AEC’s start today, and the past month or so leading up to this competition has been interesting to watch. After USPC championships, the inaugural eventing competition at Tryon International Equestrian Center, the eventing community was buzzing. Why? Because at USPC Championships, XC was run 100% on the derby field and in sand arenas.
As soon as pictures and video got out, the internet does what the internet shall always do… they went nuts. Some people liked the format, stating that it was very easy for spectators to see everything. Other people hated it, saying that this isn’t cross country. Rumors continued to spread about the facility not being ready for cross country, not having true XC courses to offer at any point, etc. That sparked another wave of concern over what the AEC courses would look like. Several people scratched, not wanting to travel that far and pay that much money to risk running a derby style XC course.
USEA and TIEC immediately went into damage control mode, assuring the public that the XC course would be ready in time for AEC. A drone video was even released of the xc course (which is actually only a part of the track, the only part that is outside of the arena areas), and then the provisional AEC course maps hit the web. This pacified some people but absolutely incensed others, depending on whether or not you liked what you saw.
It was interesting to me to watch this whole thing play out. There were those who were so enamored with TIEC as a facility that they didn’t really care what the XC was like (as long as it was safe, of course). They liked the fancy permanent stalls and the built-in tack rooms and the resort feel and the manicured spaces. H/J land gets that a lot, but it’s pretty rare in eventing. The other side was adamant that this was an apocalyptic moment, the beginning of the end of eventing as we know it… here comes the big money and here comes the h/j-ized version of eventing.
Personally, I can see both sides. Who doesn’t love top notch amenities at a show? Super cramped tent stabling and running 15 extension cords to work a fan aren’t exactly dreams come true. Having come from Jumperland, I can say for sure that I went to certain shows because I liked the atmosphere and VIP feel. But what you think about this whole thing seems to depend on where your priorities lie. Some people don’t want 75% of their XC fences to be in arenas or on a flat derby field. Tossing in one manicured gallop stretch with a couple hills on it isn’t enough to get them excited. At least not enough to drive a long way and drop lots of money on one event, regardless of how nice the barns are and how many restaurants you have on site.
Other people think that this is the direction that eventing needs to move in, if it wants to survive – a Wellington Showcase type of format. To be made more spectator friendly, to take up less space, and to be easier to set up at a facility by using mostly portable fences. Some people just really like how pretty and fancy everything is, giving a much “richer” feel to the sport in general. And the fact that, in this format and using this kind of space, you can very closely maintain the footing to near perfection is a huge draw to a lot of people.
I’m curious to hear what others think, and where their priorities lie. Are you willing to acquiesce to a derby style XC if it means perfect footing and world class amenities? Or are you a holdout for the traditional XC courses – imperfect footing, lack of spectators, and bare bones facility be damned?