Tag Archives: eventing

Eventing: Still Living in the Balance, 8 Years Later

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Skinny fence, determined duo. Photo: Pixabay.

In 2008, veteran eventer and Olympian Jim Wofford wrote the tremendously outspoken article Eventing Lives in The Balance for Practical Horseman. Every year or so this article crops up on Facebook again, reading as fresh and relevant as it did the day it was released–or perhaps more so, because every time it rises up, it’s a rash of eventing catastrophes that awoke it from its slumber.

In the past weeks we’ve lost several horses and riders on the cross-country course. We have to be careful out there, that goes without saying. Eventing was never a cautious person’s sport, which means as riders, the temptation to go to the extreme edges of safety is always there.

Here’s the thing: the contemporary version of eventing isn’t a level playing field for horses or riders. There are hidden dangers to the way short format eventing is designed, and since not everyone is going to read every word of Wofford’s warning, here’s the TL;DR on Eventing Lives in The Balance:

Jumping at speed: Horses can do it when they’re in charge. Look at horses who jump steeplechase courses without their rider (unimpeded by their rider, in this usage):

“I have heard of only one horse in the Grand National who fell while jumping unimpeded: That horse soon had to be retired because no jockey in England or Ireland would take the ride on a horse who would fall on its own. If you offer Irish jockeys (who are mad) money to ride and they turn it down because they are afraid to ride a horse who will fall on its own, you know something is up.”

The fences haven’t changed: technical questions and skinnies are old school military:

“As young officers, most of them had jumped ladder-back kitchen chairs for fun, and the more enterprising of the military types had jumped a saber stuck in the ground. Narrow fences and agility tests were nothing new to them.”

Without the steeplechase phase, big fences are being jumped too fast, although optimum time remains 570 meters per minute:

“Expert onlookers at this year’s Galway CIC***/**/* clocked riders with a radar gun. Some CCI* riders recorded speeds of more than 800 meters per minute, the same average speed as used in the Grand National and Maryland Hunt Cup.”

The emphasis on serious collection in dressage means horses aren’t taking initiative over fences. They’re waiting to be told what to do:

“Other dressage experts, including Reiner Klimke, have mentioned to me that when we truly and correctly collect our horses, we also subdue their initiative… More collection, less initiative–less initiative, more falls.”

Here’s where it all comes together. “Show-jumping at speed” is a misnomer when trappy combinations require careful pacing, leaving the speed for the big stand-alone fences, where our collected horses wait for instructions at 30 miles per hour:

“Now the remaining 50 percent of the cross-country obstacles must be ridden at extreme speeds in order for the rider to remain at all competitive. At these extreme speeds we must still regulate our horse’s strides. Since we have caused our horses to surrender their initiative to us, we must now take responsibility for the placement of their stride at the correct take-off distance from the jump.”

Which…. isn’t always going to happen.

Eventing Lives in the Balance has been haunting me since it was published, when I had a farm and an eventing prospect and was trying to understand what had happened to the sport I’d grown up in. I didn’t know then if there was a future for me in eventing, when I’d always before seen myself growing into an upper-level rider.

Writing Pride over the past two years and thinking very hard about the push and pull of dressage on our horses has made this article come alive for me in new ways. In Pride, I take an average cross-country loving event girl and make her face up to her dressage ghosts. A potential sponsor explains to her that however much she loves her galloping, long format is over. The Military is for the history books. This is the new face of eventing. Comply or die, to borrow a name from a steeplechase champion.

If the sport isn’t exactly balanced in the favor of the horse, we must take care, such care, with them. It’s up to riders to make good decisions for their horses, and themselves. Wofford sums up his article with a few suggestions to keep safe out there: remember that a good round is better than a ribbon, teach your horse to jump from self-carriage, and keep on searching for that horse with “The Look of Eagles,” the one he recommends in Training The Three-Day Event Horse and Rider:

“We need horses who are supremely courageous, fiercely independent and phenomenally agile. Find such a horse and treasure him. Teach him that you will trust him with your life.”

Maybe 800 words isn’t a great TL;DR, but what can I say: eventing makes me wordy. It’s why I decided to write novels about it. Anyway, find the horse you’ll trust with your life, and give him a carrot for me. May the eventing gods smile on your ride time.

