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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Monday, April 27, 2009

Modern Eventing - For Daun

Well I always said I'd do it, and due to the huge number of responses on my last little snarky blurb I thought I'd really get my facts straight and make a real post about modern eventing, and the dangers behind it.

And also Daun... what's malware, and what is this about it? I've never heard of it and even when signed out it's not flagging anything on my computer. So... I dunno! What exactly are you seeing?


Everyone knows the basics of the origins of eventing. The military man and his cavalry horse were once valued and crucial members of a country's war machine. A military charger needed to show elegance, precision and obedience on the parade ground as well at out executing maneuvers in the field (dressage); he needed courage and great stamina while headed to battle, often needing to cross lengthy and difficult terrain and any number of obstacles to get there (cross-country); he needed to be responsive and fit once he arrived at the battle, still able to perform accurately and swiftly when needed at the end of a long and exhausting journey (stadium). The military routinely tested their officers and mounts in order to ensure their fitness and ability, and it was from this that the sport of "Militaire" was born. It was the complete test for the officer and his mount, and at its first Olympics, only active-duty officers on cavalry chargers were allowed to compete. In Paris at the 1924 Olympics, the "long format" as we know it now was essentially born, and it was open to civilians as well - dressage on the first day, endurance on the second day (which included Phase A, Roads and Tracks, which was followed by Phase B, Steeplechase, and Phase C, a longer Roads and Tracks; a compulsory halt for veterinary inspection followed these three phases, after which Phase D, cross country, began, The compulsory halt later morphed into a compulsory 10-minute vetbox), and stadium jumping on the third and final day. The English effectively coined the term "Three-Day Eventing," and the name stuck.

Eventing has never, EVER been without deaths and major injuries, both equine and human. As I said before, at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, only fifteen of forty-eight horses competing in the eventing made it through the water obstacle without harm. Twenty-eight horses fell, and three completely refused it. The obstacle injured three horses so badly they had to be destroyed on the scene. The water obstacle ended up being incredibly deep in the center, and full of soft mud on the bottom. In the 'olden days,' it was not uncommon for a horse to finish an event in a state of near-collapse - it was rather impressive if the horse finished at all. One of the horses at the Berlin games that was on the US team was badly injured in the shoulder at the water jump, but the rider remounted and continued on anyway. One of the members from the German team broke his collarbone when he fell off in the steeplechase, but remounted - and the next day, he AND his horse fell in the showjumping, the horse LANDING on the guy, but they both got up and went on to win gold for Germany. Incredible to think about. Here's a wild picture from the 1952 Olympics:

The beginnings of a rotational fall caught on film. 68 horses fell on this particular cross-country course at the Melbourne Olympics, and 20 other riders were tossed. At the 1960 Games, two horses were killed in competition. At the 1968 Games, two more died, collapsing on course due to extreme heat and the stress of competition. (As a side note, look at the high-tech cooling devices used in Beijing - pretty sweet.) How many other deaths can we count in these earlier courses? Dozens, and many rider deaths too. Eventing is, and always has been, an extreme and very dangerous sport.

But what of modern eventing? In 2004 and 2005, a new format was introduced for eventing - the modified or "short" format, which eliminated all of the stamina and endurance sections of cross-country (Phases A-C). I was fortunate enough to see the very last Rolex that was run in the long format in 2005 (my first Rolex ever), and I remember feeling teary-eyed while watching those horses gallop their hearts out on steeplechase. It was amazing. They were simultaneously running a short-format course, to "prepare the Olympic riders and horses" because Athens was running the short format, but nobody paid attention or cared - didn't count in our books. And then, the gavel fell - all around the world, the long format was dying. Why did this happen? Massive pressure from the FEI? Venues not having enough time and space to run the long format? Breeders (the Germans and their German event horses, said my German instructor at the time!!) wanting to push the heavier, warmblood types on eventing? Any way you look at it, it was politics. The Olympic committee was threatening to pull eventing from the Games, and the FEI made a swift change. The classic three-day, as we now call it, is enjoying a bit of a renaissance here in the States at the moment, but it wasn't that way at first. Riders and spectators from all over clamored for the return of the long format for many reasons. A lot of people, myself included, believe it is the "true test of horse and rider", and that it teaches horsemanship - the preparation, the hours put in, the blood and sweat and tears needed to condition the horse and human and the care required after takes years to prepare for. The short format, unfortunately, is the springboard for what this post is really all about - what's changing in modern eventing, and why it's just not helping these dangers.

