It’s Time To Go Do It

Jan 26, 2015 - 10:44 AM

We don’t need better horses or owners, but we do need an increased focus on cross-country and rider accountability.

Eventing in the United States is definitely starting the upswing. But it’s a bit premature to get too excited. The truth is we haven’t even finished a team in a few years—whether it be at Boekelo CCI*** (the Netherlands), or the Aachen CIC*** (Germany), or at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France). We have to be realistic: First we have to finish a team.

That being said, I feel like everybody is riding better, and there’s starting to be some camaraderie within the team. The selectors are trying to choose people who are consistently doing well rather than people who just kind of jump up and do well here and there. You’re not going to be able to go with one good result; it’s going to be a series of results together, and consistency is going to matter.

It was always a little bit disheartening when somebody would step up and do one event well, and then they might have stops at a number of other events, and then they’re ranked higher than someone who’s done very well and had one slip-up somewhere. I think that consistency is going to build camaraderie.

Bring Back 1984

Certainly Boyd Martin, Phillip Dutton and I have had the most horses for the last little while, and I think we have some good horses now. The three of us have been very good friends for a long time without the team stuff. The younger guys who were on the team this year, we just seem to all be genuinely pretty good friends.

Certainly there are teams that hate each other and do OK, but if you look at the chemistry of successful teams, not just in horse sports, the majority of them have some team chemistry. They don’t have to go to dinner together, but they have to get along. I think we have that, and hopefully it will continue. But for it to continue, we’re going to have to start winning.

As they say, “Winning cures all.” This, “Oh yeah we’re doing so much better, but where are the results?” is eventually going to get old. It’s our job to right the ship.

We want it to be like the U.S. team at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, when everybody knew they were going to win. Once we get to the spot where we’re the favorites, it then becomes easier to do it. You start to believe you can do it, and the judges think you can do it.

No team will always be perfect. But on a real team, everybody hangs together when things get tough. It’s easy when everybody is winning to say the right things and do the right things. You need to know your teammate well enough to know if he needs a pat on the back, or if he needs to be told to work harder.

We’re starting to know each other well enough to know how everyone fits. Some people like to be really happy; some people need to be really mad. People need to do different things. As we get to know each other, it won’t be frustrating. If someone goes off, the reason is because then they come back better.

I really think we will get there. The owners are excited, the riders are excited. Now it’s time to stop talking about it and do something about it.

Hindsight 20/20 From The World Games

I think Reggie (Ballynoe Castle RM) is the best horse ever, but he would be maybe just a hair short of a gallop at the World Games. He had to go first on cross-country, and we made the decision to go for it.

With hindsight being 20/20, could I have just cantered around the course and got around? Maybe. Basically we ran out of gas there. I think with Phillip Dutton’s horse, Trading Aces, it was the same thing. Almost every fence was brush, and Reggie and Trading Aces, neither of them would like to touch fences. They just jumped themselves tired and got very winded.

I feel like my horse went as well as he can go. I felt like I could ride as well as I could ride. Maybe that’s not good enough, so I have to get better, but I don’t think I needed a better horse. I wouldn’t blame Reggie at all. Everybody watched him do a gallop before he left. I went for 13 minutes, and I was flying, and I don’t think anybody questioned the horse’s fitness. There were some very good horses that didn’t get around that course.

I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for our performance. It was wet, and some days in my barn I’d rather have Reggie. That day I wish I had Park Trader, but who knew it was going to be like that? We thought the ground was going to be really hard there, and it usually doesn’t rain there that time of year.

Lynn Symansky’s horse, Donner, I’m not really sure what happened there. Lynn’s a great competitor, and I’ve really enjoyed my time with her on teams.

Boyd Martin’s horse, Shamwari 4, is the ideal horse for that kind of course. He’s not an ultra-careful horse, and you needed that horse that wasn’t afraid to blast through the brush. When Boyd came back, he said he probably could have gone faster, but at that point everyone was just trying to survive. Who knows if Reggie and Trading Aces could have come home with time if we went slower? You just don’t know.

We’re sitting in a good spot. We all did pretty good dressage tests. It didn’t work, but I wouldn’t throw everything out because the result wasn’t what we wanted. I think we came together as a team. Maybe it just wasn’t America’s weekend, but it will be fairly soon. That’s the hope anyway.

The best horse won at the World Games, that’s for sure. That horse—Opgun Louvo ridden by Germany’s Sandra Auffarth—looked unbelievably impressive. Germany also has Michael Jung, who is amazing, and Dirk Schrade, and they always have someone new coming in.

