Thursday, May 20, 2021

keeping it in the family

I remain personally skeptical of the general value of recognized vs unrecognized horse trials, honestly for a variety of reasons. This previous 2015 discussion post partly explains my thinking, but my thoughts have evolved further after getting more involved in this sport. 

holy cow intermediate jumps have a shit ton of surface area tho, omg
For instance, in Area II - my local eventing region - we are blessed with a jam-packed events calendar that includes a WIDE variety of both recognized and unrecognized events. Sure, some of the starter events are held at venues or on courses that might not necessarily meet the standard for USEA licensing. 

But... Many run at the exact same venues as recognized events -- utilizing the same jumps built by the same builders, and often identical courses designed by the same course designers. 

it's slow going, but using a paint roller helped. pro tip: reload the roller often
So it's entirely possible for a low level eventer in Area II to get out and about at all the best venues and compete through Modified at about half the cost of doing so at licensed recognized shows. Our area even boasts a long format unrecognized event too -- the Quarter Star 3 Day at Full Moon Farm (home to the Fultons). 

looking reasonably ok after one coat! probably shoulda done another, but i had 6 more to do.. sooo... yea, this works!
This local richness within the eventing community and calendar obviously plays a big role in my thought process when it comes to choosing what to enter. Like.... I could enter the recognized HT at Shawan Downs this weekend, OR, the starter HT at Shawan Downs next weekend

Same venue, same jumps, possibly slightly different courses but.... One is also 50% the cost of the other lol. And Charlie most certainly doesn't know the difference between them. Seems like kinda a no-brainer, right?

slightly brighter gray for the T steeplechase
There are other, newer, reasons why I'm questioning the value of recognized this year. Mostly... It's not at all clear to me that US Eventing really cares about my segment of their rider base. And by "my segment," I'm referring to the perennially low level adult amateurs who have about zero likelihood of ever being named to any sort of team or developing riders list. 

next victims awaiting their fate
For instance, the big $500K fundraising push** to get Kentucky running for what amounted to about ~160 entries, really left a sour taste for me. Not bc it's an unworthy cause, or whatever, but... bc there are needier causes. Like, can you imagine what local venues offering nationally recognized classes to the sport's base could do with even a portion of that money?  

(**And the subsequent deafening silence regarding the obscene number of horse falls (vs refusals) on what was unquestionably a punishing 5* course, from the sport that just "invested" so much in rider safety by building out all those frangible tables that may or may not actually be meaningfully safer than traditional tables.... Bc god forbid we tarnish the image of grassroots fundraising and the heroics of Mars Equestrian.....)

trying not to accidentally paint this pretty faux foliage. i got best results with getting right on top of (literally) this plank up against the brush first, then going back for the rest of the jump body next
At Morven, for instance, the volunteer coordinator told me they spent $3K on lunches and snacks for volunteers and officials over a two day weekend with ~300 entries this past spring. That's a shitload of money for just plain old food. 

It was very good food too -- but it kinda has to be, bc remember: Our community's dense events calendar means all these venues compete for access to a sufficient volunteer base to safely administer their shows. And as far as I can tell, US Eventing as a governing agency overseeing event licensing hasn't really addressed volunteer scarcity, or its ramifications on event safety.

ta da!! also... isn't Shawn Downs just the prettiest place?!
And of course. None of that says ANYTHING about all of the important conversations and dialogue last year about what it means to expand access to horses and horse sports. Sure, everyone posted their requisite 'black square' photos and lists of new accounts to follow on IG. And Eventing Nation ran that wildly ill-conceived essay contest inviting the community to solve the DEI issues in exchange for a laughably small pot of prize money. 

went back to add contrasting edge lines while i had the bright gray paint out. this little bit of contrast where the front face hits roughly a 45* slope is believed to help horses better read and make a good shape over the jump.
Sure, US Eventing amplified the voices and increased representation of POC within the community, plus held a number of webinars and committee meetings on the subject. And I believe there's a handful of new scholarship opportunities out there for the lucky chosen.