Like I've been saying all along, eventing has ALWAYS been dangerous. So you'd think this short format helps to eliminate some of those serious dangers, yes? Wrong. The idea that the short format saves wear-and-tear on horses is a load of crock. Several recent studies comparing injuries between the long and short format disprove this in an instant. Horses also tend to be far more stressed in the short format due to the shorter warmups, as opposed to the slow, long, methodical warmup leading to Phase D. While it's true that many upper-level riders, especially the old school ones, still prepare and condition their horses in the same way that they used to, it becomes difficult for a horse THAT fit to perform without the miles of Roads and Tracks and Steeplechase to take that bit of edge off. So what do we do? Condition the horse less? It certainly isn't a good idea. Horses coming off cross-country exhausted can and do collapse - one dying already this year, at BEGINNER NOVICE after cross-country. Problem Number One with modern eventing: conditioning, or lack thereof. As riders, are we NOT physically preparing ourselves and our horses for these difficult tasks ahead? Without the push for the long format, the emphases on conditioning becomes way less important, and exhausted horses on cross-country make mistakes. Fatal mistakes. And so do riders. Not to mention that a physically beat horse that DOES make it through cross-country will not perform well in stadium, and may come away with muscle, tendon, ligament, or bone injuries. The emphasis on horsemanship has seen a rebirth in the Training Three-Day, but there'll another post about that later.

In the old days, Phase D was simple - big, gallopy obstacles and a really rhythmic pace. Not so anymore. My personal opinion, shared with many others, is that the Olympic committee, along with the FEI, decided that eventing was not only long and tedious, it wasn't interesting enough now that it was shorter. Solution? Add more questions on course. A lot more. Killer, impossible, wicked questions that sometimes can completely confuse horses. Problem Number Two with modern eventing: changes in the cross-country course to make it 'more exciting.' It was exciting enough, thank you. Now, riders are having to come down out of their rhythmic gallops to these very slow coffin-canters and negotiating obstacles that, let's face it, you're NEVER going to find while galloping off to battle! Jimmy Wofford always talks about jumping out of your gallop rhythm and not needed a rebalancing zone before every fence because you're always balanced, but this no longer applies to modern eventing. You HAVE to slow down before a combination. These seriously complicated questions can and do confuse horses. And all that slowing down, speeding up, slowing down, speeding up, REALLY takes it out of a horse.

Problem Number Three, speculation: is too much emphasis on dressage now, with the conditioning fading? This is not my personal opinion, but I've heard it voiced before. The dressage phase of eventing is becoming violently competitive, especially at the lower levels - why do you think I do so much dressage?? - and at the upper levels, questions are being asked that have never been included before, such as half-passes, flying changes, serpentines, shoulder-ins, counter-canter, and degrees of collection previously unheard of in the upper-level event horse. If you don't score like Bettina did this weekend (a 28.8), you're not going to be competitive. You can't make it up anymore if you get a 50 and your horse jumps around fabulously... those days are long gone. The argument is that this new emphasis on dressage is taking away a horse's ability to think for itself. Which is a load of bull, but I can see how people might think that. If a horse is waiting for you to tell it what to do because it's so obedient, it might not be able to get itself out of a scrap. But I can tell you one thing, you won't see ME riding a horse like that x-country.

Problem Number Four, speculation: there is not enough GOOD riding anymore. Without good horsemanship and conditioning, without excellent position and equitation, a rider is bound to hinder her horse, and sometimes a huge rider error can result in a horse being unable to get itself out of a situation that a rider put it in. I've seen it happen before... I know I make mistakes, and I'm very thankful my horse can get herself out of them.

