Eventing Nation: Two Fallen Riders, Two Tributes

The sport of eventing suffered an unspeakably tragic weekend, marred by the lost lives of two riders: Canada’s Jordan McDonald and Germany’s Ben Winter. EN shares in remembrance.

Jordan McDonald


Jordan McDonald at Bromont in 2013. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Many thanks to www.Horse-Canada.com for sharing this post from Lesley Grant Law’s blog. Please visit to read more from Lesley’s blog and several other bloggers. From Lesley on June 14, 2014:

Today Jordan McDonald died.

Today Jordan McDonald died after a rotational fall on cross country leaving behind, amongst others, a wife, Shandiss, who had been his sweetheart since the time they were teens.

I met Jordan over 10 years ago in Florida, when he and Shandiss were working students for Peter Gray, where I rented stalls. I would often stop in for a drink or a quick chat with them at the end of the day. Back then, if I had to sum Jordan and Shandiss up it would be that they were pure; straight ‘granola’ if you know what I mean. Two young loves, been together since teenage years, loving the horse life, dreaming large, having fun and working hard.

The years have gone by and just over a year or so ago they went on and finally (lol), got married, had secured very good owners in one particular family and had made a large life decision to move to the UK to get experience riding over there. One couldn’t help but think, fantastic, a win for the little guys. Here you had two kids that grew up, fell in the Disney version of love, found big money supporters and went to follow the yellow brick road off to the UK to get that next life experience. Maybe, just maybe, in these days of millionaire barn brats, high speed dating, fake boobs, fake lives, maybe…. a little bit of pure good, pure romance, Cinderella type stories still exist.

But now this.

I was at a little event today with baby horses and clients when I happened to come across this news. How? Facebook. I read a post from a friend of mine in the UK that said, “Who knows what happened at Nunney today?” and then someone replied “a Canadian boy died.” I got together with my fellow Florida Canadians and we just could not believe it. My body had no idea whether to cry or throw up.

Jordan wasn’t the only casualty of Eventing today. He was joined by a young German lad as well who, thank god, I did not know, but most certainly the sadness is all too real for his family and friends as well.

I have made a life out of this sport we love. I have achieved probably, statistically, well above average success at the sport and naturally my husband is amongst the top 10 per cent in the sport and, of course, was at one point number one in the world, so I think it is obvious that we are true believers and lovers in the sport. But, this is what I am here to say now…

I read reports today from many people that I respect, Authorities in our sport, stating that there is ‘risk’ and has always been ‘risk’ and we do all that we can and blah blah blah. Of course, on the one hand, they are right, but on the other? Although we ‘accept the risk inherent in horses,’ I am pretty darn sure that if someone had walked up to Jordan this morning and asked him if he was willing to never ever see his wife or parents again if he got on that horse today, well I am pretty dam sure he would of said no. Here is the other thing that no one wants to say..

It is not ok. It is sick. It is stomach turning, repulsive, heart breaking and inane. The fact that a luxury, ridiculously expensive, sport ends up in people dying is madness. Perhaps acceptable madness? But madness none the less.

I personally believe that it is a numbers game. I have seen so very many bad rides go without a scrape (some of them mine) and so many good ones end up in injury (some of them mine) that I tend to agree with the belief that no one can make this sport safer than life itself as David O’Conner likes to say, but at the same time, that does not make it anywhere near ok.

I can only begin to imagine the crater of loss that has been left in Shandiss’ and the McDonalds’ hearts. As a wife of an event rider, there have been occasions when I think of how I would cope in the worst case scenerios, and I can honestly say that aside from the fact that I have a son to protect, I cannot imagine how I would wake to take another breath if I lost Leslie in that way. I can promise you one thing, my son will never be encouraged by me to event. If he has the passion we will support it, but believe you me, I will be pushing dressage or show jumping as hard as I can.

I don’t want to sound anti-Eventing; I love Eventing. I think, in a way I pay tribute to Jordan to ask the tough questions that we would all rather avoid. I think I make an interesting point when I say if someone had asked those boys today if they would trade their life for that ride, I believe they would have said no. Of course, they would have said no! I don’t want rid of our sport, I don’t know what the answers are, but I sure hope we keep questioning ourselves and looking for a way to make it safer and don’t just shrug our shoulders at these ‘accidents’.

I am sick of people shrugging it off by stating we ‘accept the risk’. I am here to say I do NOT ‘ACCEPT’ the risk any more than I ‘ACCEPT’ that I may get into a car today and have someone crash into me and kill my son. Do I know things happen? Yes. But it is not ok and I do not ‘accept’ it. We must try and try and search for safer options to the sport we love.

To Shandiss, the McDonalds, and the Winter family. The Event community mourns for you.


Ben Winter

Winter Benjamin

Ben Winter and Ispo. Photo by Jutta Bauernschmitt, www.jutta-bauernschmitt.de

Maren Engelhardt, who lives in Germany, spoke to a number of people who knew Ben to bring us a tribute that shows just how great of a loss the sport experienced. The global eventing community continues to mourn his death, especially in Germany. Thank you to Maren for writing the tribute and to Jutta Bauernschmitt for providing the photos. Rest in peace, Ben.

From Maren:

Sometimes life’s experiences leave us with an utter sense of helplessness, confusion and a deep sadness that just doesn’t want to pass. Saturday, June 14, 2014 was such a day that should have been a celebration of our sport, but ended in the most unspeakable tragedy — two young men lost their lives while riding their horses at events in the UK and Germany.