>>>>Read the entire article by Jim Wofford at Practical Horseman.

 

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Sunday Book Review: Two Novels by Mary Pagones

Here’s a rare experience for me: reading a book so intensely personal, I was literally nodding my head “yes, yes,” along with the narrator’s internal dialogue. Here’s a rare experience for me: finishing a book, reading the teaser of the follow-up book on the next page, and immediately downloading that book so I could continue the journey I was on. Here’s a rare experience for me: the next book was completely different in every way, from voice to characters to motivation, and it still affected me as much as the first one.

Pagones THINWI’m talking about the work of Mary Pagones here, an equestrian writer who Gets It. She’s one of those rare breed of writers who can get inside the head of a horse-person and lay bare our hopes and dreams, our ambitions and fears.

And she does it in a clever way, too.

Pagones starts her two-book (so far?) equestrian series with The Horse is Never Wrong, a totally non-conformist Young Adult horse story. (When I think about this book and how far we’ve come from The Saddle Club and Thoroughbred, I am just amazed and grateful for the gifts of independent publishing.) Narrator Heather isn’t impressed with her Asberger’s diagnosis — a crutch her teachers seem to love pinning her social anxieties and occasional academic blunders upon, but which might not actually exist, since Asberger’s has been folded into the Autism spectrum. All Heather knows is, everyone else is weird, and she is just doing her own thing. What’s wrong with that?

Heather discovers riding and riding is good for her… but it isn’t a Cinderella Goes To The Olympics story. Heather as a character is beautifully written — she narrates without self-pity, without (intentional) humor — she’s a just-the-facts-ma’am reporter. Her voice is unerringly true to herself. Not particularly flowery, even stilted at times, and always pretty sure something is going to go wrong. Here, Heather sums up her biggest challenge in life: dealing with herself.

“I’m just going to have suck and up and deal with the me I have been given, just like I have learned not to complain about a horse’s behavior. Change your behavior; it’s not the horse’s fault, I’m told.”

I got Heather. I totally understood Heather. I felt an almost alarming connection to Heather — she took me back to ninth grade (which was not a place I particularly wanted to go, but… I did some good riding that year, and I met some cool people at the barn to make up for the people I didn’t even remotely understand at my high school).

And that’s what makes Fortune’s Fool so interesting.

Pagones FFSimon, who makes his first appearance in The Horse is Never Wrong, couldn’t be more different from Heather. It’s several years in the future and Simon has gone from the local barn’s resident bronc-buster, that teenager who will get on anything, to a high school senior about to embark on his life’s dream. He’s going to be a working student at an eventing barn (clearly inspired by Tamarack Hill) and take life by the horns. He’s going to make a living as an eventer. He’s going to ride horses forever and ever and no one can stop him.

Simon is brash, arrogant, proud, hot-tempered, know-it-all… and yet he’s totally lovable. He listens to 80s punk and New Wave, worships The Killers, and is dying for a pair of Doc Martens if only they didn’t cost as much as a new pair of paddock boots. No one can tell Simon a damn thing… Simon knows best, thank you very much, especially about his riding, especially especially about his hell-for-leather cross-country style and his possibly-psychotic horse, Fortune.

Oh boy, did I get Simon.

If Heather took me back to my awkward “only my horse understands me” freshman year, Simon took me back to my post-high-school “I’ll sleep/earn money when I’m dead” years. (I’m still kind of in those years, except I give in to sleep way more often. I still don’t really earn any money, though. I write horse books.) But seriously… listened to 80s punk and New Wave. wanted a pair of Doc Martens but couldn’t justify the cost. knew that my parents and my teachers and life and everyone were wrong — there was no need to waste time on so-called intellectual pursuits, not when I could ride a horse, take care of a horse, clean up after a barn full of horses…

As truthful to writing from Simon’s perspective as she was from Heather’s, Pagones does a total 180 shift in her writing. Simon’s sentences are jagged, his observations are hyperbolic, his language is very, very salty. Simon cusses like a sailor, but what 18-year-old working student doesn’t? I used to boast that I only spoke English but thanks to fellow working students and foreign grooms, I could swear in five languages. (I don’t remember them anymore.) Simon thinks in bursts of emotion and long moments of introspection; what some people see as editing misses are more likely the workings of his mind. No one thinks in perfect sentences.

