Many people in our sport spend countless hours trying to find ways to make eventing a better—and most importantly, a safer—sport for horses and riders. The changes that have been and are continuing to be made over the past few years are remarkable.
Eventing has implemented new rules, some—such as the one fall and out rule—more controversial than others. Other rules pertain to jump construction and safety mechanisms and how penalties should or shouldn’t be scored. Major studies are ongoing to find out if there are safer construction methods we can use to improve things even more. All of this is being done so that maybe, just maybe, we can get to the place where a tragic accident is not only unusual but also unexpected. Truthfully, that’s it.
No one is honestly saying that we will get to the point where we will leave the start box on cross-country knowing that there is zero risk. We just want things to be safer.
So I go to events, and when I’m not competing myself or teaching and coaching my students, I watch. I look at fence construction. I pay attention to how courses are designed and fences are built. When I have time I try to help the event organizers in every way I can so that the weekend has a better chance of running safely and smoothly. But mostly I just watch. I watch people ride. I watch people coach, and I watch how their horses respond.
I have come to one very sad conclusion: We, as a sport, are not good enough.
I am sad to have come to this conclusion, and I know it will not be a popular opinion amongst the eventing community, but we need to hear it. The caliber of riding I see at many events is beyond scary, and much of the coaching is no better. The reality is that many competitors at the events I attend are completely unaware of what their responsibilities as riders should be.
Eventing is not and should not be for everyone. Just because a competitor loves his horse and loves his sport, it does not give him the right to compete at whatever level he likes.
I constantly hear event riders pontificate about what great horsemen and women we are. No matter how attentive you are in regards to your horses’ health and soundness you cannot be a great horseman if you are riding at a level above your ability. There are very real consequences to both horse and rider if a rider’s skill set is not up to the challenge at hand.
The Right People
It all starts with coaching. The quality of coaching at many events isn’t up to the standard it needs to be. I routinely watch coaches who are not only unqualified to be teaching but honestly have some very dangerous ideas about how to best advise their students at a competition.
We have an excellent coaching and teaching certification program within the U.S. Eventing Association. While the Instructor Certification Program doesn’t guarantee that someone is a great coach, it does guarantee that they have achieved a minimum standard of knowledge at their particular coaching level. As riders we need to check this list and make sure that people we turn to for help are getting all of the education available to them so that they can competently help us.
The ICP list of certified instructors is on the USEA website and is a great place to start. Are there great coaches who are not ICP certified? Absolutely, and if you know of one, then by all means please use him or her. However, if you as a competitor have questions as to who you should turn to there are resources available to you.
If you’ve been trying to improve your ability as a rider and find that time after time you just can’t get it done, then take a second look at the people you turn to for help. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t teaching you the right things. In fact, they may very well be teaching you the skills that are required to improve. Instead, ask yourself if that coach is being honest with you. When you have conversations about your riding and your horse, is your coach willing to tell it like it is? Will he or she have a truly candid conversation with you and properly evaluate if you are ready to take the next step?
This is an excerpt from the Between Rounds column “Honestly, We Are Not Good Enough” by Jonathan Holling, which appears in the Nov. 21 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. If you’d like to read the article in its entirety, you can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse and our lifestyle publication Untacked. Or you can purchase a single issue or subscribe on a mobile device through our app The Chronicle of the Horse LLC.
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