A version of Rodney King’s famous line, “Can’t we all just get along,” comes to mind when I think about the divergent worlds of Hunterland and Eventingland. My version is, “Can’t we just learn from one another?”
There’s a lot of veiled lip-turning from both sides when considering the other side. Some deserved, of course. I mean does a 14-year-old girl really need the million dollar Hunter Derby champion to compete in the Childrens Hunters? Even a bulldozer couldn’t level that playing field. On the other hand, how many horses and riders have died this year competing in upper level events? And are the powers that be really going to make the courses even more challenging? To what end? More horse and human deaths?
Ok, put those things aside and lets look at what each side has to teach the other.
Time management and trainer hand-holding. There is absolutely none of the famous Hunterland hurry-up-and-wait in Eventingland. My ride times were almost down to the nano-second. When I received my times, I asked the show manager how they handled trainer conflicts, which is a major cause of the hurry-up-and-wait problem in Hunterland.
“What if my trainer is at the dressage ring with another rider and I have to go cross country?” I whined.
Both my trainer and the show manager snickered and explained the underlying philosophy in Eventingland. “We make it so you don’t have to rely on trainers, so you can think for yourself, so you are absolutely prepared to handle any problem you might encounter in stadium jumping or cross country or dressage by yourself,” said my trainer Erin Bartle.
The show manager echoed that and added they never hold rings. If you miss your time, you don’t compete. Talk about tough love. The hunter world could use a dose of that. And it could also use a dose of getting the riders prepared before they show, rather than at the show. Many of the top hunter judges have been complaining for years that too much training goes on at horses shows.
When I took a clinic with the aptly named Greg Best, one of his major complaints was exactly that. Too much showing, not enough training….at home.
Plus there’s the whole “OH MY GOD! where is my trainer!” headset in Hunterland, of which I am extremely guilty. Yes my trainer has important lessons to impart. But the truth is I’ve been riding for 40 years and everything he has said to me as I enter the ring, I have heard before, either from him or his predecessors. I use him as a crutch and talisman. I like the Eventingland approach that makes me rely on myself. Or at least I like it when the jumps are less than 2 feet.
Ok, now onto Eventingland. A few weeks ago I watched some of the Training Level riders in stadium jumping at the Virginia Horse Center and I didn’t see one rider release his/her horse’s head over the jump. Their hands stayed planted by their stomach at the base of the saddle as their horse graciously jumped the fence with a restricted head. And I saw many riders flip back over the top of the fence, thereby catching their horses even more in the mouth. This is not the first time I’ve seen this. And I’ve seen it at higher levels, too.
I get that Event riding is much more defensive, especially on cross county where lives are literally at stake (this will be the topic of the next blog). But in the show ring, over smallish jumps on even terrain? Come on, Event riders, quit slamming your horses in the mouth, especially when you’ve cranked your dropped nosebands so tight their eyeballs are popping.
Yes, many hunter riders perch and float their hands above the horse’s neck in that ugly exaggerated crest release. But at least they’re not punishing their mounts for a job well done. Look at the best, Greg Best, in his iconic photo with Gem Twist. His hands actually move forward.
So you see, I’m an equal opportunity offender. Both sides could take a lesson from the other.
Next time: do all those horses really need to die? I’m sorry about the rider deaths too, but they get to vote on whether they want to compete at that level.
Below is that iconic photo of the Best.