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.
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.