The Riding School: Building the next generation of eventers

Introducing students to the sport of eventing can be challenging–logistically, financially and practically. Our intrepid columnist the Riding Instructor explores the issue.

From The Riding Instructor:

Like many young riders, I started out in the horse show world; no one I knew growing up in Los Angeles evented and my only early experience with eventing was watching the cross-country at the 1984 Olympics, which, to a neophyte, did not look like a whole lot of fun (“That’s scary!  Why do they lean so far back?  I don’t see anyone using a crest release!”).  But I got lucky.  In my early twenties, I went to work at a girls’ boarding school with an awesome eventing program.  All it took was jump judging the water at one event and I was all in.  My former equitation horse exhibited extreme surprise at his first cross country school (“Wait, you want me to jump INTO that water, not OVER it?”), but two weeks after seeing my first lower level event, we were cruising around at novice.  I’ve never looked back; when I have to go to a horse show now, I spend my time gently grumbling about the lack of ride times and excessive use of warm up, not to mention the distinct lack of cross country. I love everything about it: the independence it fosters, the horsemanship it encourages, the emphasis it places on competing against yourself, rather than another rider.

As an instructor, I want to pass along that love to my students; as has been much discussed recently in Eventing magazine, it is crucially important to the sport that we keep developing riders for our sport.  But, I have to confess, I’m not sure I’m succeeding.  And the primary reason for that is financial.

We often tout eventing as one of the more affordable horse sports, which it can be.  But it’s not for the entry level rider, because of the preparation required to even give the sport a try.  It’s pretty easy to teach kids about horse showing.  We can have a practice show; we throw some flowers under the jumps and, in general, we can duplicate the experience they might have away from home.  But when you are a local lesson barn without a cross country course, introducing students to eventing is very difficult.  Students can’t just “take a cross country lesson.”  It’s an epic production, where we have to trailer out, be away from home for several hours, pay a use fee to a local cross country facility; in short, a lesson begins to take on the time and expense of a competition – and you have to do this multiple times before you are ready to compete.  For the students at my barn, most of whom come from comparatively modest circumstances and who don’t own their own horses, they can go schooling or they can show – but probably not both.  It’s hard for me as an instructor to push them towards the sport I love, because I know the financial commitment is hard for them to make.

I’m not sure what do about this problem.  It would be great if our local cross-country facilities would offer a discount or the occasional free schooling day for juniors, but that’s not really fair to them, either, as they have invested time and money and love into developing some truly great resources for the greater eventing community.  Perhaps the USEA might consider some schooling grants, to develop, maintain, or make accessible cross-country schooling opportunities particularly for juniors entering the sport.  In the meantime, I’m going to do the best I can to get them interested at home (stack some hay bales in a paddock, set the show jumps on a hill) and try to find some ways to make eventing more affordable and appealing for my next generation riders, so that they are ready to take my place someday.

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