Arena Eventing

Oh, arena eventing. I’ve tried to like it, I really have. I watch it every time it’s on live broadcast, I’ve watched a lot on Youtube from Europe, and I even did an indoor eventing show once. Which, for the record, was great fun. It used OT instead of fastest time, which seemed considerably more safe. Alas, I digress.

that was a thing we did once

I watched the arena eventing from Central Park on Saturday night (because I was at a party and there were no dogs to pet), hoping to come away with what I’m always hoping for – a “wow that was fun and exciting” feeling. Instead I came away with what I always come away from those things with – a “well, I’m glad no one was hurt” feeling. Granted, maybe I’m being oversensitive, especially considering that a well established French rider suffered a fatal rotational fall at a CCI* horse trial in Europe earlier that same day. Maybe that set me up to be on a hair trigger. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m the biggest Debbie Downer on the planet. All of those things are possible I suppose.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things I like about the whole arena eventing spectacle.

  1. Big money classes like these, that take place at prestigious horse shows, help put the spotlight on the sport of eventing in general.
  2. These classes help get real money into the hands of some of these riders who really need it. Prize money is hard to come by in our sport.
  3. I always walk away from it thinking that event horses are pretty damn brilliant and genuine.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things I don’t like, which is… pretty much everything else. At the first near horse fall, my heart leaped into my throat and stayed there. At the third near horse fall, I was just crossing my fingers that everyone would stay upright. One horse pulled out a pretty spectacularly athletic feat to manage to not have a rotational, and another one somehow managed to scramble back to his feet after almost completely wiping out around a turn before a jump. Almost every horse did not read the bank question correctly the first time over it. Considering that safety is THE big hot button issue in our sport, these showcases seem to laugh in the face of it.

We’ve been told that one of the main purposes of these types of classes is to showcase eventing as a sport. I have to wonder if this is the kind of showcase we really want. I came from the h/j world, and the most common perception that I remember hearing (or having) about eventers was that they were “yahoos” – riders that cowboyed around but lacked finesse and, to some degree, skill. Others thought it was just downright dangerous to gallop over solid fences. After watching several of these supposed arena eventing showcases by now, it’s easy to see how someone would get that impression. They seem to constantly toe the line between exciting and reckless, like a more extreme version of an already fairly extreme sport. If the riders want to win they have no choice but to go pedal to the metal, yanking the horses around the turns, galloping wildly at big solid fences, jumping dozens of fences over and over and over crammed into a fairly small space. While I’m sure it’s fun to watch from a “thrills and spills” perspective, that’s just not what eventing is.

Even Dom Schramm, part of the winning team, said of the horse he was riding (who was an impressive 20 years old, btw): “He’s just been going novice, so I felt kind of bad for him, as we were turning and burning. Halfway around I was thinking ‘Sorry mate, I wouldn’t normally ride you like this,’ but he was a champion. He was just unbelievable, just picked himself back up.”.

I love Dom and Ryan, and I’m super happy to see them walk away with a big check, but with comments like that coming from the winners, I have to wonder about the format of these classes. I feel like surely there has to be a better way to showcase eventing and to put some prize money in people’s pockets. Watching people (some of whom aren’t even wearing protective vests btw) gallop at big solid corners in an arena setting makes me cringe in a big way. What happens when there’s an accident and a horse or human is seriously injured, or worse?

Surely there’s a middle ground here. A better way to format these classes where it’s still fun to watch, but it’s safer for all involved. Until then, I don’t think I can watch it anymore.

24 thoughts on “Arena Eventing

  1. ugh i saw some on instagram and could not watch but just thought it was me being wimpy per normal. Seemed like tighter turns and fast fast fast galloping was the theme of the night and it stressed me knowing how close it was to being out of control and dangerous. UGH.I was not a fan.


  2. I watched the arena eventing at Devon this year (back in May, I think?), and never saw any near-falls or horses having to really save their riders on course…maybe it was just the smaller arena size and course design of Central Park? Who knows. I enjoyed watching some of my favorite eventers in the famous Dixon Oval at Devon, especially since the course ran between two rings and had very fair questions IMO. I hope it’s a class that will become a permanent part of the Devon Horse Show schedule.


  3. I watched the beginning of the CP showcase and was very surprised that making time was rewarded more than a careful clear round. The first team (I forget exactly who) had a nice, if more conservative, clear round. The second team had a refusal and the last jump down, but went into the lead. I thought hmmm…. My thought was that careful, exact riding should have been more highly rewarded than fastest time with faults.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I do not like the format being 100% based on time. Why not a first round XC where the top 10 or so that are closest to optimum without going over (with no jumping faults) move on to a SJ-like jumpoff? Or something like that. Anything but running batshit at big solid fences.


  4. I really didn’t like the woah and go aspect of it. It rode like a jump off, but with large/wide solid obstacles. The ring was so small that they couldn’t maintain a consistent rhythm, which led to some pretty awkward and scary jumping efforts. Not a fan. I watched my trainer ride, and that was enough for me.