The aching truth behind Simon’s rough swagger is that he doesn’t know what’s going to happen and that’s scary as hell. He doesn’t have money, just talent. And he’s just as plagued by thirty under thirty lists as I’ve always been — of course, now my pet peeve are forty under forty lists. Could people stop being so accomplished, please? Here’s Simon, telling it like it is:

The sense of motionlessness is particularly strong when I read about about someone my age winning an international event. This seems to confirm everyone’s opinion that I’m making some sort of horrible mistake with my life.

He’s eighteen, he’s in a state somewhere between elation and panic about the future, and he’s in very deep waters, not just professionally, but romantically.

Been there.

What it all comes down to: The Horse is Never Wrong and Fortune’s Fool are not your average horse books. I’ve never read two books by the same author that were written so differently, and yet so genuinely. I’ve never identified with two characters so completely opposite in every way. These books are challenging in structure and story, completely honest to the equestrian life, and by turns both soft and gritty. Non-traditional and utterly readable, these are wonderful new entries into the growing equestrian fiction niche.

Click to find The Horse is Never Wrong and Fortune’s Fool at Amazon in Kindle ebook and paperback.

(originally published at NatalieKReinert.com)

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Talk Derby to Me. If You Must. I Have No Idea.

I have a co-worker who enthusiastically starts asking me all kinds of questions about the Kentucky Derby the moment he sees me. He’s been doing this for at least a month. He leans in with what he apparently thinks is a suave backstretch-insider smirk and starts talking about works and post position win statistics and how much he’s going to put into his exacta box. And every time I smile really politely and remind him that this year is not a Derby year for me.

I got a media request for an interview regarding this year’s Derby and my thoughts on the dwindling popularity of horse racing for the general public, and I had to politely decline.  (I should’ve just referred the reporter to this guy at work. They might not have gotten the perspective they expected.)

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Me at a racetrack: “Let’s stand by the hoses so we can see the horses get showered off! Best part of the race!”

I’ve been paying absolutely no attention to the Kentucky Derby. Oh, I went to the Tampa Bay Derby and saw one of Saturday’s starters win that day. But I was still so star-struck after seeing champion mare Tepin win, I actually forgot who won the feature race and had to be reminded later it was Destin! Sorry, Destin!

The reason is two-fold: one, I have been really focused on eventing this year, because that’s the subject matter of the novel I just finished, and two, I prefer summer and fall racing. I particularly love the big summer races at Belmont and Saratoga. Maybe it’s just that I really love summer, I don’t know. The Travers Stakes is my derby.

But I know a lot of equestrians get this level of May-Day enthusiasam at work and they never, ever, have anything to say about racing because they just aren’t interested in it. What pleasure rider hasn’t had a picture of her horse pinned to her cubicle wall that garners absolutely zero interest 51 weeks out of the year, but in the first week of May, suddenly finds it has marked her as ground zero for conversations starting with, “So, who do you like in the Derby?”

It’s kind of crazy that the number one event non-equestrian people associate with horses, is probably one of the least popular events for the general population of equestrians. I know I have plenty of readers who don’t like horse racing. Or who don’t mind the concept, but can’t abide with the execution. Or who are completely indifferent. Even if you come to this blog because you love your retired racehorse and you’re proud that your OTTB was once a warrior on the track, I’m aware that probably more than half of you just plain don’t like horse racing.

That’s okay. There are plenty of reasons to not like racing, or just to insist that the industry hold itself to a higher standard and fix itself, for goodness’ sake — just like there are opportunities for any other equestrian sport to do better by its horses and by its people.

I just wish that other sports could grab hold of the American imagination as whole-heartedly as horse-racing, and more to the point, that other single competitions could enter the line-up of great American sporting events, as well as the Kentucky Derby. My big equestrian moment of the year isn’t tomorrow, it was last weekend, and it wasn’t even on television, but live-streamed: Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. For other riders, it might be World Cup show-jumping, or dressage, or reining, or… or… so many disciplines, so little market share.

