Here at the Chronicle, we may devote most of our pages to reporting on how people win, but I’d like to think that, even if events didn’t offer any ribbons or prizes, there would still be waiting lists every weekend. Because, as competitive as you may be, you don’t go to the event for that 70-cent ribbon. Do you?
It’s starting to seem as if winning is becoming more and more important in eventing. Not winning because you’re the best one on the day, which is a great achievement, but winning by ensuring that you don’t have to compete against anyone who may have an advantage, such as a professional against an amateur or a more seasoned horse against a green one.
I’m not a big fan of this philosophy. Horses are the greatest equalizers and will separate the best riders much better than our rules could.
Although I don’t like the concept of divisions within divisions, I can see why the U.S. Eventing Association wants to accommodate the needs of the majority of its members, who are lower-level riders. But I believe the American Eventing Championship has taken that concept one step too far. By trying to ensure that everyone is only competing against peers, the AECs have different rules for being overqualified than any other event.
I can’t think of another circumstance in which 20-year-old Jennie Brannigan, who was determined to be ineligible after winning the junior training and preliminary divisions, could not enter a junior/young rider division (see Horseman’s Forum p. 42).
A national championship shouldn’t exclude the best riders, regardless of their experience.
Fortunately, the USEA is reportedly planning to make some changes in the AEC entry process for next year, including making the qualifications easier to find and changing a few of the guidelines for divisions.
The AEC situation reminded me of the difference in competitions between now and when I was a child. Growing up, I competed in Pony Club rallies and local shows where we picked up plenty of ribbons, but recognized events, those were where you went to find out how good you really were, at a “real” competition.
We competed against Bruce Davidson on his novice and training level horses when we were still in jodphurs. No one ever thought of complaining; instead, it was an honor to ride in the warm-up with your idols.
Similarly, I always understood a three-day event to be a championship. Not everyone will compete at that level, and it may take many years of hard work to get there—which makes it all the more special when it happens. That’s what championships should be, special. If you have them every year, at every level, it’s not quite the same.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed most about eventing is the fact that success isn’t always about who you are, what you’re riding or who you train with. It has an awful lot to do with, basically, raw determination.
Don’t let someone tell you that your horse isn’t fancy enough, you don’t live in the right part of the country, you’re too short—or that your job, family, age, or anything else makes you any less competitive. All riders have challenges, whether they’ve been to the Olympics or are raising a family. If you want to succeed in eventing, you can still make the best of what you’ve got by working hard to be successful at the level you choose. On any given Sunday, you might just beat Phillip Dutton.
So bring your best game and compete against the best—it will only make you better. And you won’t need a ribbon to know this.