Three Day Eventing has a global reputation, of adrenaline junkie outright craziness. How else could we justify galloping flat out over solid obstacles, other than being certifiably insane?
As an eventer who has spent time working at hunter/jumper and dressage barns, even the riders’ light years better than me, skill-wise, would proclaim their fear for anything related to cross-country. “I don’t know how you do it,” they would all say “it just seems nuts to me.”
The fear reaches beyond the equestrian world. Even the downhill mountain bikers I have hung out with were horrified when I told them that my sport was “almost the same as theirs, except that my “bike” had a brain and unreliable brakes.” These are the people who do backflips off of cliffs.
Backing up a few years, when I was a wee tot thumping around on ponies in a small country town, I did not know what “eventing” was. I only knew that when I could prove myself worthy over cross rails, we would graduate to jumping over small logs in a field. It was a very exciting time in my tiny brain.
In retrospect, this is the best way to introduce cross country to any rider. Don’t let them see the “thrills-n-spills” videos from Badminton or Rolex. When you’re starting out, it’s just jumping, but in a different location over different obstacles. High speed is even penalized at the lower levels.
The XC phase was originally developed as a method of testing cavalry horses for their bravery and athleticism. Say there was an important message to deliver – could this horse and rider take the shortest route to the next town over, despite any hedges, ditches, ponds or walls in the way?
In a way, I feel that cross country is more natural for horses than any other activity. They have evolved over thousands of years to run and jump over natural obstacles, and are speed demons by nature. The first coach taught me more about equine psychology than counting strides during course walks; how a horse might react to a shadow or hill gradient.
One story in particular stands out, of standing at the top of a steep downhill to a bank to a steeper downhill. It was called something to the tune of “Suicide Leap.” Sitting on top of an almost eighteen hand horse, it felt just like it was named. This saint of a gelding, sensing my horror, started slowly ambling down it. “It’s only a hill, little girl,” he seemed to be saying.
This is the most fascinating aspect of the sport: the difference between what humans think is scary and what horses think is scary. In the last few years, the format of the sport has changed dramatically, essentially shortening the distance of courses and making them more technical. Whether or not this is a good idea is the subject of intense international debate.
When was finishing a course walk with a (very) good event rider, I asked her what she thought of the current state of affairs. “The problem,” she said, “is that they’re leaving more room for human error than horse error… And humans make more mistakes than horses do.”
We’re talking upper levels here. If you’re looking to get into this crazy sport, my advice is that it’s really not as scary as it looks. No one will laugh at you for trotting over ankle height logs (sticks?). We’ve all been there. As far as the eventing community goes, they are the friendliest, most down to earth people you’ve ever met. Give it a try, it’s a beautiful, challenging sport and it is not as bad as it looks!