Following Philippa Humphreys’ death, I didn’t know what to say. Everyone on Facebook had these beautiful tributes and thoughtful perspectives about the implications of this horrible tragedy on our sport, and I had nothing.
Then I read her husband’s generous and graceful words. In particular, this stuck with me: “She knew the risks. We talked about them often. She accepted them unconditionally.” After reading that, I was riding one afternoon, and out poured all the thoughts I’ve been having, so here they are.
The anger. I was at my sister’s graduation that Saturday when I found out about what happened to Philly. Sitting amidst thousands of people, it was like I was punched in the stomach and I couldn’t stop myself from crying. I immediately felt angry.
Angry at our sport in general, that a young girl would grow up without her mom. For the loss that her husband would feel. Angry that this pain would be caused by eventing.
I didn’t know where to place the blame, so I just got angry at our sport in general. Shortly after, my friend Liz Lund called and all I could say was, “How *&%# insane is it that a young family lost their mother and wife for this stupid sport?”
I knew my feelings were misplaced, but I still had them. So I stayed quiet.
Then I started seeing the social media. The attacks on the powers that be, people blaming eventers, people attacking course design and construction. All of this made me mad, but I knew where these feelings had come from because I had just been going through them.
Then I also started seeing statistics about rotational falls on the decline, firsthand accounts of the fall from trusted friends, people standing up for the sport that we love. I so wanted to chime in, but until I read Pete’s words, I couldn’t find mine. A few things that I’ve read really show a huge disconnect, so I’m throwing my hat into the ring to do my small part in bridging that gap.
First, on safety. Whether you want to believe it or not, people in this sport are dedicating their lives to try and make eventing as safe as possible. Perhaps that’s a hard reality to accept given that we still have fatalities, but it is the reality. From your computer, you don’t see the real effort that is going into protecting competitors, so here’s an anecdote just from the Carolina International CIC (N.C.) this year.
I walked the cross-country course three times, twice alone and once with my coach Jon Holling. As I walked with Jon, he looked at the construction of every single cross country fence. He even commented and explained to us how some of the oxers were clipped in a new way to better keep horses and riders safe. Now this is a competitor and coach, evaluating every single fence, noting whether or not safety measures were used the way they had been explained at the last Summit that he had attended.
During my next walk, I passed by Ian Stark, who was standing in front of the two star ditch and wall question talking with a colleague about how the riders should ride it, but how if they made a mistake they still had the ability to get it done safely or have the run-out. This world class course designer was going jump to jump probably for the hundredth time on the day of competition thinking about the safety of the riders over his course.
If you are out and about in this sport and pay some sort of attention, you will see people working tirelessly to make this sport as safe as possible.
On our risk threshold. Pete, I don’t know you personally, but your words gave me the courage to comment on this. I saw someone say that no sport should ever result in death.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s simply not the case. Last time I checked, mountain climbing is a sport. No one would ever expect to die hiking on a trail, but if you attempt to climb Mt. Everest, it’s a real risk. If you go skiing down a bunny slope, safety is a reasonable assumption. However, if you go heli-skiing your risk increases exponentially.
The same goes for eventing and horses. The only difference is that just being around horses is dangerous. You take that kind of risk, then you factor in the difference between novice and advanced, and there will always be risk of death. Eventing at the highest level is an extreme sport. A four star is like climbing Mt. Everest.
Everyone competing at that level knows it, and we accept it. At the start box of Rolex Kentucky, my mother told herself that if something happened to me, at least I was doing what I loved and what makes me who I am. EVERYONE involved at this level understands the risk.
The reality of the situation is that we have an incredibly dangerous sport that, at the highest levels, a few thousand of people in the world choose to do. While there is a known risk that we all accept, there are also incredibly dedicated people who are working towards minimizing that risk.
Philippa’s death has hit everyone so hard, and the anger people feel is understandable. Even if you didn’t know her, you knew how she touched the sport and what she meant to it. Her passion for her horses and eventing was contagious, so even if you’d never met Philippa, loving eventing meant you loved her too.
Instead of manifesting our grief with anger, let’s all think of how we could honor Philippa. Perhaps it’s a donation to your local horse trials to put frangible devices on a jump. Maybe it’s attending the Safety Seminar at the next USEA Convention.
Maybe it’s asking the course designer at the next horse trials to share their wealth of knowledge regarding safe jump design and construction with you. Maybe it’s merely waiting to move up a level until you are truly bored to tears.
Whatever your contribution, I think we all owe it to our sport and to Philippa to be the most thoughtful and contentious stakeholders that we can be.
Leah Lang-Gluscic’s living every young eventer’s dream—competing at the upper levels with an off-the-track Thoroughbred horse of a lifetime who cost less than most saddles. But Lang-Gluscic didn’t jump right into life as a professional eventer. After graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in finance and accounting, she spent two years working at an investment banking firm. Even then she found time to ride, but in 2010, she decided to dive in and bought her facility in Freeport, Ill., and begin LLG Eventing.
Lang-Gluscic made waves in 2015 by entering her fairytale OTTB, AP Prime, in the Rolex Kentucky CCI****. She withdrew after the dressage, but returned to the Kentucky Horse Park again this spring and placed 33rd.
Read more about Leah and AP in the 2015 COTH article “One To Watch: Leah Lang-Gluscic Will Represent OTTBs With AP Prime At Rolex Kentucky.” You can read all her COTH blogs here.