But... when push came to shove, the community at large rallied around a $500K fundraising effort dedicated to the Kentucky 5* -- the most elite and inaccessible event on the calendar. Bc at the end of the day, US Eventing is focused on developing team competitiveness on the international stage. That is its mission, full stop.

dear lord it was stressful transporting paint across xc fields in my brand-new-to-me car tho....
That's not my mission, tho. For me, my objectives in horses go in a few different directions. 

First and foremost, obviously I want to enjoy my horse to the absolute fullest -- do the best we can with what we have, and pursue any and every opportunity that looks fun or fulfilling to me. I want to test and challenge myself and grow as a horsewoman, while also fully enjoying every small quiet moment in between.  

moving on to the next set: barrels!
Secondly, tho, I really love sharing the joy that comes from horses and doing whatever small part I can to enable horsey experiences for those who otherwise fall well outside the umbrella of what US Eventing (or any other national organization) might consider "their base." 

For most of my horsey life, this meant working and volunteering at lesson barns -- where it was absolutely normal to not own one's own horse, and to work in exchange for saddle time, or even just to work for the sake of being around horses. 

had to break out the brush for this one, sadly. the brush is better for those hard-to-reach spots, but is slower and feels like it uses up more paint
Today, this mostly means volunteering at horse shows and for my local combined training association, the MCTA, which offers 1 recognized HT and 2-3 starters each year. PLUS their members are eligible for fun year end awards and recognition etc without necessitating USEA membership or any recognized competition experience. 

Like any other local association, the board is made up of overworked and underappreciated horse people who mostly do it out of passion for the community, all while operating on a shoestring budget. They're a critical part of the local community, tho, esp when it comes to creating opportunities with low costs of entry.

my last assigned fence: T barrels 
Basically, I've decided my time and resources are better spent on local venues and organizations, where they'll have a bigger impact on my community. For instance, unrecognized entry fees aren't subject to USEA-mandated surcharges or ancillary costs. So venues often use unrecognized events to subsidize budget items like prizes, volunteer incentives, grounds maintenance, new jumps, etc etc etc. Aka, those dollars get "reinvested." 

These same local venues and organizations are also likeliest to offer events with the lowest costs of entry -- everything from schooling dressage and jumper shows up to unrecognized HTs -- to offset the costs of their bigger nationally recognized or FEI licensed events (think venues like: Loch Moy, Fair Hill, Plantation, Morven, Waredaca, MCTA, etc).

base painting slightly complicated by the lack of weed-whacking...
So it's easier to see a direct link between my membership and entry fees and the aspects of community access that matter most to me. As opposed to fees paid to US Eventing, underwriting the latest high performance training camp or young rider championships. Ya know, so the professionals can prep for Tokyo or the kids who bought UL horses from those same pros can accomplish something "special." That's all well and good too -- don't get me wrong -- but that's not *my* passion haha. 

Ultimately, in years past I've always ended up renewing my USEA membership "just in case" -- and have entered and ridden in a (small) number of recognized events too. But... Eh, this year I think I'll skip it and keep my money local.  

Obviously this all acknowledges that Area II is somewhat unique in the eventing world, and not all areas offer equal access to lower cost (but still high quality) starter trials and schooling shows. But I'm curious -- do you have any similar feelings of skepticism toward the national governing agencies? Or maybe you feel very differently, for reasons I've completely missed? 

And obvi I'm always supportive of people living their horsey lifestyles exactly as they see fit -- so if competing recognized is important to you for reasons that are unimportant to me, there is exactly zero judgment here. I'm honestly just curious to see what (if anything?) people think about it? 


  1. I prefer to do a mixture of both. In Area IV we don't have a lot of show opportunities, whether recognized or schooling. You kind of have to take what you can get. I appreciate the schooling shows for the low cost and general laid back attitude, but there is no replacement (in my opinion) for the big atmosphere of a 2 day recognized event.