I love horse racing because I think at its heart, racing is the most pure form of equestrian sport: My horse is faster than your horse.

But at the same time, horse racing isn’t a fair representation of what the horse means to us in America. The Kentucky Derby isn’t the symbol of our collective horsemanship. It’s just one drop in the bucket of all of our love and hard work and passion and drive and sweat and tears. (But hopefully not blood, to quote Grace Wilkinson in her new eventing novel A Perfect Stride.) It’s a part of all of us, whether we like it or not, because we’re horseman and at our core we know only endless labor and endless love can produce good horses. But we all add up to more than fast horses: we add up to strength, endurance, scope, elegance, precision, sensibility as well as speed.

What’s the point of this ramble? I wish horses were more popular, and less insular, I suppose. I wish more kids got to be working students at a barn a bike-ride away from their neighborhood. I wish there was a barn in my town. I wish Pony Club was as normal in a suburban town as soccer or gymnastics. I wish horses were more of a way of life and not mistaken for a status symbol, since I daresay most of the horse-owners in the United States would laugh heartily if you accused them of being rich (or possibly even middle-class).

I wish someone would ask me about who I liked at Badminton this weekend.

(It’s Michael Jung, of course. We all like Michael Jung.)

 

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Never Watch Rolex if You’re on a Horse Break

Never watch Rolex if you’re on a horse break.

Oh, the internet makes it so easy for you. A hot weekend morning, too sticky to bother going out for a walk, too sunny to bother making any plans that don’t involve a slow stroll to the pool and back, why not just sit and watch horses on your television? Can’t hurt to look in on the old sport.

Never watch Rolex if you’re on a horse break.

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Photo: Boyd Martin, Rolex 2011. Photo: Flickr/FiveFurlongs

Kentucky isn’t just beautiful, it’s stupid-beautiful. Look at those black-board fences weaving meticulously through emerald-green hills! Look at the bright new leaves sprouting from the tops of those massive, mysterious trees! (What are those trees?) Look at the horses, horses, horses, horses everywhere! The palm trees are waving outside your window, the blue sky is sparkling and suggesting you slip on your swimsuit and take a dip, but you’re remembering the feel of hot horse under your hand and the slick of dirt left behind when you take your palm away doesn’t sound distasteful at all.

Never watch Rolex if you’re on a horse break. Remember going to events with advanced riders and knowing everyone there? Remember driving home on I-75, your horses behind you pulling at their hay, while your colleagues drove all around you? Oh there’s the Carter horse van — shouldn’t we get a horse van someday, they’re so much better than horse trailers — oh there’s the O’Connor jeep, haha look at her license plate frame: Make Way For The Princess. We should get one of those, hahaha. There was a time when you were part of this spectacle, and on your way, remember when you were that groom, catching that horse, towel streaming from your back pocket and Gatorade in hand, ready to pass it off to your rider, knowing that some day you’d be that rider, passing off your horse in turn.

Emma Winter in 2005. A ghost from my eventing past, found on Flickr. Photo: flickr/katnetzler

Emma Winter in 2005. A ghost from my eventing past, found on Flickr. Photo: flickr/katnetzler

Never watch Rolex if you’re on a horse break. The early morning alarm that was contemptible then be remembered as a shrill reminder of just how lucky you are, to spring out of bed at six in the morning so you can be dragged around the property by fit horses and drive a rattling golf-cart around a pot-holed road as the sun rises, bits and spurs and feed buckets littering the ground so you have to stop after every turn you took too sharply to pick up your mess. The spring rituals of one final clip, and show-ring ready bridle paths and fetlocks and plucking tails and pulling manes, and sweeping up piles of errant hair before a priceless foolish horse lipped it up like indigestible hay. All the things that annoyed you will slip away — memory is kind and cruel like that. Faced with the gleaming beauties of eventing’s elite, you’ll only remember that you loved every minute, and all those tears will be forgotten.

