Friday, March 6, 2020

Do Something, Eventing, Part 1

For those of you that have wondered why I haven't been out eventing in quite a while, well it's because I'm not eventing anymore.  It took a while to let go, with the catalyst being a recognized event I was a jump judge at the summer before we left New Jersey.  I watched a blatant disregard for horse and rider safety at a RECOGNIZED event, at a very popular venue that resulted in serious rider injury.  I was absolutely at a loss for words and it affected me so much that still to this day, I remember it crystal clear and still, to this day, fail to comprehend it.  Accidents happen, of course they do.  This was not an accident.  This was a situation (apologies to those I have already told this story to) where after a significant amount of rain the week leading up to the even there were very soggy spots on the xc course.  The TD had told us all that if we saw any issues just get on the radio and let them know because there was a front end loader full of stone dust ready to respond.

The Training division was running and I could see this particular jump from the jump I was jump judging.  I heard the jump judge at the problem jump come on the radio and say that horses were slipping on the landing side of that Training level table.  I started watching, sure enough, horses were slipping on landing and struggling to catch themselves and keep all four feet under them.  The jump judge requested stone dust SEVERAL times on the radio due to horses CONTINUALLY slipping.  She was trying her hardest to ask for help to prevent an accident.  One of the managers of the event came on the radio and said "Well, there's only a couple more horses to go in this division anyway, we're just going to let them go."  The NEXT person left in an ambulance.

This, after a rash of rider deaths as well.  This, in a time where safety is such a hot topic.  It made me realize just how much we play Russian Roulette on course.  If organizers at a well known, recognized venue, that has several recognized events a year, along with year round schooling doesn't care, who does?  You won't know until you find out the hard way, or witness something horrible.

I'm not a timid rider, I never left the box scared.  To this day I have no qualms about jumping anything.  Triple bars, corners, jumps with tarps, and balloons on them, crazy looking gymnastic line, whatever, I'll jump it.  If Klein could jump five foot courses, we'd do it.  Will Super B get to that point?  I plan to find out.  I'm the rider that 100% believe that probably 80% of problems people have or think they have are all made up in their head.  For example, those that come in from a windy day of riding and say "well, I didn't die."  I'll ask, "does he/she usually do anything to make you question your safety on a windy day?"  More often than not, the reply is "no" which prompts me to ask "Then why would you expect it today?"  If you expect problems, you get problems most times.  I'm the rider that never lunges their horses before they get on, no matter how much time they've had off, or what the weather conditions are.

I loved eventing.  I loved the test of the whole thing overall, the different types of conditioning it requires, the fact that you an show up with a horse like Klein and people would be nice and never wonder what she was doing there, etc...  Cross country was always my favorite too.

My departure started with not wanting to support an organization that seems to not learn from its mistakes, then it traveled a bit further with the support of Bloody Mary aka Marilyn Little and the absolute inaction against her, then it went even further after personally witnessing the incident in New Jersey I spoke about above.  Sprinkle some rider and horse deaths in between all of that and, I'm done.

I'm tired of the excuse that social media is to blame because these rider/horse deaths are just more publicized now.  Eventing in north america just hit FIVE deaths in the past EIGHT months, there were at least two horse deaths in that group as well.  There is no excuse for that, you can't blame social media.  Is there really any acceptable excuse or reason?  Trick question, there isn't.

I'm tired of the "it was a freak accident" excuse too.  You know what's a freak accident?  Getting kicked in the head in a field by a horse, a horse spooking from an animal that came running out of the bushes and the rider falling and getting hurt or killed, a horse tripping at a canter and falling on its rider.  You know what a freak accident isn't?  A rider and/or horse dying every few months in a similar manner on a cross country course attempting to jump a solid fence.  This has become a predictable pattern, a trend.