Problem Number Five, speculation: there is TOO MUCH good riding. If a horse on x-country is ridden perfectly every time, what happens when it makes a mistake and the rider CAN'T help it out? The horse won't know how to get itself out of a bad situation unless it learns how to make mistakes and recover from it. Again, speculation, but I've heard this spin too.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Feel free to add on.

So what's being done? What can be done? What should be done? What shouldn't? I'm afraid I'll have to put this in another post, because this is getting freakishly long and I'm freakishly tired.

By the way, here's a PETA-type website about the dangers of eventing - a little over the top, but there's some hard data behind it and some very strong opinions that go with that.

Another by the way, about the whole 'no horse has ever dropped dead during dressage' thing? A horse did do exactly that at the Maui Jim CIC** in 2007, from a pulmonary hemorrhage. Really tragic, and it unfortunately just goes to show that death happens everywhere. A horse died this year after XC at Beginner Novice too. Horses die at combined driving events, while rounding up cattle, trailriding, hopping over small fences, giving birth. I knew of a horse that, while his owner was dismounting after a light hack, seized up and bled out through every hole in his head, dead before he even hit the ground. Horses die, and I hate it.

King Pin, by the way, died of a rare condition that involved massive hemorrhaging of the major vessels in his abdomen - unrelated to jumping or running or trauma. Godspeed...

EDIT: By the way AGAIN, I thought I should metion that there are 115 people competing in Open Novice at King Oak. 115. That's a good five or six while divisions of Open Novice - Novice A through freaking Novice E or F. That's insane. And we still haven't been able to go XC schooling.... heart palpitations.


Patricia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patricia said...

(Oops, I accidentally deleted my own comment!)

Anyways, thank you for the great information on eventing. I am trying to do the same for the racehorse industry, so I just started a blog about Shorty called Retraining a Racehorse.

115 riders? Holy crap!!! I'm sure you will be great.

Albigears said...

Thanks for the link to Kingpin. RIP.

So how do you teach a horse to think for itself and correct mistakes on cross country? Do you just keep light contact, stay quiet to the jump and let them figure it out for themselves?

I imagine my horse will learn to figure some things out for himself as I am not an upper level rider and will make mistakes.

Beckz said...

Malware is a program that can infiltrate your pc and it allows the person who wrote the malware to see what you are doing on your screen and record your key strokes. Google just wiped my blog off of the face of the Earth for it. I haven't had a warning about it on your site though, and I did on mine so I don't know.

I agree with most of your points. I truely believe horses are less catty than they were before, and less capable of jumping from any spot. Gah watch International velvet the riding is terrible, but the horses are thinking for themselves and they do ok. I don't think the warmbloods with the flash movement are neccessarily the safest cross country, and I think often especially in the lower levels of eventing you see accidents caused by indecisive riding. Really you have to go out and do the job, because if you go at it half assed accidents happen.

Daun said...

Beckz, Yesterday I got a malware warning on Andrea's site saying it had a reference to your old site. I think it's her Bloglist had popped up with your last post on your old site. Now I am not getting the warning.

Beckz is right and Andrea, this is an excellent post. A will cross link to it from everywhere I can.

I completely agree with most of your points, but I think there's some causality that can be explored. For example, with the intro of the short format, people previously not committed to the rigors of the long format flocked to eventing. It was all the rage for the X geners, if you know what I mean. That falls into both the warmblood infusion and the poor riding. The O'Conners and the Duttons still remember how to ride a long format, but what of the new up and comers who have never ridden roads and tracks or steeplechase? When they take over the reins from the greats of today, we will see a lot more problems, believe me.

One thing you did not mention is all the new pharmaceuticals out there to "enhance" performance. I am not sure the long term effects of the supplements, the steroids, etc on the heart and lungs have really been studied. And they are ubiquitous at that level.

Hmm I will think on this and add more. Thanks so much for putting this together.

Funder said...

Excellent post. I don't have anything to add, except thanks for educating me about eventing!

Austen said...


I totally agree with your analysis of today's eventing direction (at least the 1st three points).

For me, eventing has always been about your horse and it's conditioning. I grew up riding on a farm devoted to eventing, and the people who didn't put the time and conditioning in on their horses showed. Of course, that means I remember the last days of Roads and Tracks. The fact that a mention of this phase and only garner blank stares is sad. It seems to negate all the time I spent learning to rate my speeds and trotting endless miles.

