Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2023

Drinking From A Fire Hose: Reflections On Day 4 Of EAP



Your mileage may vary, but somewhere along the path to middle age I stumbled onto two realizations. The first concerns how little I knew when I was younger and thought I knew a lot. The second, only somewhat paradoxically, is just how little I know now, even though I know much more than I did then. I’ve got a much more sophisticated grasp of my field (law) now than in my 20s or 30s. I also have a greater appreciation for just how complex it is. It’s a wonder, I sometimes think to myself when preparing to teach new law students, that anyone learns to become a lawyer at all. There are just too many things you have to understand to do it well.

Three years ago, when [my older daughter] Ada rode in the Emerging Athletes Program, Chris Kappler voiced a similar sentiment. He likened riding to a forest where “the deeper you get in, the more trees there are.” I took his point to be that mastering riding at one level only brings with it a new set of challenges and the need for more refinement of technique. Indeed, I’ve heard many lifelong riders describe part of the continuing appeal of the sport as lying in the constant stream of problems it presents. How can I get my horse to do this thing or stop it from doing that other thing? How can I get myself to do it?


EAP isn’t just about becoming a better rider; it’s also about becoming a better horse person. All photos courtesy of Chad Oldfather

The teacher’s natural urge is to want to pass on everything she’s learned. I continually remind myself, with only sporadic success, that less is more. The urge when putting together a law school class is to think that it’s all potentially important. As a seasoned lawyer, I can anticipate a host of situations in which some seemingly obscure concept might be useful. An experienced horse person, I imagine, has seen a million things happen for which she has developed responses. Any of it might happen, so all of it is pertinent. We want to pass every last bit of it on.

That’s the challenge of a program like the EAP. The clinicians and staff collectively have several lifetimes’ worth of experience at the highest levels of the sport. They know the forest, and they know the trees. Naturally, they want to share their knowledge about all of it. Anne Thornbury characterized the challenge as passing along everything she’s learned in 50 years in four days.  And that, of course, is impossible to do.

No surprise, then, that it’s been an intense week. In addition to the riding, the topics have included the basics of horse care, maintaining tack, nutrition and hydration, anatomy and the various rules and regulations of the sport. Too many young riders, Anne observes, don’t know much about what they’re feeding their horses and why, or which type of hay is which, and why you’d feed a certain horse one type and not another. Others aren’t attuned to the fit and condition of their tack. (I’d advise the ambitious future EAP participant to get up to speed on these things beforehand.) One session is devoted to a series of “what if?” scenarios. What if, for example, you’re a working student, and you find yourself alone at the barn and a horse gets cast? If you’ve thought about it ahead of time you’ve got a much better chance of getting it right.


If you’ve got a plan for the “what if” situations, then you’ll be better prepared when problems arise.

The structure of the EAP has evolved some over its 10 years. At first there were clinics for riders at three height levels (3′, 3’6″ and 4′) rather than the current single level (3’6″). The initial iteration had three tiers, as opposed to the current regional and national levels. It ran for three days rather than the current four and a half. The lengthening of time, Sally Ike notes, has resulted in remarkably improved riding on the final day as compared to under the shorter schedule.

Even so, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. There’s so much to learn, including an appreciation of just how much there is to learn. Anne underscored the point for the girls by telling them that she herself always learns something new during these weeks. People do things differently in different parts of the country, or a kid will have encountered a situation that she has not. There’s always more to know.


Here I’ll return to one of the things that Sally Ike told me. Part of her advice to young riders on a budget, which I related in my second post, was “to surround yourself as much as possible with the best.” That rings true to me. I’ve had the good fortune to spend chunks of time working with and around some of the top people in my field. It’s always exhilarating and always leaves me feeling like I’ve raised my game.

So, too, with the EAP. It’s a week under the tutelage of the best. There’s been too much knowledge dropped in too short a time for all of it to stick. There’s no avoiding that. But some of it will. Some tip or trick will come in handy not too far down the line. Some subtle shift in positioning or attitude will have a lasting and significant effect. The residue of the week, for some, will be an intensified desire to learn and to become further immersed in the horse world.  It’s a tremendous thing to experience, and it’s pretty fun to watch too.

Chad Oldfather is spending the week with his daughter Audrey at an EAP Regional Training Session and is blogging about the life lessons he’s learning along the way. Don’t miss his reports from Day 1,  Day 2 and Day 3.


Chad Oldfather is the blogging COTH Horse Dad. He’s the non-horsey father of two junior hunter/jumper/equitation riders, and he’s taking readers along on his horse show parenting journey. By day, he’s a law professor in Wisconsin, but on weekends and evenings, he can be found, laptop in hand, ringside at a lesson or show. Read his first blog, “My Soul For An Equitation Horse” to get to know him. 

Read all of Chad’s COTH Horse Show Dad blogs for the Chronicle.




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