Another question of the day: are hunter/jumpers easier than other horse sports?
Ok, before everyone freaks out and starts insisting that it’s really, really hard to put in a great hunter round or grand prix jumper round, let me state that I agree. Both disciplines look very hard to me and I could never be competitive in either one.
Yet it seems that teenagers and very young adults rather frequently win hunter and jumper competitions at the national level. As far as I know this never or extremely rarely occurs in dressage and eventing competitions. Why is this the case? Is it because dressage and eventing are simply more challenging and take longer to master than the hunter/jumper disciplines or is there another explanation for so many precociously successful youngsters in the latter? Compared to hunt seat riding, fewer young people train seriously in eventing or dressage, but many certainly do. Even so, I doubt we will see a 14 year old besting Steffen Peters and other top adult riders in a national dressage show or routinely beating the top eventers at their game.
I think dressage takes a very long time because you have to teach a horse to do all of those complex movements. Therefore if you are training the horse it takes a lot longer for the horse to understand the movements and then you are obviously older from waiting for the horse to get it.
Eventing on the other hand is mostly because of how dangerous the cross country is and most horses can't do all three parts. It is harder to find horses that will do all three parts for you and so there are fewer young riders.
You could also look at the reverse side... maybe h/j is SO hard that you need to be young and fit to do well!
Probably the biggest thing is that you see more kids in our sport with more financial backing from parents, owners, prize money, etc in H/J land than in eventing or dressage. It makes it a bit easier to gain access to the right trainers and horses and MUCH easier to gain show experience. Kids can catch ride at shows which allows them to gain tons of show mileage and notability. Every kid that you see do well (Lilie, Victoria, etc), all come with a throng of supporters- parents, trainers, owners, and so on. I think our industry just supports the type of atmosphere which allows young people to thrive, whereas the other sports don't.
More younger people like to do hunter/jumper and there seem to be many more trainers available. I have 4+ h/j trainers within riding distance from my stable but when I wanted to event found no one who could help with the dressage and cross country.
Few of my friends want to do dressage and the few that do are in it because of jumping accidents or their parents won't let them jump. I like dressage, but I LOVE to jump. Like I said I would love to do 3 day, but no trainers around here. Its easy to go to the local hunter/jumper trainers and get lessons! They have school horses, lease horses and trailer to shows! Parents can stop in and have kiddo on a pony the next week, so I think it may be a matter of what's easy to access for youth.
It seems to me also that not only does dressage take a long time to master on the human side, it takes a remarkable amount of concentration. Now, think about your average kid under 12 and trying to get them to focus on perfecting something, or riding the same pattern over and over. Not a good picture, right? Have you ever tried to get kids to play "The Quiet Game?" (I was a day camp counselor once, oh yes). I know that's a lot of generalizations in there, but I don't mean any offense. I'm just guessing why there aren't more young riders in international dressage competitions.
Also, I think there's something maybe a little inherently insane in jumping things that can be bigger than you on a 1,000+ pound animal with a strong prey animal drive that just doesn't appeal to most rational adults. I don't think kids understand that they're breakable too until they get older.
“Thoroughbreds are the best. They’re lighter, quicker, and more intelligent.” -George Morris
Does it matter? Do whichever you enjoy, watch whichever you enjoy.
I've ridden for *shudder* 30 years and can only admire the talent that is required to be at the top of any of the disciplines. Having dabbled in the lowest levels of all of them, they all have their unique challenges and require different skill sets and talents.
Eventing has age limits for preliminary, intermediate, and advanced, so there is no way a 14 year old can go out and beat the top riders in a competitive advanced division, etc. There ARE good young riders though, and often by the time they are old enough to move up, they move up and start kicking ass and taking names. But you don't see teenagers at the higher levels because they just can't ride at the higher levels.
As for dressage, very few riders come into from the beginning. Even some of our best dressage riders were event riders or did Pony Club as kids and grew to love the dressage and focus on that. Most kids like the thrill of jumping. The kids that get good at dressage (like the Young Rider teams) tend to mature into it...they learn how to focus and enjoy that level of detail and precision and stick with it...but most don't get THAT mind set until they are later on into their teens or young adults (some do, but then you DO have the added factor in how long it takes to learn how to ride at the upper levels).
I don't necessarily think that the h/j sports are EASIER, but I do think it is easier to progress and fine tune. The h/j world is a very different one from the other sports. There's nothing wrong with that, it just is.
One more thought: while it isn't easy to put in a winning hunter round, the sport does not necessarily change all that much from the ponies to the top. The jumps get bigger, but the object is still the same: a lovely, smooth, flowing, effortless round. In my observation, it seems to me that once a good pony kid masters those skills, they very smoothly progress on to the horses and even into the top classes for some of them. The good kids get better because they fine tune their skills on green horses or difficult ones, but the object always remains the same.
With eventing and dressage, there is much more of a learning curve. Each level up builds on the next, and you have to master the harder dressage movements, the more complex cross country questions (and the faster speed), and the bigger and more difficult show jumping at each new level.