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[RC] Written about eventing, could apply to endurance - Randy or Cheryl Winter

No One Can Fix Eventing Except The Riders
May 9, 2008 Issue 

The writer has a unique perspective on the serious responsibilities that
every upper-level rider must assume.

I feel like 250,000 people out there are yelling that our sport is bad, and
there are about 250 riders saying it¹s not the sport that¹s a problem, it¹s
individuals. And we¹re whispering, and we¹re not being heard.

Every article you pick up, every outside influence, is saying that we need
to change the sport?we¹ve got to make it safer, we¹ve got to do all these
things. To me it really isn¹t the sport that needs to change, it¹s the way
the sport is being played. You can¹t make enough rules to make somebody

For instance at Rolex Kentucky, what prompted Emilee Libby to pull up at
Fence 7A and not continue? Was it the fact that she had a bad fall or had
seen a bad fall? What made her make that decision? That was the best piece
of horsemanship I saw all weekend.

The first thing we have to do is stop looking to the organizations?the U.S.
Eventing Association or U.S. Equestrian Federation?and stop looking to rule
changes, and accept personal responsibility.

It¹s like when you stop at a stoplight and the light turns green. Do you
just take off, or do you look left and look right before you take off and
make sure no one else is coming the other way? I mean, I look both ways
before I go. That¹s the kind of personal responsibility that we need to take
at this level. 

At lower levels, it¹s different. We¹re working with the Instructor
Certification Program, and everyone¹s
trying to up the standards at the lower levels. But at the top, you¹ve
gotten there. And you need to have some self-awareness, self-preservation.

In the races, at Saratoga [N.Y.] one year, there were some rumors that the
officials wanted to take the
second fence off the backside because that¹s where most of the falls occur.
But then the falls are just going to happen at the next fence, because
everybody is making a move there. They can¹t keep changing the sport. Riders
who aren¹t paying attention are going to keep finding ways to fall.

Learning From Tragedy

I lost my wife Amanda at an event 10 years ago. Let¹s use her example as a
teaching tool. She made a mistake. I made a mistake, and the sport didn¹t
make a mistake. 

By pushing so hard to achieve goals, we¹re pushing right past the point. Do
you know why Amanda didn¹t make the team? Because she didn¹t live long
enough. Because she pushed so hard to get there that she died in the
process. It¹s horrible and it¹s tragic, but it wasn¹t the sport¹s fault.
Nobody made her run that horse. I never told her not to run the horse. We
sat at home and tried to figure out how to make the horse go better instead
of saying maybe this horse isn¹t an advanced horse. Maybe he¹s good at the
intermediate level.

When you are team-bound, when you are goal-driven, you don¹t look at life
that way until it¹s too late. I¹m trying to tell people, sometimes it¹s
better to go home and come back another day. Sometimes it¹s better to look
at your horse and say, ³You know what buddy, I love you, but maybe the
four-star, or the three-star or even the two-star level is above you,² and
not push your horse or yourself past the point you can do.

I don¹t understand why people think that they have a god-given right to go
around Kentucky as fast as they can or as fast as they want to. It¹s your
job out there to take care of you and your horse first. If you don¹t like a
course, don¹t run it. If you think questions aren¹t fair, don¹t run. Most
people don¹t do that. Some said this year looked like a soft Kentucky, and I
said there¹s no such thing as a soft four-star. Maybe this one wasn¹t as
tough as others, but it¹s tough. Don¹t mistake it.

Amanda had five advanced horses?Regal Style, Chevalier, Broadstone Harvest
Moon, Exodus, and Drizzle was on his way. Berlioz [whom she fell with] was
just trying to catch up to the others. Maybe it¹s my fault. Maybe I should
have said, ³Hey Amanda, you know, the horse really doesn¹t want to do it.²

But I was 27 years old; she was 28. You don¹t think that way. You think, ³I
need more horses so I can get on the team.² And she would have made the
team?Chevalier did go to the Olympics when Bobby Costello took over the
ride. It wouldn¹t even have taken any more time. But she didn¹t get to make
the decision because she was too ambitious.

Know When To Call It A Day

You have to be aggressive in this sport. It is X-C; there is an X in front
of it. It is an X game. This is an adrenaline sport, and you have to be on
the edge. It is tough; it is a thrill. You can¹t come out and ride it like
it¹s the hunters either, but you have to know by the time you get to the
upper levels, that there is a day that you have to pull up.

It¹s part of the game to say, ³This is not my day² and go home. I did it at
the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.)?my horse had two more stops to go [before being
eliminated], and the stops he¹d had were not horrible, but my horse said,
³You know what, I don¹t want to do this.² And I said, ³OK, let¹s go home
before we get hurt.² And I went home and didn¹t get hurt.

