The tragic passing of Guillaume Pucci has been heavy in my heart and mind since I first heard the news. I did not know him personally, but I know that we shared the same passion for horses and our sport; the loss of this fellow competitor has brought about hard questions that are nearly impossible to answer.
His death marks the fifth worldwide caused by accidents while riding cross country in the last 12 months, which leaves many wondering about the safety of our sport and the sanity of its participants. Though I do not claim to know if there is a solution to what is regarded as a safety problem in upper-level eventing, I have set out to answer why I want to put myself out there.
So, why do I feel the need to event at the upper levels? First and foremost: simply because I love it.
I love the relationship built between rider and horse, the unbelievable amount of trust required to tackle the cross-country course. I love the feeling of accomplishment when all of the hard work and dedication culminates at the finish line on Saturday. There is nothing like that feeling, nothing in the world. It is something so personal that only the individual can achieve, and no one can take that achievement away.
This sport is also unique as it attracts people who are passionate and focused on a goal, yet still caring and always willing to lend a hand. Event people across the globe are more like a band of brothers who lift you up to be a better version of yourself. I cannot count the times I have witnessed and experienced the kindness of fellow competitors; from a simple hand in the barn, sharing equipment, or sharing thoughts on how to properly tackle a course.
The fellowship amongst eventers is an unspoken bond of us against the world, all of us in the same boat heading into the same battle together.
I understand that riding in general, and eventing at the upper levels in particular, is dangerous. Horses are dangerous.
I could obsess to the point of not experiencing life. I could lead an existence that leaves me wondering what was the point anyway? Or, I could argue that life is dangerous. I can take every measure to make my life safe and yet be hit by a car walking across the street on my way to my seemingly safe job (which actually did happen to my mother).
The worrying could be crippling to the point of not wanting to get on a plane or drive in a car anymore. Or go to the movies or a church for fear of being shot. At some point, fear cannot be allowed to control you and what you want to do in life.
Sadly, I am aware that our time here is short, and I feel the need to make the most of it. I have had family members and friends who had their lives cut short due to illnesses, and their experiences makes me want to do everything I can, while I can. I am so blessed to have my health and the physical ability to do what impassions me.
But as much as I hate to admit it, time will eventually catch up with me, no matter how many Insanity workouts I do or hot yoga classes I take. So, why not try for the most incredible life I can think of? Whenever my life’s journey comes to an end, I will have done the absolute most with what I had.
Then there is Taylor, my 12-year-old daughter. I feel a particular responsibility to teach her that if she works hard enough, she is capable of anything. I want her to dream the impossible and take the necessary steps to get there.
There are not many venues that truly embody the saying “Hard work pays off,” but eventing gives back what you put into it and more. What better way to teach Taylor than through my own example?
Whatever life path she decides to take, she will look back on how I chased my dreams and maybe that will give her courage to chase her own. If she doesn’t make it to her goal, the journey will still lead her to somewhere great: a place void of “what ifs” and “if onlys.” I don’t imagine her living without failure, but I do hope she can live without regret.
Eventing has given me the chance to soar with eagles, and that is a feeling I never want to live without.
Jennifer McFall started her riding career in Pony Club and showed her family’s Morgan horses on a regional and national level, winning many National and World titles in Hunter Pleasure, Western Pleasure, Dressage and Jumping. She and Dragonfire Kublakhan, a Morgan gelding bred by her family farm and her partner during her teenage years, are pictured on the cover of the Pony Club “A” manual and had an exciting career together. Her early years as a trainer/instructor earned her recognition on the national level and most recently the Morgan Horse Association honored her for her influence on the Morgan breed, particularly in the area of eventing.
Despite her success in the Morgan show arena, Jennifer has always loved eventing and remained an active competitor. Currently, she and High Times, a Holsteiner gelding she has brought up through the levels, have finished in the top 10 at multiple CIC and CCI*** events and successfully completed their first CCI**** together at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event in 2014. Jennifer runs Dragonfire Farm, a sporthorse breeding, training and sales facility, in Wilton, Calif., alongside her husband and fellow eventer, Earl McFall and their daughter, Taylor.