Every time I’m at any kind of horse show I find myself sitting there watching people get ready to compete and thinking about how absolutely insane eventing is. And not just because of the whole galloping-and-jumping-big-solid-fences thing, but mostly because of how we try to be good at three very different sports that are all really difficult in their own right. When you take a step back and really think about it, we’re all completely certifiable.
Sometimes I miss the days of Jumperland where I could wake up in the morning at a show and go “Okay self, today you are going to remember your course and sit up!”. Now I wake up in the morning at an event (assuming I ever slept at all) and am so overwhelmed with all the things I have to remember that my brain pretty much just immediately explodes, then in the ensuing post-brain-apocalypse silence I think “Shit. I have to get up and braid.”.
Getting ready for dressage is an art in itself. You want a relaxed, obedient test from what is, most likely, a fit and fairly “blooded” horse. No one but the person showing the horse is allowed to ride it on the grounds, so forget a trainer ride. If you want enough horse left by the time you get to show jumping, forget a lunge or a long warm-up. Dressage is already really really hard, and we’ve managed to make it even harder. We have to remember the dressage test and all the tiny little things to try to maximize our score. And for the love of god, open your shoulders, look up, and keep riding inside leg to outside rein. Oh, and try not to look like you’d rather be anywhere else than in that sandbox.
Then we get to XC, where we want a horse that is bold, quick with it’s feet, moves efficiently across the ground, gets across the fence without wasting energy, and is enough of a “thinker” to get itself out of trouble. Totally different from what we wanted in the dressage test. We also have to remember the XC course (which requires at least 3 walks on my part – one to learn my way, one to make a solid plan, and one to re-affirm said plan) and everything we’re supposed to do along the way. Meters per minute. Minute markers here, here, here, here. Start your turn for that combination at that tree. Land slightly left here so your line works out better. Jump the right fences. Don’t fall off. I mean really… brain goes poof again.
Then there’s stadium, if you’re lucky enough to have survived all that other business. Now you get to remember a stadium course and all the little nuances that go into riding that cleanly (no pressure). You need your horse to be rideable, respectful, and careful, with lots of lift and power. Different yet again. So really, not only does the horse have to essentially be three totally different things, we have to be three totally different riders. Each phase has it’s own unique demands and styles of riding and to be successful we have to somehow be good at all of those things, all at the same time. Does anyone besides Michael Jung ever do everything right from start to finish? If you want to constantly feel challenged (and/or you have a touch of ADD) eventing is definitely for you. This sport is stupid hard and complicated and we are all 100% crazy for even trying to master it. And the fact that we do all of this while wearing head-to-toe white is all the proof you need of just how idiotic we really are.
We won’t even talk about all the different rules for each phase. Or all the tack. Or all the clothes. Alright.. admittedly I don’t mind all the tack and clothes, but packing for a show looks more like you’re just plain moving out.
All of these things combined are probably why most eventers travel with at least one kind of alcohol. On some level I think we are all overwhelmed, whether it be just 1% (oh, if we could all be Buck) or 101% (I’m looking at you, lady that looks like she’s going to throw up before she goes in the start box. High five girl, you’ve got lady balls!).
But this is also probably why we are all generally so helpful and supportive of each other. I’ve never felt more “at home” in any discipline. Everyone is welcome and everyone gets support from their fellow competitors. We’re all in the same big stupid boat together, just trying to survive through the end of the day and finish with a number, not a letter (because – minor detail – if you fall off or go off course, you’re out. Done-zo. Finished. There is no coming back later for another class, you have to pack your toys and go home. No refunds, but enjoy trying to get those mud stains out of your whites!).
There’s no doubt that nary a one of us has even a lick of common sense. No one in their right mind would do this, much less pay boatloads of money for the privilege. I’m pretty sure I live in a perpetual state of brain overload. But it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t want to be any other kind of insane with any other kind of lunatics.