Never watch Rolex if you’re on a horse break. You’ll swan around the apartment adding up numbers in your head and plotting out the years to come and considering the exact wording of the Yard and Groom listing you ought to place. You’ll come up with a rational explanation for uprooting your entire life and know that it’s completely irrational but hey, I’m only dreaming, haha but just for a moment, or a morning, you believed it, you know you did.

Never watch Rolex if you’re on a horse break. Or maybe do, and once you get past the initial flush of excitement, and you’ve had time to think, you’ll just have a clearer idea in your head of who you are, and what you want, and the map in your mind’s eye, however long and far the road might have to be, will get a little more clear.

 

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Ambition: The New Novel Explores Eventing

Ambition - available May 20, 2014

Ambition – available May 20, 2014

It’s been more than a year since my last equestrian novel — too long! But I’m happy to announce that on Tuesday, May 20th, I’ll be releasing my newest novel, Ambition, to readers everywhere.

Still set in the rolling hills of Florida’s horse country, Ocala, Ambition leaps over to the sport-horse world and the sport of eventing.

Jules Thornton didn’t come to Ocala to make friends. She came to make a name for herself. Twenty-two and tough as nails, she’s been swapping stable-work for saddle-time since she was a little kid — and it hasn’t always been a fun ride. Forever the struggling rider in a sport for the wealthy, all Jules has on her side is talent and ambition. She’s certain all she needs to succeed are good horses, but will the eventing world agree?

Getting back into the eventing scene was a real pleasure for me as a writer. I spent my teenage years eventing in Florida and Maryland. I haven’t been over a cross-country course in more than ten years, but I still day-dream about it. Someday, someday…

As for the characters: I love Jules, but she’d never believe me if I told her that. Jules isn’t used to having friends. She’s used to being the low man on the totem pole, after what seems like forever as a working student in a show barn full of her own wealthy classmates. It’s just Jules and her horses, against the world — or so she thinks. But there are still some people on Jules’ team.

And since I like to think that the horses and the setting are just as important as the humans, you’ll find that several horses, including Thoroughbreds, and the heart of Florida horse country are well-represented. Just as Other People’s Horses and The Head and Not The Heart explored Ocala, Saratoga, and New York City in depth, I couldn’t help but celebrate Ocala once again, drawing upon years and years of memory and deep, deep affection for that chunk of the state called “North-Central Florida.”

So watch out for Ambition, available in ebook and paperback beginning Tuesday, May 20th. I think you’ll find it to be a very, very interesting ride… and check your stirrup length and girth. There may be a few bucks thrown in when you least expect them

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Ask Questions

keep-calm-and-ask-questions-5Originally posted at: nataliekreinert.com

Recently, tragedy struck twice at an event. Two horses died at The Fork, an upper-level event in South Carolina. Conair following an accident on the cross-country course; Powderhound following his show-jumping round.

Immediately after each horses’ death was announced, social media (generally Facebook, although I’m sure Twitter got involved) was abuzz. Mass messages of sympathy were intermingled with questions about how these deaths could have happened. And admittedly, neither was straightforward: Conair reportedly got up and galloped around after his fall; he collapsed and died after a preliminary vet exam. Powderhound collapsed and died after his show-jumping round, narrowly avoiding injuring his rider.

It looked weird. It looked scary. And people had questions.

Concerns.

Fear.

An urge to twitch back the blinds and make sure their own horses were safe.

As things will do, of course, sympathy and fear divided into factions. Familiar ones, in Eventing: the Long Format vs the Short Format.

Simply put, Short Format Eventing is the current version of the Three Day Event, which does away with the massive endurance requirement once required. It places a greater emphasis on dressage and a more technical cross-country course.

Long Format proponents don’t need much to start talking about Long Format, anyway, so it was only to be expected that this would renew the debate. Questions like: Are the horses still fit enough to compete at high speeds? Are the courses asking the horses questions with solid fences that should only be asked with movable jump poles?

Short Format replies tended to be more succinct: now is not the time to bring this up.

I understand that the Eventing community is close-knit, and that when one horse dies, many horsemen grieve. That’s the way it should be. That’s how communities work.

