Thursday, May. 23, 2024

No One Can Fix Eventing Except The Riders

The writer has a unique perspective on the serious responsibilities that every upper-level rider must assume.

I feel like 250,000 people out there are yelling that our sport is bad, and there are about 250 riders saying it’s not the sport that’s a problem, it’s individuals. And we’re whispering, and we’re not being heard.
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The writer has a unique perspective on the serious responsibilities that every upper-level rider must assume.

I feel like 250,000 people out there are yelling that our sport is bad, and there are about 250 riders saying it’s not the sport that’s a problem, it’s individuals. And we’re whispering, and we’re not being heard.

Every article you pick up, every outside influence, is saying that we need to change the sport—we’ve got to make it safer, we’ve got to do all these things. To me it really isn’t the sport that needs to change, it’s the way the sport is being played. You can’t make enough rules to make somebody think.

For instance at Rolex Kentucky, what prompted Emilee Libby to pull up at Fence 7A and not continue? Was it the fact that she had a bad fall or had seen a bad fall? What made her make that decision? That was the best piece of horsemanship I saw all weekend.

The first thing we have to do is stop looking to the organizations—the U.S. Eventing Association or U.S. Equestrian Federation—and stop looking to rule changes, and accept personal responsibility.

It’s like when you stop at a stoplight and the light turns green. Do you just take off, or do you look left and look right before you take off and make sure no one else is coming the other way? I mean, I look both ways before I go. That’s the kind of personal responsibility that we need to take at this level.

At lower levels, it’s different. We’re working with the Instructor Certification Program, and everyone’s
trying to up the standards at the lower levels. But at the top, you’ve gotten there. And you need to have some self-awareness, self-preservation.

In the races, at Saratoga [N.Y.] one year, there were some rumors that the officials wanted to take the
second fence off the backside because that’s where most of the falls occur. But then the falls are just going to happen at the next fence, because everybody is making a move there. They can’t keep changing the sport. Riders who aren’t paying attention are going to keep finding ways to fall.

Learning From Tragedy

I lost my wife Amanda at an event 10 years ago. Let’s use her example as a teaching tool. She made a mistake. I made a mistake, and the sport didn’t make a mistake.

By pushing so hard to achieve goals, we’re pushing right past the point. Do you know why Amanda didn’t make the team? Because she didn’t live long enough. Because she pushed so hard to get there that she died in the process. It’s horrible and it’s tragic, but it wasn’t the sport’s fault. Nobody made her run that horse. I never told her not to run the horse. We sat at home and tried to figure out how to make the horse go better instead of saying maybe this horse isn’t an advanced horse. Maybe he’s good at the intermediate level.

When you are team-bound, when you are goal-driven, you don’t look at life that way until it’s too late. I’m trying to tell people, sometimes it’s better to go home and come back another day. Sometimes it’s better to look at your horse and say, “You know what buddy, I love you, but maybe the four-star, or the three-star or even the two-star level is above you,” and not push your horse or yourself past the point you can do.

I don’t understand why people think that they have a god-given right to go around Kentucky as fast as they can or as fast as they want to. It’s your job out there to take care of you and your horse first. If you don’t like a course, don’t run it. If you think questions aren’t fair, don’t run. Most people don’t do that. Some said this year looked like a soft Kentucky, and I said there’s no such thing as a soft four-star. Maybe this one wasn’t as tough as others, but it’s tough. Don’t mistake it.

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Amanda had five advanced horses—Regal Style, Chevalier, Broadstone Harvest Moon, Exodus, and Drizzle was on his way. Berlioz [whom she fell with] was just trying to catch up to the others. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I should have said, “Hey Amanda, you know, the horse really doesn’t want to do it.”

But I was 27 years old; she was 28. You don’t think that way. You think, “I need more horses so I can get on the team.” And she would have made the team—Chevalier did go to the Olympics when Bobby Costello took over the ride. It wouldn’t even have taken any more time. But she didn’t get to make the decision because she was too ambitious.

Know When To Call It A Day

You have to be aggressive in this sport. It is X-C; there is an X in front of it. It is an X game. This is an adrenaline sport, and you have to be on the edge. It is tough; it is a thrill. You can’t come out and ride it like it’s the hunters either, but you have to know by the time you get to the upper levels, that there is a day that you have to pull up.

It’s part of the game to say, “This is not my day” and go home. I did it at the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.)—my horse had two more stops to go [before being eliminated], and the stops he’d had were not horrible, but my horse said, “You know what, I don’t want to do this.” And I said, “OK, let’s go home before we get hurt.” And I went home and didn’t get hurt.

