Been There, Done That

commentary on many different thoughts

Month: January, 2013

Eventing Then and Now

Tory Caryn

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.

A Brief History of Eventing

The Chronicle of the Horse recently ran live streaming of a “horsemanship” clinic given by George Morris, the soi-disant father of modern hunt-seat equitation. Morris is quoted saying that “riding is a cavalry sport”, and that young riders need to learn to ride “tough”. Ironically, his entire clinic was taught in a carefully raked, fenced-in arena, with horses being asked to jump from carefully measured strides over carefully built fences.

Back when I was around cavalry horses, being cavalry meant that you rode in the open, cross-country, over hills and dales and ditches and logs and stray animals and anything that came into your path. You didn’t count strides into a fence; you judged the fence (or, if you were lucky, you let your horse worry about that aspect of jumping). Eventing is truly a cavalry sport, but arena jumping is not.

Eventing evolved from a test of a cavalry staff officer’s charger. In a time when horses were the fastest means of communication on a battlefield, the officer’s charger had to be well-behaved enough to stand quietly (amid the chaos of a battlefield) while the officer got his orders and made sure he understood them. Then the charger had to gallop full-tilt across country to take the message to wherever it had to go. Stopping to open gates, or find a hole in a hedge, wasted precious time, so the charger had to deal with ditches, banks, drops, verticals, oxers, what have you. Finally, when the message was delivered, the charger had to be brave enough to go back and do it again.

Moses winning

Men being men, and therefore competitive, they created a sport where you could test the all-around ability, stamina and sense of any particular horse, and thus was born the three-day event.

Tomorrow, my thoughts on what the three-day event has become over the years!

Baubles, Bangles and Beads

When I started my competitive career, I rode hunter ponies. When we got spiffed up, we would wear tailcoats and tophats (although my budget never permitted a top-hat so I wore my hunt cap and a borrowed (and pinned-to-fit in back) tailcoat for the Corinthian classes) but everything was traditionally black and white. If you were very dashing, you might get away with midnight blue, but that was considered “fast”.

When I discovered the colorful world of eventing (I am, by nature, a color-freak), I was in clover. Pick your colors, buy lots of new stuff in your colors, and if it doesn’t come in your colors, either paint it or wrap it with electric tape until it is your colors. Bliss.

The new horse, unfortunately, despised even the thought of the great outdoors, so I turned back to the hunters, riding for a trainer who believed that if it wasn’t charcoal pinstripe, it didn’t happen. To a color freak, this is boring in the extreme.

Imagine my delight to discover that ballroom dancing not only approves of color, they encourage it. And beads. And crystal. And rhinestones. Lots and lots of rhinestones. The sparklier the better. The noisier the better. Am I in clover here? You betcha.

Below is a detail of my favorite dress.


Dancing with horses, dancing with guys


Just got off the phone chatting with a friend about the preparation needed for a show, and started comparing the differences between getting ready for a horse show and for a dance competition. I learned an awful lot about turn-out and show prep from Pony Club and work in hunter/jumper barns. Everything was polished and sleek and shiny. I would get the horse into the trailer, set him up at the showgrounds, feed him and plump his pillows, get some sleep, then get to the barn hours before we were due in the show ring to groom (bathe, weather permitting), braid and polish, then make sure my tack was clean and his stall was spotless before going back to get myself all kitted out.

What a lovely change it is dancing with a guy instead. First, don’t have to go outside in rain or freezing cold unless I want to. Then, I don’t have to bathe and groom my partner, or even trailer him to the showgrounds! He is quite capable of washing and dressing himself. He doesn’t need to be braided, and he can even shave his own whiskers. I don’t have to get him tacked up, since he can do that himself too! All I have to do is put on my make-up, (no “all” about that – stage makeup takes a while!), do my own hair (don’t have to battle to get it under a helmet) and put on my lovely ballgown (such a change from the hunters, where if it wasn’t charcoal pinstripe it wasn’t going to happen – and heaven help you if you had anything that sparkled except your bit and your stirrup irons!)

On the other hand, I’m still working with a rational (most of the time) being with a mind of his own. Something I have learned from ballroom dancing is that, as a lady, I have no say in where we are going, what we are going to do, or how we are going to get there. My job is to respond promptly to his leading, develop self-carriage, and take long and smooth steps at his command. I’m beginning to understand what a well-trained dressage horse feels like – from the horse’s point of view!


It’s a bit startling to realize how time and experience alter one’s perspectives. Case in point: over the holidays, I was in a lounge listening to music of my youth, and I suddenly wondered how some of these songs had passed the censors. I’m not talking about the so-called “music” currently in vogue, which uses no metaphors and does not shy from the use of objectionable language. I’m talking about the “sweet” songs of the 50s and 60s.

The first one that caught my attention was “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen”. Check out the lyrics:

Tonight’s the night/ I’ve waited for/ tonight you’re not a baby anymore;
You’ve turned into the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen
Happy birthday, Sweet Sixteen.

Translate that:

Tonight’s the night/ I’ve waited for/ tonight you are not jail-bait anymore

The other one that really caught me was “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”.

Tonight with words unspoken, you say that I’m the only one.
But will my heart be broken, when tonight meets the morning sun?

My first thought was that if she has to ask this question, she’s about to do something she is going to regret later. The song talks about “tonight the look of love is in your eyes”. Yeah, right. And, if the words are unspoken, how on earth has she figured this out?

Then again, you are reading about a person who thought the second line of the Orbison song “Pretty Woman” wasn’t “kind I’d like to meet”, but “candle on her feet”. I always wondered why she’d wear a candle instead of shoes. Or Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “there’s a bathroom on the right”.

Anyone else run into odd thoughts about the oldies?