When you have consistent things telling you that you are having a bad day,
you¹ve got to make the decision: Do you want to pull up, or do you want to
go home in an ambulance? I¹ve got to tell you: pull up! Walk your horse
home. There is no shame in retiring.

Go home, school, figure out what¹s going on, and maybe, your horse isn¹t a
four-star horse. Maybe your horse isn¹t a three-star horse. Maybe you¹re not
a four-star rider. Maybe you¹re not a three-star rider. Those are facts you
have to face, but don¹t kill yourself trying.

Laine Ashker has been going fast since early March, in Florida?she¹s had the
fastest time cross-country consistently. And is it my fault, me, Danny
Warrington, is it my fault for not calling up Laine and saying, ³If you
don¹t slow down you¹re going to fall?² But she¹s winning; she¹s qualified,
and everything looks good.

But how many people besides me see this and don¹t say anything? No one says

It¹s not the sport¹s fault because she¹s met the qualifications. It¹s not
the design of the course because everybody else jumped relatively well
around Kentucky this year. It is a four-star?there should be a 50 percent
finish rate clean. Not everyone should jump around a four-star clean,
otherwise it¹s a training level horse trial. I don¹t think that¹s
unreasonable at that level. But it should be because a rider retires or
makes a good decision, not because a rider keeps pushing until he or she
goes home in an ambulance.

You¹ve got to wake up and say, ³You know what, my day is not going good, and
I need to pull up. This isn¹t working out.² And live to fight another day.
It¹s not up to your coach or the USEA or USEF to tell you that. Because you
should know. By the time you get to that level, you should know.

Accidents are always going to happen. But if the horse and rider have the
right mindset, you¹re going to see fewer of them.

I don¹t think you can make rules to stop them. They have to stop themselves.
You can¹t stop every drunk driver from getting on the road. As the rider,
you feel that it is not your day. Not every horse is an advanced horse, and
not every rider is an advanced rider. As riders, as horsemen, we need to
really understand that. Just because you¹re qualified to go doesn¹t mean
you¹re ready to go.

Waylon Roberts had a great round, and he¹s 19. He comes from a horseman¹s
family. We can¹t make rules that say you¹ve got to be at least 25 years old
to ride around Kentucky, because that¹s not fair either. But you have to
have a serious amount of experience before you attempt something at that
level. So many of these younger riders go out without the mileage to feel if
the horse is tired, or understand the difference between tired and off the

Let¹s Help Ourselves

If we as competitors who love our sport would shout out what is really wrong
with the sport, which is the way some people are playing it, then we might
have a chance against people who are trying to shut us down. And instead of
whispering about what¹s wrong, addressing it.

That¹s sort of why I¹m coming forward and saying that Amanda¹s accident had
nothing to do with the fence, the day, the footing or lighting or time, or
anything but that we were pushing a horse to go advanced that wasn¹t really
ready or maybe wasn¹t an advanced horse.

The reason that I¹m talking about Amanda¹s fall is that maybe there are
others out there who feel that their fall was due to poor judgment on their
part, that they may speak out. Because the world believes that the sport is
the problem. And I believe it¹s the greatest game on the planet when you
play it right.

Learn from mistakes you see around you, and don¹t expect the organization to
do things for you. 

Coaches?if you don¹t think your kid isn¹t ready to go novice, training,
preliminary, intermediate, or advanced, don¹t let them. Don¹t send them out
there if they¹re not ready. That is a very tough thing to have to live with,
and believe me, you don¹t want to live with it.

The word ³no² has to come out of your mouth. The words ³you¹re not ready²
have to come out of your mouth. The words ³your horse isn¹t that quality²
have to come out of your mouth. If you lose a customer and he goes to
somebody else, if we all agree that we¹re not going to do this anymore,
maybe we can help ourselves help our sport instead of looking at the

And one more point: I hear people talking about horses that have had these
issues, like Amy Tryon last year at Kentucky, or Jonathan Holling¹s horse
who had an aneurysm at Red Hills (Fla.). And I want to say to people: if you
haven¹t had a horse break down underneath of you, if you haven¹t had a horse
have an aneurysm, if you haven¹t had a horse flip, if you have not ridden
advanced, maybe this isn¹t something you need to be talking about. Because
you don¹t have the experience. And all you have is an opinion.

Because I¹ve had all of those things happen. I lost my wife. I¹ve had horses
break their legs and break down. Between racing and eventing, there¹s not a
lot that hasn¹t happened to me. And don¹t judge people until you¹ve been in
that situation. I mean that in a positive way: I don¹t want everybody to
have those situations. But listen to the people who have. Don¹t push when
you shouldn¹t push. There¹s a day to pull up. There¹s a day to go home, and
there¹s a day to fight again.

We don¹t have to change the sport. We have to change way the sport is being
played by the players.

Danny Warrington

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