But here’s what I want to say: it’s okay to ask questions, and it’s going to be done in public, on social media, because that is where people ask questions these days. There isn’t going to be an official period of discreet social media silence. And there shouldn’t be, because in this short-term-memory society, if an incident isn’t discussed within a fairly immediate time period, it won’t be discussed at all. It will be buried by the next story, for better or for worse.

It’s not okay to lay blame, or make assertions without proof, or tout oneself as an expert when one is not, or lay claim to a death as a symbolic martyr of a cause.

But it is okay to ask questions.

Questions, well-worded ones anyway, can lead to conversation amongst people who care about the problem. Conversation amongst people who care about the problem can lead to the answers… sometimes, the answers to questions far removed from the original one.

We should always be asking questions, and exploring the issues that concern us, or hell, scare us. A horse drops dead under a rider — that’s scary. Could it happen to you? Could it happen to me? We need to talk about this. Let’s discuss conditioning techniques. Discuss feeding practices. Share ideas. Share best practices. This, a time of worry and crisis and personal doubt, is when we are most likely to come together and share, instead of hiding away our fears (from shame) and our secrets (with jealousy).

Here’s how I see it: analyzing our own practices is good.

Coming together and sharing ideas is good.

Sometimes it takes a tragic event to start conversations about our own lives.

This argument has absolutely zero to do with making assumptions about the deaths of Conair and Powderhound. It has nothing to do with changing Short Format to Long Format. It’s not a statement about whether the comments section of an article announcing a tragedy is the right place to question the cause. It’s simply about the power crisis holds, that it can inspire us to examine our own practices and to talk more frankly with one another about our thoughts and fears.

And to not be afraid to ask questions.

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Thoroughbreds For All! Has Found a Winning Formula

Many thanks to Kirsten Collins for this great report from Thoroughbreds for All. Kirsten shares her life with three OTTBs at her own Harmony Farm. 

First, a confession:  I bought my ticket for Thoroughbreds For All! before I bought my Rolex tickets.  I offer this as testament as to how great this event was last year.  The event is built around show-casing Thoroughbreds transitioning from the track into new careers.  Here, the horses are the stars of the show and I couldn’t wait to experience it again.

Thoroughbreds for All 2013 West Wind Farm arena

Thoroughbreds for All! 2013 was held in the West Wind Farm arena. Photo: Kirsten Collins

I was not disappointed.   The event drew an even larger crowd this year, around 500 people, but West Wind Farm was easily able to handle it.  I can’t imagine a better venue than West Wind’s covered arena with its views of the lush spring Kentucky landscape as well as the ability to accommodate dozens of tables, caterers, a cash bar, and best of all, an enormous barn aisle that facilitated a close look at a nice crop of New Vocations Thoroughbreds.

Chris McCarron aboard Bilan

Chris McCarron aboard Bilan. Photo: Kirsten Collins

The program followed last year’s winning formula with minor changes.  Everyone enjoyed Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron getting legged up immediately on a very pretty Bilan.  Chris asked Bilan to stay close to the spectators (we had been reminded at the start to hold our applause so as not to startle the horses) and Bilan acquiesced in a very Thoroughbred way by jigging and looking and by not relaxing.  This was the perfect segue into Chris’ on-board lecture of how jockeys work with their mounts.   First, they seek cooperation, and then they seek ways to make their mounts comfortable.  For Chris and Bilan, this involved some give-and-take:  Chris asked “Please walk forward to the crowd” and Bilan replied “I’d feel much better if we trot back to the other end of the arena.”  And so Chris allowed him to take little breaks and move away, all the while stroking and rewarding him, and then bringing him back to the crowd for a little more exposure.

Chris polled the audience at times, seeking answers to questions about what a horse needs and what impacts a successful ride.  He said he wants a confident mount, but that of course requires a confident rider.  Chris said a rider brings three things into the equation that will influence the quality of the ride:  fear, experience level, and rider fitness.  Chris stated matter-of-factly that horses are looking for a leader.  A rider can provide that leadership but only if they are honest about their own abilities in the tack.  And at this point Chris pointed out that Bilan’s behavior was quite normal for some Thoroughbreds and he wisely reminded people to make sure they seriously considered their own ability to handle and accept this type of horse behavior.  As if we couldn’t love him more.

