I won’t lie. I walked into the pancake-flat showgrounds at the Stadium in Wellington, Fla., and I wanted to be annoyed. Looking out at the cross-country course on manicured footing that looked as though nothing had stepped on it in the past year, I couldn’t help but think, “No. Nooooooooo. This isn’t eventing! This is show jumping over solid obstacles!” I wanted to not like it.
But here’s the thing.
It was awesome and SO much fun to watch.
I haven’t evented at all in the last few (OK, many) years, but I’ve played owner, photographer and spectator all over the country and overseas. I love watching eventing, photographing eventing, volunteering, armchair quarterback-judging and seeing friends in the process. Mostly I really love watching horses galloping and jumping things in open country.
I didn’t immediately sit down and write about jumping day of the Wellington Eventing Showcase because I needed some time to process my feelings about it. It sounds silly—what is there to process? It’s a bunch of upper level riders riding lovely upper level horses in a perfect setting while I snapped photos and sipped on mimosas.
The cross-country course was safe and fun and the horses jumped around with very few problems. Spectating was set up so that you could see nearly the entire course, and watching horses come galloping through the VIP tent was totally fun and exciting.
(For the record—the horses handled it fine, there was no more a danger to horse, rider or spectator then there is in a horse galloping across a road crossing at Rolex.)
But…there’s this big old tipsy elephant wandering around the VIP tent. WHY were we there?
Why are a bunch of eventers coming down to Wellington—traditionally home to hunters, jumpers and dressage horses—to jump into open water spreads and gallop up manufactured hills?
I kept finding myself asking that question, and a whole lot of other people were asking it too. What is the end-game? Is it a real-estate investment schtick? A market for European imports and jumper cast-offs?
Don’t get me wrong—it was awfully fun to jump on a cheap flight south to escape the sleet and cold rain and sit in sunny south Florida. But I couldn’t help but try to connect with other eyeballs that had the “Who’s selling what??” look. It may have been the cocktails, but I don’t think I was the only one thinking this. Quote an unnamed upper level rider—“It’s fun, but I really hope this isn’t the way eventing is going.” Indeed.
I mentioned it before—it was super fun to spectate and you were so close up so you truly felt “part” of the competition—But it had a distinct “us” versus “them” feeling about it. VIP tickets were expensive, and while I was fortunate to have had tickets as well as a media pass, it was so cranked down that it felt uncomfortably exclusive to me for a “Showcase” event.
I can’t help but think—is this where some people are trying to point the original grass-roots horse sport? The sport based on the foundation of volunteers and low-level riders making their very best egg-shapes at the letter C? Are the powers that be looking at the eventing world as a massive marketing opportunity?
I don’t know how I feel about that, but I do know it gives me the little oogy feeling in my belly for my smaller, local events and hope they won’t suffer the consequences.
Land is disappearing at an alarming rate. People are closing off trails and open land to horses. I live in Southern Pines horse and farm country and neighbors are serving others criminal trespass for riding on trails.
Times they are a-changing. I’m not naive enough to deny that a natural evolution of things is bound to happen, but are we going to allow eventing to become a sterilized version of itself in the near future?
How do we remain open to new ideas for our sport while supporting both the “smurfs” and the professionals? How do we infuse new owners and sponsors into a sport that could really use it, without compromising the basic principles of eventing?
I guess the first step for me is to climb on my old horse, whip out my old armband (wait, don’t need those now, right? see above re: change) and go embarrass myself with gusto at novice again and support those events that may not have a Bloody Mary bar, but they have great courses over rolling terrain and a big group of shining, smiling people who don’t care if I have a VIP bracelet on my arm.
Also read my first blog about the Wellington Eventing Showcase, “Yay For The Thoroughbred At The Wellington Eventing Showcase.”
Allie Conrad is executive director of CANTER Mid Atlantic, which provides retiring Thoroughbred racehorses with opportunities for new careers. Allie founded the organization in 1999 at Charles Town Racetrack (W.V.) after purchasing her beloved Thoroughbred Phinny, who had more than 60 starts at Charles Town, at the infamous New Holland Auction in Pennsylvania. You can read all her blogs for COTH here.
A resident of Southern Pines, N.C., Allie also works full time as a project manager for a Washington, D.C., consulting firm. You can learn more about CANTER Mid Atlantic on their website, www.canterusa.org/midatlantic.