  5. I didn’t watch because I don’t think of it as eventing. At all. There is nothing WFP is going to do that will make me say “Yes, that’s how I should approach a jump like that.” It more a game of survival which doesn’t seem fair. Unfortunately, any time there is money involved with animals, animal’s best interests seem to go out the window. I agree that it isn’t a good platform for people to see and associate true eventng with.


  6. I really like the idea of “eventing showcases” and would love to see more disciplines do this, to promote each other and show how versatile and amazing horses are… but it has to be done the CORRECT way, and I agree with you that I’m not sure the arena eventing I saw at Central Park accomplished what I had hoped it would 😦


  7. I watched a replay without knowing what it was, figured out it was supposed to be a relay race, and I think my jaw was clenched the whole time I was watching that. Also that a few of them didn’t have vests?! It really didn’t seem fun or safe to me. I have watched a couple arena eventing videos that have looked flawless (let’s admit I was watching Michael Jung and he makes everything look flawless) but I’m not a fan, either. I’m not a die hard traditionalist because those old xc courses were pure madness, but I agree and don’t think arena eventing is the way to go. Again, agreed that maybe it brings more money and knowledge to eventing, but…..arena eventing isn’t what eventing IS. Not even close in my opinion. I just don’t think it’s really the path to take to ensure the integrity of eventing as well as safety. Watching that last ERM leg, there were tons of run outs, but no falls due to hanging legs or rotational falls. I think those are the courses we need to see, because I heard about that French rider as well, and my heart really sank. This just doesn’t feel like it’s the right step to me.


  8. Dom is great, but I was disappointed to hear him basically say that he knew he was doing something that was not in the horse’s best interest (but did it anyway). I’m glad he’s sound and still competing at 20. Many more of these and he won’t be…


    1. I wonder if his remark was his way of saying ‘this is not a good idea and we won’t be back’? Guessing not, as the money is useful, but couldn’t he just pick up some bucks show jumping?


  9. Not only is that proving to be very dangerous and making the sport look…interesting… I think arena eventing takes away from what eventing is supposed to be. It’s not a test of bravery and endurance anymore.


  10. Very well said, Amanda. I cannot get into arena eventing. The “showcase” in Wellington with at least some degree of a real cross-country course is ok. But the arena-arena eventing – well, that is just not my sport. And you make very good points about the safety aspect – there are super-good reasons that solid galloping fences do NOT translate into a show-jumping course. I didn’t even watch the latest live feed although normally I’m glued to any eventing live feed. I want to see the lower levels especially keep the traditional eventing sport, out there in the countryside.


  11. If I remember correctly Mary King lost her top 4* horse at one of these arena eventing competitions, I’ve never really entertained them since. They seem to do nothing but pose risk to and punish genuine horses


  12. I didn’t get to watch it this time. I have the same thoughts on the positive aspects you mentioned. I think it’s great to introduce other types of riding to the hunter jumper world. Especially eventing which seems less accessible than dressage or hunter/jumpers (at least in my area). But the concept just doesn’t work that well. They’re trying to take the outside course, cram it into a tiny ring and have the riders gallop around like they’re outside. It’s everything we hate about the low level jumpers but over huge solid obstacles.
    I like your thoughts on an optimum timed cross country type track followed by a stadium type jump off. That may be a safer way to showcase eventing a bit more accurately.


  13. As someone who was at the arena eventing that night I would have preferred to watch the dressage event that I originally purchased tickets for. The arena eventing took the place of the dressage event when it was cancelled without warning within a couple of weeks of the show date. Our entire trip from out of state was planned around that event so we went ahead and purchased the replacement show tickets not knowing what arena eventing actually was. While I appreciate how hard arena eventing must be and I’m glad they replaced the dressage with something – I still would have preferred the dressage event.


  14. Found the video via another blog up on youtube, and ….. wow. That was interesting. But it looked a lot more like dog agility than cross country, with all the challenge being speed and twisty approaches and not about courage or willingness to take on weird obstacles. It didn’t look safe 😦


  15. I’m not sure if the arena eventing is quite at the same level here in Australia as it sounds like you guys have. We have XC portables mixed in with the showjumps but no banks or anything like that.

    From your description I cannot say I blame your reservations regarding the image this is displaying to the wider community, we are already under scrutiny for the safety and ethical implications of this sport. If we don’t start to effect real change I am worried we could lose it altogether.


  16. Agree that the shortened Showcase at Wellington seems like a better/more fair format. One of our local show management companies runs a fun “Derby Cross” class at a few shows where riders ride a traditional hunter course, get scored, then walk IMMEDIATELY to a second arena where they ride a jumper course and somehow their penalties/hunter scores are combined for an overall ranking. It’s incredibly fun to watch and I like that the riders proceed from one round to the other without coaching/significant breaks etc. I could see a world where a similar format could be applied for an eventing showcase. Keep it short and sweet and MAYBE it would fit spectators’ attention spans without sacrificing our horses’ safety…


  17. I’ve never seen this in Australia. Perhaps because we can event outside all year round. I will google and take a look. As for Don Schramm the guy is a genius as is his wife. I have total respect for them and their opinion would hold some weight I’m sure
    Mel x


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