If you can have three really good people, then that fourth person can come in. You look at New Zealand over the years, with Blyth Tait, Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson, and then you can throw a fourth person in there, and they win. Germany has the three; England’s had it with William Fox-Pitt, Tina Cook and Mary King.

But some of those guys, the horses are getting a little older, and it’ll all be new again at the 2016 Olympic Games. Everybody is going to have a different group.

Jung is a genius, as are Nicholson and Fox-Pitt—those three are heads above everybody else. You can say what you want about world rankings, but you might as well put them 1A, 1B and 1C; it just depends who has more horses at the time.

Those guys are so good, and we have to work harder to get there.

Pan Ams Or Bust

I think we’re going to get into the Olympic Games based off the world rankings. But whenever I go to an event, I don’t go to be second. Sure, there are times where a horse needs to go quietly around a horse trials, but you don’t go to a major championship thinking you’re going to be second.

I don’t want to sound arrogant, but if America is going to be standing on the podium at World Games and Olympics, we have to win the Pan American Games. The past two Pan Ams we did win team gold, but there have been times where we haven’t.

It’s for sure serious, and we will certainly not go in cocky and arrogant but knowing that the job is to win—that’s it. That’s the beginning and end of the story.

Put The Focus Back On Cross-Country

For so many years, it was, “Oh, we have to get the dressage better,” and now we’ve been quite close in dressage. Then our show jumping wasn’t quite as good. After having Silvio Mazzoni’s help, the show jumping results got a lot better, and now the cross-country results have gone down quite substantially.

There are a couple reasons for that. Here in America, the horses that are going to win a horse trials are probably not the same horses that are going to go and be competitive internationally.

The horse trials courses in England are a lot different. We have lots of motorbike tracks. Here there are a lot of Ocala Horse Trials (Fla.), Rocking Horse (Fla.), Pine Top (Ga.), and there are very few like Plantation Field (Pa.). In Europe they have that.

The real difference between those is the sheer acreage. We have such a big country, and England has such a small country, but they have these great parks, and we don’t.

With the course designing, it’s very difficult to get in a rhythm at some of those places; you go around and around in circles. There’s Plantation and Morven Park (Va.) and Fair Hill (Md.) that are really open. If you go to Galway Downs (Calif.) or Jersey Fresh (N.J.), it’s like a motorbike track. Certainly the lower level horse trials are very twisty-turny.

For me, there’s a little too much tricky stuff and not enough big things on some of our cross-country courses. You’re not going anywhere. You’re show jumping over cross-country courses. That’s a conversation we’ve all had.

So the horses that are going to win regularly at home might not be the horses that’ll win a medal that once every four years. That’s a bit of a dilemma. If you have owners, they obviously want to win gold medals, but in the meantime they want to win on a weekly basis.

For upcoming championships, we’ll have the advantage that Europe has had. There’s not another major championship in Europe for several years. We go to Canada for the Pan American Games this year, Rio for the 2016 Olympics and then to Canada again for the 2018 World Games. Then it’s to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.

Those facilities are more like the motorbike tracks we have in America. It’s going to be on hard ground. It’s going to be more like what we’re used to. I think it’ll be fairly good for us.

We need to be able to compete anywhere, but instead of having to always play road games, we’re going to essentially be home a little bit. With sports, the vast majority of teams do better on home turf.

We Have The Horses

There are a lot of good horses, and for anybody to say we don’t have good enough horses, they’re making excuses. If they don’t think we have enough money, that’s also an excuse.

We have everything. Now it’s just kind of time to do it. We have the best owners in the whole world, and we get some of the best horses in the world, and now we have to just try to get the best riders in the world.

I haven’t seen or heard enough people talking about, “Let’s just ride better.” Let’s just do that. I can tell you any problem I had wasn’t because of any of the owners I have. They’ve all done more for my horses and me than I could ever ask for. It wasn’t because of the horses I had. Whatever hasn’t gone right was 100 percent my fault. At least I know it.

I can’t speak for everybody else, but I have three of the best owners in the world, and they’ve treated me better than I deserve to be treated. My teammates should feel the same about their owners.

If everybody knuckled down, they’d realize that it’ll come down to better riding—not better horses, not more money, just us doing better.

Buck Davidson is an event rider based in Riegelsville, Pa., and Ocala, Fla. The son of eventing legend Bruce Davidson, Buck has carried on the family name with major achievements beginning during his young rider career. He was a member of the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (Ky.) and at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France), and he won team gold at the 2011 Pan American Games (Mexico). He was third at the 2014 Rolex Kentucky CCI***** with Ballynoe Castle RM. He began contributing to Between Rounds in 2010.


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