    Most of our schooling shows usually don't have enough volunteers to have people out at every xc jump, and so safety and fairness are a concern. Also at local schooling shows, the course setting and fence construction/design can be sometimes questionable.

    I entirely agree with the sentiment regarding USEA/USEF and especially around the whole Kentucky fundraising efforts. At least for me though, the cost of a USEA event has not yet outweighed my dislike for the organization enough to make me not want to give them any more of my money. It's still significantly cheaper than competing in rated H/J shows, although if the volunteer shortage is not addressed, we could be looking at alarmingly rising costs soon!

  2. Your why is sooo strong and compelling "First and foremost, obviously I want to enjoy my horse to the absolute fullest -- do the best we can with what we have, and pursue any and every opportunity that looks fun or fulfilling to me. I want to test and challenge myself and grow as a horsewoman, while also fully enjoying every small quiet moment in between."

    I love that, I loved your second too.. I need to mull this over.

  3. Although I am primarily a dressage rider, my feelings about showing are pretty similar to yours. I have felt alienated from USDF/USEF for a long time and have no desire to return to those organizations as a competitor.

    My other reason for not showing rated is that I have some performance anxiety and tend to choke. I have entered some unrated schooling shows in recent years, however, because I find they are a low stakes way to work on overcoming my anxiety.

    Most times, I would rather spend my money educating myself with lessons and clinics than enter shows. That is where my passion lies.

  4. I had lofty goals for finally getting to recognized shows this year for cross country, but they were all waylaid by stifle issues and the pandemic. But Area VII has so few events and they are scattered across a significant distance requiring a lot of travel commitment if I want to even remotely qualify for anything.

    We have maybe a few more local schooling opportunities but it's a struggle. I definitely don't feel like a membership is worth it for me at my expected level of competition, let alone actually competing and dropping money into a cost intensive competition.

  5. I have not shown consistently since high school when I competed in dressage. On my budget it was much more fun to do our local schooling shows consistently and do an occasional rated show. Once we, hopefully, start eventing, I don't plan on doing any recognized until/unless we move up to novice because that is also the level I'd consider trying to qualify for AECs. Area III has a lot of schooling shows held a week or two after recognized events on the same courses. Having volunteered at both, I can say that they are often just as busy and hectic as the recognized events. I had not put much thought into what the governing bodies do or don't do for their members and sport since it's been years since I gave anyone my money consistently. Definitely something to think about as we start thinking about competing some day.

  6. As a budding professional, I have no choice but to compete recognized (dressage, in South Africa), but I absolutely hear you. Before I started working for the Friesian stud, I was pretty happy to only go to schooling shows. Even as someone hoping to ride the big levels someday, I still feel that the sport MUST start channeling some of its money - money it gains from its members, the vast majority of which are lower-level riders - towards those same lower-level riders. By the time you've actually got a top-level horse, surely you've found a way to spend large amounts of money on your sport. Do you really need ALL the funding to go to you, or can the kids or ammies who pay for riding from their own (or their parents') pocket have some too?
    I feel like the only thing I get out of having a recognized membership is getting my scores recorded. Honestly, I don't think it costs as much money as I spend to make that happen each year. Yes, recognized shows are great, but I pay for those, too, in all those extra levies that make them twice as pricey as a schooling show in the very same arena with the very same judge.

  7. I think you made a whole bunch of good points but then my brain started to bleed when I saw you putting open paint holders in your new car. The stress was so great that i couldn't concentrate. :)

  8. First of all, I have to paint my arena fence this year so whstcar3 you doing in early June? 😁
    Second, it’s very similar here in Canada. I feel that I get very little benefit from my membership. Most of the opportunities here have been EC sanctioned shows but at least I can compete at Bronze. There was a push for more schooling shows and those are fun. If there was a stronger circuit I would definitely do that.
    It cheeses me off because us AAs are the main funding source for these organizations and they cannot be bothered to support in any way.


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