Following the eventing strategic planning meeting held during last month’s U.S. Equestrian Federation convention (see p. 10), I told riders Bobby Costello and Mike Huber that it was too bad this frank and insightful session hadn’t happened a year ago. I suggested that if riders of all levels–but especially the international riders–had had a chance to explain their ambivalence or their strong preferences about the three-day event formats, perhaps some of the animosity that’s polarized the eventing world could have been avoided.
The riders had explained, as Bobby wrote in his Forum “Eventers Need To Keep An Open Mind” (Jan. 21, p. 23), that from their perspective, the game has already changed and they have to figure out how to adapt to it. To them, there’s little purpose to urging three- or four-star organizers to run what we’re now calling the classic format because for the foreseeable future–and perhaps beyond–all international championships are in the Olympic format, and they need to learn to ride it. Because it is different. Similarly, it’s too bad the USEA’s members couldn’t have heard Capt. Mark Phillips speak with emotion about how much he regrets that the classic format has fallen from favor, because it’s what he’s spent his life doing. But the first time he’s even hinted at that was in his Jan. 14 Letter To The Editor (p. 75). That’s why some of the USEA’s rank and file have called for his removal as the team coach.
Actually, there was a great deal more sentiment for the classic three-day in that room than I’ve heard in months. Most of the riders there expressed their strong support for retaining the classic format at the one- and two-star events to train horses and riders and for keeping the Rolex Kentucky CCI as a classic-format event.
When I suggested to Roger Haller, a course designer and official, that I wished this meeting had happened a year ago, he offered that it wouldn’t have been possible then. Roger observed that we didn’t grasp then that we were already playing catch up with the FEI, and, perhaps most importantly, we hadn’t seen the Olympic format run yet. So a meeting then might not have accomplished much.
Roger is probably right, and so I found myself wishing that, somehow, this meeting of the minds could have been broadcast to the USEA membership or that the room had been 10 times as large so that more people could have taken part in figuring out where to go from here. Certainly the consensus of the room was that the FEI’s European leaders had succeeded in cleverly revolutionizing the game, right under our noses, while we were largely distracted by our own federation’s civil war. But now eventing’s leaders are determined to do something, to swing the pendulum back the other way, as far as possible.
Kevin Baumgardner, the USEA secretary, suggested last year that we Americans are going to have to be like the monks who kept their religion alive during the Dark Ages, that we’re going to have to keep the classic format alive here, waiting for a worldwide Renaissance. It’s a very apt comparison, and certainly Kevin and the rest of the USEA’s leadership have taken a substantial step toward doing exactly that by forming their broadly diversified Classic Three-Day Task Force. It’s a group that has a sweeping preservation agenda, and it’s a group whose efforts the USEA’s 13,000 members will need to support by volunteering and fund-raising if we want to keep this part of the sport alive through these 21st century Dark Ages.