Tuesday, May. 28, 2024

Helmet Brims And Electrical Tape

I’ll be honest. By the conclusion of the Jersey Fresh CCI***/**, I was feeling pretty dejected. It had been an eventful event, and not necessarily in a good way.

After a brilliant cross-country round on Saturday, Laine Ashker had lost her long-time partner Eight Saint James Place when he collapsed and died suddenly after the finish. His death was a personal tragedy for Laine and those in her camp, but it was also a perpetuation of the current cycle of injuries and fatalities that has occurred in the eventing community.
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I’ll be honest. By the conclusion of the Jersey Fresh CCI***/**, I was feeling pretty dejected. It had been an eventful event, and not necessarily in a good way.

After a brilliant cross-country round on Saturday, Laine Ashker had lost her long-time partner Eight Saint James Place when he collapsed and died suddenly after the finish. His death was a personal tragedy for Laine and those in her camp, but it was also a perpetuation of the current cycle of injuries and fatalities that has occurred in the eventing community.

In addition, despite the excellent cross-country footing, three horses were spun at Sunday morning’s horse inspection, which was a disappointingly high number in my eyes. Then immediately afterward, there was an emotionally charged riders’ meeting to discuss unanticipated changes in the Fédération Equestre Internationale’s fall schedule. And, of course, tensions were running high in general with the Pan Am Games selectors scrutinizing the minutiae of every performance. Finally, perhaps thinking that the long journey to Virginia with thousands of other weekend travelers via the New Jersey Turnpike wasn’t going to be enough of a treat, God saw fit to unleash a downpour the likes of which would impress even Noah.

So I proceeded to unleash my own outpouring—of weary and whiny complaints about the problems within the sport. That is, until my travel companion said something to give me pause. “I just can’t believe these riders will actually all get together and sit down to try to fix things,” she said, referring to the meeting that had been called earlier that morning. “I can’t even imagine that happening anywhere else.”

I’d had the pleasure of attending Jersey Fresh with a first-time eventing spectator, and, although she had extensive experience in other equine disciplines, she’d marveled at the little things I often take for granted: upturned helmet brims, stock ties and color-coordinated electrical tape. And, apparently, she’d also taken note of the one thing I’d been forgetting to enjoy: the overarching camaraderie of the sport.

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As we chatted on the way home about the possibilities for the Pan Am team, I started to remember the glowing smile Bonnie Mosser had worn in her second of two victory gallops earlier that day, and the cheers from the crowd that had accompanied it. As my friend tried to wrap her mind around the idea that eventers would accept coaching positions for teams from countries other than their own, I started to appreciate just how united the sport’s worldwide community truly is.

And I thought about how the small portion of that community that had been present at Jersey Fresh had supported one of their own when tragedy struck. An emotional Laine later noted that it was the support of her fellow competitors that allowed her to finish the competition with her remaining mounts—support that included, among other things, a voluntary collection taken up to purchase a memorial for “Jamie.”

I’m the newest and youngest member of the Chronicle staff, but there are days when even I find it all too easy to become disenchanted with the sport I’ve grown up loving. But if the positive qualities of eventing are evident enough for a first-time spectator to pick up on, there’s no reason why I should ever forget them.

Whether it’s the color coordinated equipment or something more serious, there are things that make eventing, and every horse sport, unique. Focusing solely on the negative aspects of anything, from the slightly imperfect fit of our hunt coats to the politics in our respective disciplines, only wastes energy. And that’s energy we could be utilizing to improve our sports.

Kat Netzler

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