Previously, I described the origins of eventing as a testosterone-laden natural competition of “my warhorse can lick your warhorse”. The sport has strayed far from those origins.
Back when I started to ride, eventing was something you did at the Olympics and maybe two or three big competitions in England (where they still call our prelim “novice”). There were few, if any, local events in the US, and most of them didn’t offer any levels below prelim. You had to know what you were doing before you tried to get out there.
Gradually, the sport began to realize that they needed something more, and Training level was born. Which evolved into Pre-Training, then Baby Novice, then cross-pole classes. Something for everyone. Trouble was, ability and common sense didn’t keep up with the levels. Back when I started, we used to get bonus points for speed – coming in fast. This was great with Tory (shown above with rider Caryn Reynolds, photographer unknown), whose average idling speed was about Mach IV. Trouble there was that a lot of kids had no concept of how to ride at speed (I’d ridden steeplechase and flat track horses) and had some serious pile-ups when their horses hadn’t learned how to handle speed over small fences.
So, to be on the safe side, the sport “dumbed-down” and created speed penalties. They were heaviest (as is intelligent) at the lower levels, to protect ignorant kids and poorly-trained horses. Then, the do-gooders seemed to think that the four phases of a three-day speed and endurance were abusive to the horses, and they created the “short-form” event (eliminating much of the roads and tracks phases). They have since discovered that lack of proper warm-up (the elimination of the roads and tracks phases) has resulted in a lot of horses not being properly conditioned for the stresses of what used to be Phase D – the run cross country.
So they shortened cross country, reduced the galloping sections, and it is now a complicated stadium course over open country, penalizing a long-striding and fast galloping thoroughbred and giving edge to the big, heavy warmbloods.
I say, bring back the test in the open and let’s see a thoroughbred happily galloping across country, rather than the heavy horses pounding around technical distances.