though I don;t know what to think, I'm still concerned for the sport...I want to keep watching it, keep rooting my favorite riders on, and I want to keep doing it myself if just at the low levels.

    Speaking of low levels, the prospect of doing a recognized BN event later this year (which is my goal) is pretty darn daunting to me. Especially since I don't really have a coach. The USEA says that the BN division is supposed to be a good introduction to the sport with inviting fences and all. But with all I'm hearing about maxxed out fences at this level it's making me freaking nervous! Also, all the hoopla earlier in 2014 about raising the max heights for BN through T really put me off, even it was for 1 fence ont he course or whatever - what is the point of that??

    I wish I could sum up my thoughts into some cohesive conclusion paragraph here, but I don't think I can. Once again, great post and great discussion!

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  14. Loved this post- exactly what I'm thinking about lately (although with the state of dressage).
    I'm actually currently writing an article about classical vs. competitive dressage. I'm really passionate about it!
    It's atrocious what is being rewarded at the top levels. Actually, the low levels too.
    Same as eventing- it's all flashy horses with their noses cranked in. Not dressage. Back in the day you could take any old nag, train it up over several years, and pull some seriously decent scores. Now you basically need an imported Warmblood to even compete.

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  15. I have never competed in any horse sport in my life, so I probably shouldn't even have an opinion on all of this. The main reason I never competed is stage fright, so that has nothing to do with what you're talking about. However as a spectator I know what you mean. It's like with any other sport I think... they make things more and more difficult and dangerous to make it more entertaining to the paying crowd... even if that crowd is full of people who don't know what a hock or fetlock is. It seems like humans have this desire to push everything to the extreme. Oh this Chihuahua is so tiny, how cute! Let's make them tinier! Or the opposite is true with giant breed dogs. It happens with everything it seems like (hello jacked up trucks and souped up engines... heck they even do it with kid toys.. what happened to play dough and yoyos?). So I have no desire to ever compete in upper levels (not that I would ever be good enough even if I wanted to). If I ever do compete in anything it will be in the local schooling shows where backyard horses have equal chance of winning as the imported warmbloods. :) Great post!

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  16. Loved reading this and the comments. Eventing is always changing and right now the direction is on shaky footing. I was really skeptical about the event down in wellington, but you know what I ended up really liking it. Yes, the xc was short, but it also did not scare the horses and none of the rounds were making me cringe. I think that course designers need to take notice, yes they need to be longer than that, but the attainable part is what I liked. Horses need to come off a course pumped up not defeated. I also agree with the dressage judging being really frustrating, but not is not just at events, I have been shocked by what wins at some recognized dressage shows as well. I think that there are lot of questions that need asked and everyone needs to have an open mind. Something has to change, I'm not sure exactly what. Slower times or less technical courses? New dressage judges? Harder showjumping? I just don't know, but I like that you started the conversation!

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  17. thanks for writing this all out! i'm very very new to eventing (and still a bit starry eyed), but not so new that i haven't heard similar concerns to yours.... definitely a lot to think about...

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  18. I agree with you, and I haven't even made it to the recognized stage of showing yet.

    My thoughts are - what is the point of paying $500 for a local recognized event (which isn't even happening this year - RIP Greater Dayton :( ) when I could spend $100 to go to a pony club horse tral where there is 10% of the stress, 50% more fun, and MUCH greater chance of ribbons! There's just no *point* in showing recognized for a LL eventer or dressage rider.

    Ya, I'd love to get my bronze medal. But if that means spending a boatload of money to get my qualifying scores, all the way losing on my Craigslist draft cross to imported warmbloods... Idk. I know the ribbons "don't matter". But they do.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that I feel you, and I appreciate you writing this.

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  19. I've never wanted to Event, so I really don't have much of an opinion on this subject [and it should definitely be taken with a grain of salt since I'm not a participant of the sport], but it is troubling to me as an equestrian in general to hear about the serious injuries and deaths more and more frequently at bigger Events.

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