What do you like or dislike about arena eventing?
To be quite honest, I love it; I think it’s a new and different form of our sport that’s very, very exciting for the riders and the spectators. One of the drawbacks of our sport, unlike dressage and show jumping, is it’s hard to watch from a seat; this is exciting for the crowd who can watch every step. Also, the result is decided in a couple of hours, which is sponsor- and spectator-friendly.
My dislike is there is no real test of endurance for the horse; basically the cross-country is fast and furious, similar to the jump-off in show jumping. A big part of the art of eventing is getting a horse fit for the serious endurance test of cross-country, and having a rider who has a feel for and can understand how to ride a tired horse at the end of a long course, and we don’t have that element in arena eventing.
I think with the “cross-country” element of arena eventing, it’s a different style of riding where every stride counts; the jumps come up quicker and you have to make turns and adjustments faster and in the moment. I think it’s a real test of rider ability and the horse’s training. I do think it’s a fair test, since upper-level event horses are wonderful animals, trained through many years, and have a good understanding of what corners and skinnies and fixed jumps are. It’s different than cross-country but the same idea.
Another pro is that it’s probably more of a festive spirit among the spectators and owners; the crowd is up close, the VIP tent is usually right up next to the action and, as a rider, it’s easier to interact with the owners and socialize, compared to traditional events where everything is spread out for miles and miles.
What are some tips for returning to riding after an injury?
I would definitely listen to the doctor’s opinion, but remind yourself that they are giving you their opinion and they’re judging you like an everyday, normal human being. The reality is if you’re involved in horses, you’re not a normal human being and your rate of recovery is probably a lot quicker. Unfortunately, I’ve been injured a lot over the years. My best piece of advice is to listen to your body. If you feel ready to ride, I don’t think there’s any reason to sit back and wait any longer.
If you’ve had a tumble that has shaken your confidence, the only way forward is to get back on the horse and take baby steps. Give yourself positive experience after positive experience and creep your way back up, taking baby steps and rebuilding your confidence by putting yourself in positive scenarios over and over again.
Can you share tips for walking a cross-country course?
If you can, try to walk your course three times: The first time is a social event with a few friends to learn the gist of the course and where it goes. Try not to make any definite plans on this first walk, just learn your way around. On the second walk, start analyzing the jumps, get a feel for the speed required for combinations and come up with a definite plan for how to ride each fence. On the third walk, try to get a clear plan for the lines you want to take on the approach and departure of each fence. On that last walk, you should go by yourself; by this point you should be 100 percent sure of what you’re going to do and can probably walk around faster this time.
How do you make riding and eventing safe and fun for young kids?
To be honest, it’s impossible to make riding 100 percent safe. One of the thrills of riding horses is there’s an element of danger; you’re riding an animal that has a mind and spirit of its own and there are times we don’t have total control like you would a motorbike or lawnmower. We have to select a horse that’s about the right level of experience to the rider’s experience level. You want to have the right safety equipment, particularly an approved helmet, because I can guarantee that everyone who rides horses is going to fall off. You need to come up with things that challenge the rider. Going around in circles endlessly gets boring, and kids want to have fun. Everybody needs to feel like they accomplish something when they have ridden their horse. You can make riding fun with some games, and keep the pressure off of little kids. Give them challenges that are within their capabilities and with each success, they’ll keep coming back for more.