Mounted lecture with Chris McCarron

Mounted lecture with Chris McCarron. Photo: Kirsten Collins

The rider fitness remark surprised me a little, but what McCarron meant was you have to be able to physically handle that give-and-take phase with your Thoroughbred.  He’ll require a soft hand, yes, but still a firm one over the duration of your ride.  He cautioned everyone about getting physically tired, losing their form, and then losing the quality of the ride.  And he’s absolutely right; a horse deserves us to be our best in the tack because it is what we are almost always asking of our mounts.   By this time Chris had his horse moving well around the arena and it took physical restraint not to applaud both Chris McCarron and the lovely Bilan.

At some point I lost count of the New Vocations horses that were presented next, but I think there were between six and eight.  Each one fell under the gaze of Phillip Dutton and his vet (and fellow eventer) Dr. Kevin Keane.  Through their assessment my novice eyes could gain appreciation for traits both physical and mental.  Phillip is a quiet soft-spoken man who seemed indefatigable and able to look at every horse with fresh eyes.  Dr. Keane echoed many of Phillip’s sentiments about each horse.  In one case both of them were quite keen on a filly that I had dismissed the minute she entered the arena:  they both saw potential in the young horse and therefore helped me (and countless others, no doubt) to see this horse for her what her future could be.  It was an important lesson.  Once the riders were mounted and the horses put through their paces, Dr. Keane remarked that he liked to stand close to a horse when it cantered past so that he could gauge their respiratory status.  Again, this was new and valuable information for a novice looking at a Thoroughbred.

Phillip Dutton, Chris McCarron, Steuart Pittman, Dr. Kevin Keane, and  Amy from New Vocations leading Come On Moe.

Phillip Dutton, Chris McCarron, Steuart Pittman, Dr. Kevin Keane, and
Amy from New Vocations leading Come On Moe.
Photo: Kirsten Collins

As with last year, it was mesmerizing to watch experienced riders work with Thoroughbreds in the midst of transitioning to new careers.  That these horses responded well to compassionate experienced rides is an understatement, but also a strong testament to their trusting, willing nature.  Try to imagine taking your first jump by trotting into a sea of faces set upon rows of bleachers; it could be intimidating, to say the least, but each of the three horses (ridden by eventer Tracey Bieneman, Rolex competitor Daniel Clasing, and returning rider/trainer Eric Dierks) jumped small fences of increasing complexity.  It was here that Phillip Dutton also kept making an important point:  those horses that did not immediately show bravery to a fence were not at all dismissed, but rather Phillip appreciated their carefulness.  He knew, as we all soon witnessed, that the horses would gain confidence as their exposure increased.  As I watched this segment I found myself brimming with pride at the progress these horses were making.  They settled in, figured out what was being asked of them, and did their jobs.

Daniel Clasing takes a break from Rolex competition.

Daniel Clasing takes a break from Rolex competition.
Photo: Kirsten Collins

The eventing world was well-represented at Thoroughbreds For All! as eventers bracketed the evening.  We were first introduced to several competitors whose Rolex mounts were Thoroughbreds and these riders had about 500 keen listeners as they talked about their horses’ strengths and talent (and a few quirks, of course).  To close the evening, local eventers Dorothy Crowell and Cathy Wieschoff returned with their upper level eventers Hennessey and Ready For April.  This was a fitting close to the evening as the two beautifully conditioned horses did a little warm up and then proceeded to jump some impressive fences.  They were such pros, their demeanor so professional and business-like and it was a brilliant way to demonstrate the rewarding path from a racehorse off the track to a well-trained eventer.  Remember how lovely Bilan jigged and danced for Chris McCarron?  I bet even Ready For April did that when he came off the track.  But it was impossible not to think of Bilan as an eventer-in-the-making.  All he needs is a chance to prove himself.

Thoroughbreds For All! is helmed by Steuart Pittman of the Retired Racehorse Training Project and Anna Ford of New Vocations and an army of their volunteers.  Each and every volunteer I spoke with was not only kind and gracious but also absolutely in love with Thoroughbreds.  They are invested in making a future possible for each and every horse lucky enough to walk off the track and into their programs.

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