A Study In Perseverance

Oct 13, 2015 - 4:41 AM
High Times and my trip to the Blenheim CCI*** didn't go quite as planned, but we'll be back on course soon. Photo by Shannon Brinkman

The sport of eventing demands perseverance from its participants. Of all of the equestrian endeavors you could choose from, eventing could easily be considered the most difficult, requiring fortitude and pluck for when the riding gets rough, mixed with a sense of humor for the unexpected.

Being able to roll with the punches and having a short memory are an absolute must, especially when you find yourself in situation totally contrary to your plan. Recently I traveled to England to compete at Blenheim Palace in the CCI***. Never have I retired on course before with High Times, but a coronet injury made me feel that he was losing his “inner dragon.” 

His uncharacteristic attitude gave me enough hesitation that I was concerned for his well being and decided to call it a day, taking the long walk back from the edge of the property to stabling. This unexpected hack afforded me with plenty of time to reflect on what qualities I most admire in my fellow event riders. 

So who is actually attracted to this sport? Some may say horse-loving adrenaline junkies, who sideline as survivalists. Or maybe it’s the incurable multi-tasker that loves to juggle 20 things at once? I think there are many ways you could answer this but I have observed that the common thread in my fellow eventers is an addiction to persevering.

Whether they are a four-star competitor vying for a spot on the U.S. team, or a little girl just trying to make her pony go through the water obstacle at beginner novice, they all refuse to quit. Ever.

So, what compels a person to persevere? Why endure failure, hardship and adversity time and again? Certainly, there is a rational point at which most decide that a goal cannot be achieved. But when an eventer fails, they will try again, over and over, month after month, year after year.

I see this in my comrades when they are trying to convince the eternally hot horse to get a decent score in dressage, or when they are giving it another go at a jump the horse refuses to go near. I see it when they are trying to get over their own fears or anxieties about performing, or when they pick themselves up off of the ground, shrug off the dirt, and go back to the barn to devise a new plan of attack for the next competition.

There are negative sides to perseverance, such as desperation or the perceived lack of alternatives. But since we have a choice and are not forced to be in this sport, I have to believe that the catalyst for the eventer’s determination is love. It is the love for the remarkable challenge and the love of seeing something through even when it seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Love for the simple act of setting goals and the complicated act of achieving them.  

And there is a higher love to consider—a passion for the partnership with the horse that keeps these riders focused on never giving up. Truly, event riders and their horses are the very definition of a committed relationship, as they each put their faith and trust in the other with their very lives and safety on a regular basis.

Who better to examine when studying perseverance than the three-day event rider?

When things go wrong, it is only natural to wonder if you have reached the end of the line, that maybe your goals have surpassed your ability. In certain circles, it would be very easy to be pulled into despair and continued failure, when sharing your defeats with others.

But the perspective of the event rider is so uncommonly inspiriting that when they ask you “What now?” it is not meant to be discouraging or even prying. It is simply obvious to all other eventers that Plan B, C, D and even Y or Z will need to come into play. That the need to persevere is so instinctive, it is assumed that other options will be pursued. Finding a route to the end goal is compulsory when you choose this sport.

This quality is what attracts me most to the competitors in this discipline. Certainly, they are most happy for you in your successes and they honestly share in your delight of accomplishment without envy. But it is the shared struggle, in the trenches, the strain understood, that genuinely makes me appreciate my colleagues and their presence in my life and keeps me coming back for more time and time again.

Because Billy’s injury was very minor, he and I will be back at it very soon on American soil, a fact that makes me incredibly grateful for my decision to pull up on course in England. We might be on to Plan B (or C or D!) but we’re still looking for the finish flags.

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.

Read all of Jennifer’s blogs here

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