Karen Czarick – Equine Blogger
Following on from Part Two with Karen on Intro to Eventing
Check it out before you try it
If you’ve not competed in a horse trial before, perhaps having attended one already as a spectator had a lot to do with piquing your interest in the sport. Going to an event to observe, I believe, is one of the most logical first steps to help you learn what to expect and what it is you need to do to prepare to compete yourself. If the competitions you attend as a spectator are national or international competitions, they are undoubtedly inspiring and a great place to see some great athletes and good riding. But ideally, you will also attend several introductory-level schooling events to get a more relevant idea of what your first competition experience will be like. If possible, you will attend competitions not only of the caliber of your first events, but at some of the same venues.
Variety is the spice of Life
One of the neat things about eventing that serves to keep the sport interesting even if a horse and rider stay at one level for quite a few competitions is that each venue is so varied. Each facility has its own unique challenges. And, even within the same venue’s parameters, organizers have the options to change stadium and cross-country courses, swap out dressage tests, or even change the locations of the dressage arenas from one event to the next. Additionally, the competitors attending, weather and footing conditions, judges, etc., ensure that even a specific venue is never really the same place twice. But, attending as spectator an event of the same caliber and at the same venue where you hope to make your competition debut is going to give you the most accurate idea of what you can expect.
Ideally, you should try to shadow a competitor throughout the duration of a competition. It shouldn’t be difficult to find a local amateur competitor (a friend, fellow boarder or student) who would love to have you tag along. Offer to groom; it’s a great way to be useful while immersing yourself in the experience. Hanging out at the stabling or trailering grounds and around the warm-up areas will give you a much better idea of what goes on at events. It will also show you firsthand how welcoming the eventing community is. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to competitors and other grooms. Most are happy to talk about the sport, and love to talk about their horses.
Just be aware of timing; striking up a conversation when someone is relaxed during a long stretch of downtime between phases is a good idea. Of course, doing the same when that person is in a panic trying to find a medical armband is not!
Find a travel buddy
See if you can make arrangements to travel with the competitor to the competition so you can go through every step of the process, from checking in with the secretary to setting up stabling to walking cross-country and stadium courses. Go as far as memorizing the dressage test and stadium courses and see if you are able to remember them accurately as you watch. Be aware and perceptive of what’s going on around you…both the big picture and the minute details. Don’t be afraid to make notes. Look at what equipment and barn supplies riders bring along, observe how they organize their time (one of the trickiest and most valuable skills to master as a competitive eventer), study grooming, tacking, and post-ride horse maintenance. Listen to trainers coaching from the sidelines, eavesdrop (within reason) as they walk courses with their students. Submersion is key. This is no guarantee your personal competition experiences will run exactly the same, but it’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the experience.
All of this will give you a lot to think about as you yourself prepare for your first event. But, even before that, it will help you prepare for one of your next steps in the process: volunteering at a competition. More about that in Part Four!
Intro to Eventing Series
Karen Czarick of Dancing Horse Farm who led a team of four to the Chronicle of the Horse 2013 USEA Training Adult Riders Eastern USA win.