When you have consistent things telling you that you are having a bad day, you’ve got to make the decision: Do you want to pull up, or do you want to go home in an ambulance? I’ve got to tell you: pull up! Walk your horse home. There is no shame in retiring.

Go home, school, figure out what’s going on, and maybe, your horse isn’t a four-star horse. Maybe your horse isn’t a three-star horse. Maybe you’re not a four-star rider. Maybe you’re not a three-star rider. Those are facts you have to face, but don’t kill yourself trying.

Laine Ashker has been going fast since early March, in Florida—she’s had the fastest time cross-country consistently. And is it my fault, me, Danny Warrington, is it my fault for not calling up Laine and saying, “If you don’t slow down you’re going to fall?” But she’s winning; she’s qualified, and everything looks good.

But how many people besides me see this and don’t say anything? No one says anything.

It’s not the sport’s fault because she’s met the qualifications. It’s not the design of the course because everybody else jumped relatively well around Kentucky this year. It is a four-star—there should be a 50 percent finish rate clean. Not everyone should jump around a four-star clean, otherwise it’s a training level horse trial. I don’t think that’s unreasonable at that level. But it should be because a rider retires or makes a good decision, not because a rider keeps pushing until he or she goes home in an ambulance.

You’ve got to wake up and say, “You know what, my day is not going good, and I need to pull up. This isn’t working out.” And live to fight another day. It’s not up to your coach or the USEA or USEF to tell you that. Because you should know. By the time you get to that level, you should know.

Accidents are always going to happen. But if the horse and rider have the right mindset, you’re going to see fewer of them.

I don’t think you can make rules to stop them. They have to stop themselves. You can’t stop every drunk driver from getting on the road. As the rider, you feel that it is not your day. Not every horse is an advanced horse, and not every rider is an advanced rider. As riders, as horsemen, we need to really understand that. Just because you’re qualified to go doesn’t mean you’re ready to go.

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Waylon Roberts had a great round, and he’s 19. He comes from a horseman’s family. We can’t make rules that say you’ve got to be at least 25 years old to ride around Kentucky, because that’s not fair either. But you have to have a serious amount of experience before you attempt something at that level. So many of these younger riders go out without the mileage to feel if the horse is tired, or understand the difference between tired and off the bridle.

Let’s Help Ourselves

If we as competitors who love our sport would shout out what is really wrong with the sport, which is the way some people are playing it, then we might have a chance against people who are trying to shut us down. And instead of whispering about what’s wrong, addressing it.

That’s sort of why I’m coming forward and saying that Amanda’s accident had nothing to do with the fence, the day, the footing or lighting or time, or anything but that we were pushing a horse to go advanced that wasn’t really ready or maybe wasn’t an advanced horse.

The reason that I’m talking about Amanda’s fall is that maybe there are others out there who feel that their fall was due to poor judgment on their part, that they may speak out. Because the world believes that the sport is the problem. And I believe it’s the greatest game on the planet when you play it right.

Learn from mistakes you see around you, and don’t expect the organization to do things for you.

Coaches—if you don’t think your kid isn’t ready to go novice, training, preliminary, intermediate, or advanced, don’t let them. Don’t send them out there if they’re not ready. That is a very tough thing to have to live with, and believe me, you don’t want to live with it.

The word “no” has to come out of your mouth. The words “you’re not ready” have to come out of your mouth. The words “your horse isn’t that quality” have to come out of your mouth. If you lose a customer and he goes to somebody else, if we all agree that we’re not going to do this anymore, maybe we can help ourselves help our sport instead of looking at the organizations.

And one more point: I hear people talking about horses that have had these issues, like Amy Tryon last year at Kentucky, or Jonathan Holling’s horse who had an aneurysm at Red Hills (Fla.). And I want to say to people: if you haven’t had a horse break down underneath of you, if you haven’t had a horse have an aneurysm, if you haven’t had a horse flip, if you have not ridden advanced, maybe this isn’t something you need to be talking about. Because you don’t have the experience. And all you have is an opinion.

Because I’ve had all of those things happen. I lost my wife. I’ve had horses break their legs and break down. Between racing and eventing, there’s not a lot that hasn’t happened to me. And don’t judge people until you’ve been in that situation. I mean that in a positive way: I don’t want everybody to have those situations. But listen to the people who have. Don’t push when you shouldn’t push. There’s a day to pull up. There’s a day to go home, and there’s a day to fight again.

We don’t have to change the sport. We have to change way the sport is being played by the players.  

Danny Warrington



Danny Warrington is an advanced-level rider and professional teacher and trainer at Warrington Eventing near Fair Hill, Md. He was married to international rider Amanda Warrington, and he rode steeplechase races for 10 years.

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