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.
2 thoughts on “Ask Questions”
Certainly it should be discussed. I believe it is about the Short Format versus the Long Format, whether you want to hear this or not. Horses who were trained to compete in Long Format events were more fit and were more capable of doing the high speeds (steeple chase and cross-country) safely. And each phase A,B,C, and D had a purpose. Of course, the Thoroughbred was the ideal horse for the Long Format too. The Short Format is another “creature”. I also believe that most event horses today would not be able to hold up during a Long Format competition, they simply wouldn’t be fit enough–the weak ones would be weeded out quite quickly-as most riders (not all of them!) don’t condition their horses sufficiently. And if you notice, some of the ‘top’ event riders today were also competitors during the Long Format days. Experience is gold. I assume that their success is due in part to their conditioning know-how acquired over many years. Endurance and stamina should be at the heart of training a horse for a 3-day event. (I’ve always held the view that a 3-day horse has to be trained as if it were a racehorse.) And would that even still be possible given the demanding expectations in the dressage and show jumping tests? That’s a difficult question to answer. Remember: a horse can only do so much, and it is not a machine.
Karin, thanks so much for reading and commenting. Personally, I do believe in the Long Format, and your arguments are sound to me. I do not like Short Format and the new technical XC courses, to say nothing of the loss of the Endurance portion. It really seems as if Endurance was discarded without any consideration for its purpose, as if Endurance only existed to exhaust the horse, instead of to prepare the horse for galloping at racing speeds over a cross-country course. I think we are very much on the same page here.