That being said, I hope the eventing world takes a longer look at the way competitions are being staged and the effect on the horses. Look at how upper level dressage has become attainable to so many. It's not because the horses have gotten better (I refuse to believe that, though they are gorgeous). Instead, training shortcuts have been allowed to take over - giving riders the ability to cheat to achieve collection and connection when there really is none. It's sad. Dressage done right is about the time and effort (and tears!) you spent trying to figure it out and communicate. Real dressage is about lightbulb moments, partnership and balance - not about control, forced positioning and fake connections.

Wow ... okay, my ranting is going a little overboard. Anyway, great post. I'm glad I took the time to read it today. Good luck with your beautiful mare!

manymisadventures said...

Great post.

Albigears -- here is an article on how to develop your horse's 'fifth leg.' Here.There's a reason I never aspire to go all the way to the very top of eventing. I want to get to Training and/or Prelim, and run long-formats, because I have always considered that to be 'real' eventing and I'm not about to change my opinion. But there's a lot wrong in the sport right now, from what I can see. I hope it gets worked out over time - and there are a lot of very dedicated, passionate people working hard to do so.

I can see this post touched a chord in a lot of people :)

Albigears said...

manymis- Thank you, that was a great post!

hosschic said...

Hey... that was a huge post! A lot of thought and interesting facts and comments.

On another note:
God itsa small world! I ran into you at the Rolex... I mean really I almost ran into you!... and you were coming from the water jump and I was coming around the covered stadium... and there you were.... you were with a girlfriend... and by the time you got past me... I was like HEY ... Wait a minute was that... shit... whatsername.... shit... I turned around and you melted into the crowd. I think that was on WED morning?... I honestly didnt think I would see you there... but it was kind of neat! Small world sistah... small world! Hey glad to hear you are making leaps and bounds with Gogo... keep up the great work ethic and you will be just fine!

Anastasia said...

Some good points here but I must ask if you have actually been to the PETA website ( ). The ranting anti-eventing site you linked to here makes PETA look reasonable!

ponyknit said...

Great post. Sent here from Daun's site. I'm also an eventer. I understand why we run a short format now, but I feel that short-cuts and bigger holes in training occur under this format. I was always a believer in a strong dressage base for an event horse, and I like that it has become more of a focus these days. I do not like that so many people have these fake connections and "frames." I'm not sure of a solution, but maybe if we all put our heads together we can find one.

Jesse said...

I've been lurking around your blog for a while, but I think that I'll comment on this one.

I think that in general, society has become more risk intolerant. And this affects us in more ways than just worrying about the horse that trips over the divot in the grass. Look at the free range kids blog for a non-horsey example. Risks that used to be acceptable, like letting kids play outdoors in the street even, are now unacceptable in modern society.

I think that something has shifted general consensus of what "safe" is. Maybe it's that the rest of our lives have become so safe and so sheltered, and that activities that are no more risky than they ever were, seem more risky, because our idea of acceptable risk has shifted.

Can we change eventing enough to make it align with our current definition of acceptable risk without losing the heart of the sport?

Daun said...

Jesse makes a very astute point. Perhaps it's not enough that eventing has changed, society has changed (and possibly not for the better). We can't wish for the bad old days where courses chewed up a dozen horses on a day when people are panicing over a single death in the US from H1N1 when 36,000 people die in the US from the regular flu every year.

I think the media is responsible. Every little minor thing is reported sensationally to draw interest. So now we have a culture that thinks death in any form is a four letter word. We have to save *everyone* all the time. If you're not making heroic efforts, quality of life be damned, then you're not a Good Person.

But in regards to eventing, if a dozen horses were chewed up in a day, not even eventers could swallow that anymore. So even though the culture has changed, eventing must do what it can. The tragic thing is I was willing to accept some loses in the long format because, by and large, they *were* freak accidents. Now all the breakdowns and terrible riding in the short format are causing deaths and I really can't believe they are freak accidents at these numbers.

So we tried to make it safer and made it anything but.