Now we have the "frangible technology is too expensive to employ on every xc fence" statement.  While that may be true, where are all the big time supporters that are paying tens of thousands in sponsorship money, syndication money, prize money, etc...  What about the Essex HTs where the Prelim winner gets $10,000?  Can we not take that prize money for a year or two and say instead of giving this as prize money, it's going toward frangible fences?  There is a particular multi-billionaire ($29.4 Billion according to Forbes) that funds a lot of upper level horses and riders as well as sponsors events that could probably pay for every last fence in the country to be frangible.  Where's the support for safety at that level?  I'll wait...

I also expect the "people die in dressage and jumpers" crowd to come out too.  They're not wrong, people DO die in dressage and jumpers, every once in a long while.  Eventing still has everyone beat in that category.  Eight in five months?  I looked for a quite a while tonight to see what I could find about rider deaths in dressage and jumpers.  I am not talking about Hickstead, or an accident in the barn, or a horse suffering a cardiac event in general while in competition, or anything similar to Teddy O'Connor's demise, I'm talking about riders and/or horses dying as a result of meeting an obstacle incorrectly.  Here is what I found: media is everywhere now so we should have so much more as far as dressage and jumpers deaths, right?  Yeah, if they existed.

You can't even Google "dressage competition deaths" without Google suggesting eventing deaths.

Or dressage deaths...

Or showjumping deaths...

Or showjumping rider deaths...

The majority of eventing deaths are taking place at recognized events, aka places FILLED with professionals and medical staff on standby to assist.  These are not all people out alone where no one knew anything happened until it was too late.

This has been in the media for over 12 years now.  Here's an article from 2008:

Read it.  Notice a familiar theme?  Why is this still happening 12 years later?

I have been taking some time to pull records, review videos, and run stats over the past week.  I'm going to post the information in the next post.  I think this problem is a multi-pronged issue with several hard truths that need to be addressed.  Just looking at scores and reviewing some video makes it pretty clear there are multiple issues going on.  Where do we start to address it?  I think some of it IS starting to be addressed and has been by committed USEA members like Doug Payne and John Holling.  But, we have a long way to go and some of it has to do with recognizing when something isn't right, and speaking up, or taking a real look at yourself and your horse and knowing your limits whether they are mental, or physical, before it's too late.


  1. Yeeeaaaaaah.

    It bugs me so much when people act like it's a surprise when there's a rider death or that the rider is somehow culpable. Dangerous riding happens, sure, but highly qualified people and horses are dying. I agree that frangible technology is cost-prohibitive to implement and I think it would kill off the lower levels/grassroots side because the installation/maintenance is too much for most local facilities to handle.

    At the end of the day, it's a high risk sport. People miss. Horses miss. Things happen. There isn't much margin for error when you're going very fast at a fixed obstacle and it seems, this is the cost of doing business.

    To me, it's not worth it.

    1. Yes but why aren’t course designers being investigated or questioned? One key factor that keeps popping up is being left out of the equation and I’d like to know why? I personally think the designers are trying to stay relevant for an audience that will never understand because they aren’t horse people. That audience is the paying$$ spectators like at Rolex or the Olympics etc. also a deeper look at horse training needs accessed, in getting obedience for the tougher dressage are we training to much of their self preservation out? Ex I know most have seen at any level; A horse refuses a jump giving its opinion on the requested action. The rider smacks it or kicks harder or whatever punishment tries again the horse says ok it’s better than the negative response from the human. Do it enough he’ll stop giving his opinion because the easier route is to please the human on top. Instead of a horse that says I can’t read that jump he just tries and a miss can be deadly. Lots of hard questions need to be addressed. But the attitudes that have been like she posted above dismissal etc. I used to dream of competing Rolex but no money medal or ego is worth my life or my horse. Especially when the governing board isn’t showing the ethical amount of concern for their riders safety.

  2. I love, love, love eventing... but there is no way I'd partake in it at this current time. There needs to be multi-pronged reform, and I do NOT understand why this is being allowed to continue unchecked.