Monday, December 9, 2013

The Original X Game: Why I love Eventers

Thursday I flew up to the United States Eventing Association's annual conference, held this year in that glamorous tourist hot spot, Cincinnati.  It was my first time attending; I went in part because it looked like fun, and in part because I want to find a way to be of service to my sport.

I was told at the convention that eventing had been on par with the Olympic sports of fencing and archery, in terms of national interest, but ever since The Hunger Games archery had exploded.  We eventers are now looking for a storyline in which Jennifer Lawrence can save the world via bold cross-country riding.

A few of my friends who had been planning to attend the convention didn't, because of the wretched weather that came through on Friday; my trainer Betty was there, and other people I knew, but not many close friends.  I'm quite good at walking up to people I don't know and starting a conversation, but am at heart an introvert, and after awhile the effort of being sociable wears me out.  I came home exhausted.  But I'm pleased I went, and I'll go again.

Highlights:

A t-shirt that read, "Eventing: because bull riding only lasts 8 seconds."

Safety committee chair Sarah Broussard pointing out that eventing is "the original X game,"  (coolness factor  high--where is that Jennifer Lawrence??) but then spreading the welcome news that we had a very good year, accident-wise, with something like 0.01% of all starts producing more than "a bruise."

Aging superstar (and my personal hero) Jimmy Wofford saying in answer to the question, "how can we help the adult amateur rider?": "Box wine at all events."

My saying to my trainer, Betty, "I have a few questions," and Betty saying, "You know, I'm getting used to that."

New cross-country vests that are anatomically designed for women.  I said, "Look--those vests have boobs!" and one of my thin female friends said, "Excellent!  I've always wanted boobs!"  (I bought one.  I have a short wide torso and have always found it difficult to get a vest that doesn't bang the back of my saddle but still closes around my middle.  My current vest lacks space for boobs and when wearing it I always feel like I've been stuffed into a corset upside down--it's hard to draw a deep breath in the thing.  This new vest is the bomb.  But I traveled to the convention with only carry-luggage and packing the new vest was like trying to pack a large unstuffed turkey.  I managed only because packing luggage is one of my superpowers.)

Eventers are amazing people.  We help each other, always.  At past competitions I've borrowed stock pins,  hole punches, and even a complete stranger's dressage coat.  A ten-year-old once loaned me her riding crop, after doing the math to be sure I'd be done with my course before she started her warmup.  I've loaned hammers, bandages, stock ties and my spiral hose.  Saturday morning Jimmy Wofford moderated an open meeting on the challenges facing eventing in the future.  About 200 people attended, including the presidents of the USEA, the national pony club, and the United States Equestrian Federation, the overall governing body of all horse sports.  People began to discuss pony club as a vehicle for new eventers (it has always been so), and then some speakers talked about "kids these days," about how pony clubbers rode hugely expensive mounts and were all interested in other activities and never took the time to volunteer (eventing requires a large number of volunteers).  I of course could not keep my mouth shut.  I stood up and spoke about my fantastic pony club--about how 2 years ago I'd inherited a club of 6 girls, none of whom rated higher that D3 and some of whom didn't get along.  How I'd thrown them together for 3 days on my farm, and made them a team.  How now we had a club of 15, including 2 HBs and 3 C2s (if you're not pony club, you won't understand that, but my audience knew it was impressive), and how none of them had master-level instruction or expensive horses, but last summer I'd sent a team to Midsouth eventing rally; they went up early to help decorate the course and then finished first in horse management.  I said, "It turns out, they didn't need fancy horses.  What they needed was each other."  I said if my girls had the chance to volunteer at Rolex I'd drive them the ten hours round-trip and they'd do it.  I said that I thought, more than anything else, that relationships were what mattered in our sport.

I hadn't sat back down more than 30 seconds before the woman who coordinates the Rolex volunteers was slipping her card into my hand.  Another woman, an A pony club graduate and former Rolex rider (again, if you're not an eventer, you probably don't know what Rolex means.  It's short for the Kentucky Rolex Three-day Event, and it's the highest level of event competition in North America.  The third week in April, every year.) gave me her contact information and offered to drive down to teach our club.  Other people reached out to me throughout the rest of the day, offering suggestions and opportunities for my kids.  It's awesome; we're going to have a great year.

In terms of being of service to my sport, someone at the bar Saturday night steered me toward someone else, who gleefully promised that she would see I became useful.  Also, my Area Chair took a photograph of me so that she would have proof that I agreed to ride for Area 3 in the team championships next fall. 

Also, I got the dress code right.  I was helped by a certain anonymous four-star rider, of approximately my own age, who laid it out in plain terms:  "Saturday lunch, jeans.  Saturday dinner, absolutely a dress.  Not pants.  A dress."  She's on the national training list for this year.  How was their meeting? I asked her Friday night.  She shrugged.  "They told us to quit riding like effing idiots," she said.  To which another rider said, "sounds like a plan."

I love eventers.