It’s not news that eventers are a hearty bunch, often bearing the highest highs and the lowest lows in the space of a single event. But the ups and downs of the Fair Hill International CCI*** (p. 6) really reminded me of how unpredictable this sport is, and how pragmatic the riders must be to continue playing the game.
Sunday’s horse inspection caused more than the usual excitement.
Karen O’Connor’s highest-placed horse of four, Mandiba, was spun after kicking himself in the leg as he trotted enthusiastically down the runway. Would a few hours of rest and ice have left him completely sound for show jumping? It seems likely, but we’ll never know.
Karen couldn’t sit around and bemoan her misfortune, though, because she had other horses to show jump. And one of those, Hugh Knows, jumped up and kept Karen in a top spot.
Phillip Dutton almost became a victim of the horse inspection too. The Foreman was in first place, but that didn’t stop the ground jury from some serious deliberation about whether or not he was sound enough to continue. Phillip leaped into the air in happiness when they announced The Foreman was accepted, but he just as easily could have seen everything he’d worked for disappear.
There were countless other examples of extreme highs and lows throughout the show.
Jessica Ruppel rode a beautiful cross-country aboard Naughty By Nature, her Appaloosa-Morgan-Arabian, but then had to withdraw before show jumping. Tamra Smith was having a great cross-country go in her first three-star aboard Chaos Theory, only to be held on course for 45 minutes when the two horses in front of her fell. She bravely continued on, added a run-out to her score, and finished, but then was eliminated in show jumping when her nerves caught up with her, and she turned the wrong way.
Sometimes these disasters make the sport seem horrible. Eventers work so hard to prepare their precious horses, only to have things go spectacularly wrong in a moment.
But the other side of disaster is that occasionally there are days when everything goes right, and that day might happen to anyone. For three-star first-timer, young rider Kelly Sult, everything fell into place, and she finished eighth aboard Hollywood.
Eventing has endured many changes over the past few years. The long format is gone at the top levels, technical questions have replaced sheer bravery, dressage has gained importance, and safety has become a top priority. Eventing has also become more competitive, with professionals riding more horses, and riders from beginner novice to advanced eager to test their skills at championships.
I don’t know whether these changes are good for the sport in the long run, but I do think the element of “anything can happen on any given day” is something that hasn’t changed. The Chronicle’s eventing online coverage is always popular because no one can really predict how things will turn out until the last horse jumps on the last day of competition.
That element of surprise makes eventing an exciting sport to watch, and it makes participation addictive. Riders entered Fair Hill hoping to win, but just earning that yellow-and-black completion ribbon is still an accomplishment.
It’s not a sport for the faint of heart or for the rider who longs for consistent validation. Eventers must stay pragmatic—able to enjoy the glory when it comes or shake it off and put it behind them when it doesn’t. There’s a water jump out there waiting for us all!