The “why” is an important question; the events that led to these fatal accidents need careful examination, and tough questions about our sport need to be asked. Indeed. But not now. Instead, I want to tell you a bit about Benjamin (Ben) Winter, this 25-year-old rider from Dortmund, Germany, whom I only knew from a distance, but whose life touched mine and many others in the eventing community quite profoundly.

Ben was born into a classic German horse family — everybody rides, his siblings Marius and Laura are both competitive riders, and mom Sybille is a well-known dressage trainer and one I actually remember well; we competed for the same German Riding Club for years, and I watched her teach many times. She was a driving force behind Ben’s excellent dressage skills. That much can be said — it was a great joy to watch him work with his horses.

Ben had an uncanny feeling for his equine partners and made everything appear light, fun, easy. That is a memory that especially some of the professional photographers had about him when I asked about their most important impression of Ben. As one pointed out: “He had great fun doing what he did, you could tell. It also translated to his horses; they looked fully at ease with him.”

Ben Winter and Catch My Thing. Photo by Jutta Bauernschmitt, www.jutta-bauernschmitt.de.

Ben Winter and Catch My Thing. Photo by Jutta Bauernschmitt, www.jutta-bauernschmitt.de

Ben’s own riding career began when he was 4 — not unusual for German kids. Ben’s first big splash came in 2005 when he won the State Championships in Westfalia, one of the most important “horse states” in Germany (read: lots of competition). Ben took home individual gold in the junior division and automatically qualified for the German National Championships. There, he won individual gold with Wild Thing Z, the horse that took him to all his biggest successes in the saddle, and, incidentally, also the horse that was the first to ever take him around a four-star course in Luhmühlen, the same day that was to be his last on earth.

Wild Thing Z is a 1998 Westfalian gelding with a most unusual pedigree — his dam was a Standardbred by the American stallion Sugarbowl Hanover. Ben once commented that it really took some finesse to get “Wildling” to canter properly … no kidding. But as usual, he took this unusual challenge in a stride and really grew with the task. And Ben never tired of praising Wildling’s great personality and his willingness to perform for the great success this pair had, as if it had nothing to do with him as a rider.

By 2009, Ben had earned a bronze and two silver team medals with Wildling at the European Championships of Young Riders and also again took home the individual gold medal at the Nationals. He was awarded the German gold riding medal, one you can only earn, not actively pursue. In 2013, he went to the European Championships as an individual rider, this time with Ispo, and finished 18th. This was also the year of his first appearance at the CHIO Aachen, where he placed 8th in the CICO3* with Revenue, and 2014 began brilliantly with another individual gold at the Westfalian State Championships, this time on board Catch my Thing.

Ben Winter and Wild Thing Z. Photo by Jutta Bauernschmitt, jutta-bauernschmitt.de.

Ben Winter and Wild Thing Z. Photo by Jutta Bauernschmitt, www.jutta-bauernschmitt.de

Ben rode many different horses with his signature style — easy, light in contact, always accommodating the horse’s personal strength. There is no question that he was the most exciting young German talent in eventing of our time. And while we, the eventing community, may mourn this loss to the sport, I think it’s clear that the true void was created by losing Ben as a fellow human being.

With Ben, the horses were not just stepping stones on the way to his ultimate goal — defined by himself as “participating at the 2016 Rio Olympics for the German team to add another chapter of greatness.” Lofty? Yes. Impossible? Not for Ben. His biggest character trait was the fact that he dreamed big but remained firmly planted on the ground, and showed a ton of dignity and thankfulness for the position he found himself in.

Ben was as much a great individual as he was a “team” effort — his mom, his trainers Rüdiger Schwarz, Fritz Lutter, and since his official nomination to Germany’s A-squad, of course the team trainers, Chris Bartle and Hans Melzer, all stood behind him. Ben was the guy that had this huge smile on his face in almost every photo you will find of him when not on a horse, deep in concentration.

And that really is Ben in a nutshell — his jokes and sense of humor are somewhat legendary. He was the type of person you instantly liked when you met him. Which makes it all the more difficult to accept that somebody so full of life, enthusiasm and love for our sport and the horses could possibly be ripped out of it not only quickly, but violently.

Ben Winter and Ispo. Photo by  Jutta Bauernschmitt, jutta-bauernschmitt.de.

Ben Winter and Ispo. Photo by Jutta Bauernschmitt, www.jutta-bauernschmitt.de

Words of course cannot ever really do any justice to the death of a person. To really get a feeling for what Ben meant to the eventing community in Germany, watch the video of his commemoration ceremony at Luhmühlen. World class riders choking on tears, officials with an utter sense of hopelessness on their faces, spectators holding each other crying. So much was lost that June 14, in Germany and England, and it is almost too much to bear.

Thinking how the pain, sense of loss and complete despair not only grips the Winter family and friends, but to know that it is mirrored in the UK and Canada with Jordan McDonald’s family just seems to pointless. I feel that some of the future of eventing will forever be tainted by June 14, 2014.

At the same time, it encourages me enormously to see the outpouring of support and friendship that we experience within the eventing community right now. I want to think it’s due to the great personalities that Ben and Jordan so obviously were. They touched many people in ways that had more to do with them than necessarily only their horsemanship — great human beings all around. And I want to believe that especially the eventing community has been blessed with many such people.

Ben’s last entry on his Facebook page came just a few hours before his death. It reads, Wildling ist vom aller feinsten durchs Gelände geflogen! 0HF 0 ZF – clear in time!!!” — meaning “Wildling flew around the cross at his finest! 0 jump fault, 0 time faults — clear in time!!!”

His page has received over 400 comments by now, and it has become a place of last goodbyes, deeply touching to read, a tribute to a young man gone way too soon. Whom the Gods love — Godspeed Ben, you will never be forgotten.


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