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.
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.
- Big money classes like these, that take place at prestigious horse shows, help put the spotlight on the sport of eventing in general.
- 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.
- 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.