Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2024

Riders Kick On At Kentucky

There’s no doubt it’s been a rough winter for riders, officials, and fans of eventing. A streak of serious accidents—from the fatal fall of Mia Eriksson in November and including the life-changing accidents incurred by Debbie Atkinson, Kim Meier and Ralph Hill, as well as the loss of Amanda Bader in February—has cast a dim reminder of the grave dangers of the sport.
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There’s no doubt it’s been a rough winter for riders, officials, and fans of eventing. A streak of serious accidents—from the fatal fall of Mia Eriksson in November and including the life-changing accidents incurred by Debbie Atkinson, Kim Meier and Ralph Hill, as well as the loss of Amanda Bader in February—has cast a dim reminder of the grave dangers of the sport.

For years, the U.S. Eventing Association’s leaders have sought to create rules and qualifications to make the sport safer. Despite all the best intentions behind these initiatives, rules can only go so far in a sport that inherently involves risk. Some riders may decide this isn’t the sport for them, but the amazing thing is how many top riders can experience a serious injury without letting fear replace their passion.

Several riders competing here at Kentucky this year have done just that. Sharon White (see p. 32) came through an extremely serious accident—which might well have left her unable to walk—to ride at the four-star level again. Few people would be able to accomplish what White has, but the rider at this level is a rare animal, possessing the same traits of courage and brilliance that we so admire in their horses. White’s former trainer, Bruce Davidson, survived a similarly severe accident in 2002, at the age of 52, breaking 11 bones, including his pelvis, collarbone, ribs and shoulders and puncturing his lungs. He was our 2003 Horseman of the Year after returning to compete at Rolex Kentucky (and finishing eighth) just seven months after his accident.

“After you’ve had an accident like I had a year ago, you have plenty of time to think,” said Davidson at the end of 2003. “And I’m very, very grateful for the ability to be riding again. Being able to be on the back of a horse, taking part in daily activities, is most important to me.”

I was impressed with Kim Severson, before she became the three-time Rolex Kentucky CCI**** winner, when she had a horrible fall at the 1998 Middleburg Horse Trials (Va.), fracturing her pelvis and sacrum. She won her first Rolex Kentucky title (then at the three-star level) the following spring.

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“The fall made me stronger and more determined not to let it happen again,” she said at the time. “I periodically had thoughts of ‘oh, geez,’ but really, it made me stronger.”

Sometimes they may have to sit out a few events, or a season, or even a year, but as long as they’re able, these dedicated riders will be back again. Even if you asked the riders whose accidents will prevent them from riding again, if they would go back and give up their lives with horses to avoid their injuries, I doubt many of them would. They’re part of a small but supportive eventing community that continues to nurture them even when they aren’t at the events anymore.

While many Americans these days live in the suburbs and don’t seek out a challenge greater than a stroll at the mall, the riders at Rolex embody the rare level of strength, resilience, determination and courage that the four-star tests in both horse and rider.

So give an extra cheer as the riders go by this weekend. They’ve chosen to excel in a pretty tough sport that requires a thick skin. But anyone who has had the kind of thrilling, nearly perfect cross-country ride that you relive in your mind for days or weeks afterward, knows why they’re back again—there’s something found on the cross-country course, as well as back in the barns at events and the resulting friendships you form, that just can’t be had any other way.

Beth Rasin

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