Monday, May. 20, 2024

Let’s Add “Inclusion” To The List In 2010

What comes to mind when you hear the word eventing? If you’ve been following the sport only for the past few years, you might think accidents, death, safety issues and controversy. And the untimely death of eventing’s superstar pony, Theodore O’Connor, this spring certainly struck another blow to the sport’s core.
   
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What comes to mind when you hear the word eventing? If you’ve been following the sport only for the past few years, you might think accidents, death, safety issues and controversy. And the untimely death of eventing’s superstar pony, Theodore O’Connor, this spring certainly struck another blow to the sport’s core.
   
Yet even with all of these negatives, eventers remain rock solid in their support of the sport. Consequently, they were eager to rally behind their own during the process to select the Olympic team, ready to cheer for those who have risen to the top and give them a proud send-off to Hong Kong.
   
Unfortunately, many riders and fans were disappointed when the final Eventing Mandatory Outing at The Fork (N.C.), July 11-13, was closed to the public. While the reasons provided by the U.S. Equestrian Federation were certainly understandable (because the event was held at a private farm, including the public would have required significant expense), the sport lost a tremendous public relations opportunity at the perfect time to change some of the negatives to positives.
   
Instead, some of the sport’s supporters feel left out and bitter, and they now add “secretive” to the list of eventing’s negative connotations.
   
In contrast, this year’s dressage selection trials, held at the Oaks Blenheim (Calif.), were a showcase of the sport’s 12 most famous horses and riders (July 11, p. 8). The public was encouraged to attend, and a well-publicized fundraising effort with 275 guests garnered $280,000 for the USET Foundation. Similarly, the show jumping selection trials were held during the popular Winter Equestrian Festival circuit (Fla.) and offered show jumping fans the opportunity to watch the best competitors in the country vie for a place on the team.
   
In the past, eventing’s mandatory outings have been open to the public, but typically drew small crowds, according to USEF Director of Sport Programs Jim Wolf, who spoke to staff member Kat Netzler at the mandatory outing. He noted that the decision to close this year’s outing was based on infrastructure and finances. “We had no intention of excluding anyone,” Jim said. “But we’re using it as a mandatory outing. It’s not a competition. And honestly it’s not much to sell to a sponsor.”

Jim noted that the USEF is always open to future changes, but because the outing hasn’t been included in a pre-existing competition like it has been for dressage, it would also be difficult to make it into a fundraising event or sell tickets.

It’s not time to second-guess those who made the decision to close the mandatory outing to the public. Getting our athletes to Hong Kong was first and foremost their goal. While opening the event to the public fosters good will and team spirit, there’s a serious task at hand. Diverting time and money from the selection process could also hinder their goals.

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So let’s look forward. It’s now time to fully support the five talented horses and riders selected for the team (p. 46). Perhaps including the mandatory outing as part of an existing competition or at a public venue is the compromise that will leave a lasting, positive impression on everyone. We have two years before the next major championship, which is ample time for the USEF and the eventing community to work toward a solution.

Tricia Booker, Editor

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