Friday, May. 24, 2024

Good Decisions In The Garden State

I was pleasantly surprised, upon walking into the show office at the Jersey Fresh CCI on Friday afternoon, to be greeted by a stack of printouts of our Forum by Danny Warrington “No One Can Fix Eventing Except The Riders” (May 2, p. 44). The column furthers the ongoing debate on general eventing safety concerns,
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I was pleasantly surprised, upon walking into the show office at the Jersey Fresh CCI on Friday afternoon, to be greeted by a stack of printouts of our Forum by Danny Warrington “No One Can Fix Eventing Except The Riders” (May 2, p. 44). The column furthers the ongoing debate on general eventing safety concerns,
but it centers on the issue of rider responsibility. And while I was proud of the buzz it generated, watching Danny’s advice manifest itself the next day was a far superior source of satisfaction.

The Jersey Fresh CCI** field was comprised of many young or inexperienced horses and riders–sometimes paired together–and not everyone had the perfect cross-country go on Saturday morning. But of the 10 riders who didn’t complete the course, nine chose to retire, opting to forfeit their immediate hopes of success in exchange for a better shot at the next goal.

All morning I could hear Danny’s words ringing in my ears, and a part of me believed this particular crop of riders could too. “It’s part of the game to say, ‘This is not my day’ and go home. Don’t push when you shouldn’t push. There’s a day to pull up, there’s a day to go home, and there’s a day to fight again.”
  
The competitive drive that most eventers possess makes it difficult to bear a giant “R” on one’s record, but I hope that hearing a technical delegate simply say, “Good decision. Well done,” after deciding to retire
on course meant much more to those riders than a placing on paper. I witnessed the leaders of our sport
cultivating a new generation of decision makers and congratulating them for choices that, no matter how temporarily disappointing, will help them tenfold over time.

The morning’s rejuvenating atmosphere was marred by the tragic collapse of the veteran CCI*** horse Tigger Too, who died of an aortic rupture that afternoon (see p. 10). The loss was emotional for everyone, particularly his experienced rider, Lauren Kieffer. But by the end of the day, I was consoled by my absolute certainty that Tigger’s death–which occurred while the horse was doing what he loved most in life–was in no way the result of rider error. Somehow it felt wrong to let it overshadow all of the examples of good horsemanship I witnessed all day long.

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The U.S. Equestrian Federation and the U.S. Eventing Association are committed to improving safety in every way imaginable, but Lauren’s tragic experience proved yet again that no matter how qualified, safe and fit you and your mount are, risk will always be inherent. Since riding is dangerous enough even when you do everything right, there’s no excuse for ever leaving the start box less than 110 percent prepared. And when things don’t go your way, like some of the riders in the Jersey Fresh CCI**, you walk home on a long rein and come back another day.

I don’t have the naiveté to proclaim all of our problems solved, and I’m comforted by the knowledge that the elected officials at the USEA and USEF won’t be hoisting a “Mission Accomplished” banner anytime soon. But I want to believe that I witnessed firsthand a turning point in rider responsibility. Whether that proves true or not, I won’t forget that palpable positive feeling at Jersey Fresh.

Kat Netzler, Editorial Staff

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