Last month at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event, I had a fantastic reminder of why I love what I do and why three-day eventing is such a special sport.
No, it's not the fact that I work with some of the world's most talented athletes; although I do. No, it's not the fact that the adrenaline high of a great cross-country ride can last for days; although it does. No, it's that "special bond between horse and rider;" although it does exist.
What sets eventing apart from all other sports, and even most other equestrian disciplines, is the people.
Merriam-Webster defines camaraderie as a feeling of good friendship among the people in a group. In most sports, the group is defined by the formulation of a team. Within the team: best friends. Outside the team: arch enemies. Rivalry is inherent to most sports and accepted as an appropriate (perhaps even expected) part of being a member or fan of a team.
Fans (origin: fanatic) all over the world derive great pleasure from watching their favorite teams and players take on their opponents, and hopefully win. But in eventing, the only thing that anyone is really fanatic about is the well-being of all horses and riders as they take on their large, solid, immovable opponents at high speeds.
Or, little black and white lettered opponents, depending on the horse.
In eventing, rivalry is supplanted by sport-wide camaraderie and cohesiveness. Certainly there are riders who dislike each other, and certainly we fly our (barn) colors just as ardently as any "regular" sports fan would, but (for example) when Team Orange rampages the cross-country course and screams like hell for Sharon White, it is never at the expense of another rider.
I've literally never heard an eventer (or spectator for that matter) express any sort of interest in watching someone lose so that they or their favorite could win. I'm pretty sure Tanya Harding never cheerfully told Nancy Kerrigan "good luck" before a big competition. But if you go out to the warm-up at your next three-day and watch the riders even when focused and riding hard, prepping for the win, they will catch another rider's eye and almost always say "good luck" or "have a nice ride."
On one day, Phillip and Boyd are battling it out for a big FEI win and the next day Phillip is taking Boyd's horses around while he is on the mend. I think that says a lot about this sport.
Jersey Fresh was a particularly sentimental weekend for me because several members of my West Coast family came out for the event. It was great to look around and see faces that immediately brought back a flood of great memories from home; in an odd way, it made me feel more connected to my new home as I got to integrate a little bit of the old with the new.
It made me hopeful that one day soon the friends I am making now will be just as dear to me as the friends I left back home. And THAT is what I love about this sport: the fact that around every corner is a potential friend. NOT a rival. NOT "the competition."
Eventing is full of people driven by the same selfless passion that means even when we're vying against each other in the show ring, we're supporting and mentoring and encouraging each other. We each know what it's like to feel another's victory or another's tragedy as strongly as if it were our own. It makes me proud to be a part of such an amazing group of people and call so many of them friends.
Katy Groesbeck has recently packed up her life on the West Coast for the chance to be a working student with Buck Davidson. Follow her adventures as a part of BDJ Equestrian and with her horse, Wort, as she shares the lessons she learns in 2014! Read all of her blogs.