Thursday, October 16, 2014

An Eventing Side Note

As many of my readers (if I have any!) may or may not know, the USEA is looking at a rule change that will increase the size of a maximum of two show jump fences (a vertical and an oxer) for BN-T and increase the speeds and speed penalty times for BN-T. For readers who do not know about eventing, these are the basic current rules:

Beginner Novice:
-Equivalent to a training level dressage test
-2'7" max height in show jumping and cross country (brush fences up to 3' on xc)
-XC spreads 2'9" at the top of the fence
-XC speeds of 300-350mpm, XC speed fault time of 420mpm (training level speed)
-SJ spreads of 3'3" oxers, 3'11" triple bars

-Equivalent to a training level dressage test
-2'11" max height in show jumping and cross country (brush fences up to 3'7" on xc)
-XC spreads 3'3" at the top of the fence
-XC speeds of 350-400mpm, XC speed fault time of 450mpm (training level speed)
-SJ spreads of 3'7" oxers, 4'3" triple bars

-Equivalent to a first level dressage test
-3'3" max height in show jumping and cross country (brush fences up to 3'11" on xc)
-XC spreads 3'11" at the top of the fence, 5'11" at the base
-XC speeds of 420-470mpm, XC speed fault time of 520mpm (prelim level speed)
-SJ spreads of 3'11" oxers, 4'7" triple bars

Just to note, rarely do BN and N max out their widths on SJ or XC. At the horse trials I've been to, they keep the jumps in SJ fairly square (not as in a square oxer, but the width rarely exceeds the height), but you will see a handful of jumps on XC that are wider than they are tall. What I do see most often however is optimum time (you must complete the course between OT and the speed penalty time, otherwise you get penalties for going too slow or too fast) is usually set at the top of the pace range for the level.

The new proposed rules for speeds and jump height:

There are more proposed rules that basically allow more difficult combinations of jumps on Beginner Novice and Novice cross country as well, but in the interest of not making this post a million pages long, you can check them out here.

To whom it may concern,

I have not evented in several years, but when I did, I had no plans of ever moving out of Novice, if I made the move up successfully. I mostly did not want to move up because the jumps were 2’11” high and wider than I was comfortable and I am not the most confident jumping rider. I made the switch to dressage because I wanted to keep moving up and getting better, but I just wasn’t confident enough to jump the higher jumps. I can now ride the Advanced Dressage tests. If these new rules had been implemented when I was eventing, I probably would have quit because I was having enough trouble as it is.

Here is a rule my trainer has: if you want to show BN (which is 2’7”), you need to be schooling Novice show jumping and cross country questions at home (2’11”) so when you get out in public, none of the questions at BN surprise you. In changing even just one fence to 2’10” tall and 3’5” wide, you’ve blown the 'schooling a level above' rule to hell because that’s almost Novice dimensions. Now I’d have to be schooling Training heights (3’3”) to make the rule work, just to show BN. I don’t know many perpetual BN riders or riders with very green horses who school Training level on a regular basis. If you want to jump higher, either move up to the next level or do the hybrid divisions so you can jump higher in SJ. That’s the point of having different levels. When you’re comfortable and willing to jump 2’10” in public, you move up to Novice.

As to the pace, why aren’t we forcing riders to learn the pace appropriate for the level and jump height? I have a thoroughbred who when we started eventing, I couldn’t get him to make the optimum time (we were slow) because I couldn’t keep a consistent pace because I was afraid of the jumps and just letting my horse settle and do his job. I wore a watch, I walked courses with a wheel, I found where my minute markers were, and those helped me find the right gallop (more like canter). More experience helped too. Yes, as we got better and steadier with our pace, we started covering more ground. I was able to find my pace because I was able to stop worrying about the height and width of the jumps. When I rode my first novice mini trial, I figured out my markers simply by guessing as I walked without the wheel, and because I had learned to stay out of his way and just let him canter, I was well under the optimum time. I was close to the speed penalty time, but at no point was I pushing my horse to gallop and I never circled. The track was simply a flatter track that encouraged a big rolling stride that was set at the bottom of the Novice pace range (as appropriate since it’s a schooling horse trial). I shifted my seat to slow him a little in the back half of the course and all was well. Riders need to learn to adjust their pace. If that’s difficult to do so on their horse, they need to learn to do it anyway because as combinations get harder, you can’t be “balls to the walls” galloping at the jumps or yanking on the horse’s face to slow him down because you couldn’t rate your horse and never learned how. The horse needs to be adjustable, and it’s the rider’s job to figure out how to make him that way. Whether it’s a trainer that teaches the horse to be more adjustable and then puts the rider back on to teach the rider how to adjust, or the horse and rider learn together, it doesn’t matter, it just needs to happen. As for riders who want to ride faster on a BN course to practice the pace for a N course in public, let them and penalize them for going too fast. We can all make a choice to slow down and get a solid experience and slow time faults, or speed it up and get the speed time faults.

Additionally, the recognized events I've gone to usually have their optimum time set for the top of each speed range, or near the top. Increasing the speeds will allow course designers to use the new top end as their pace, forcing riders like me to ride faster than they're comfortable with just to make time. That's not allowing a nice experience since the rider is not free to trot a spooky jump or section of the track with bad footing. If anything, the speed fault time for BN should fall somewhere in the Novice range, not the training level range. We're jumping 2'7", not jumping down the head of the lake at Rolex. No one at BN needs to be allowed to go 520mpm (preliminary speed for jumps 3'7").

As for this part of the new rules: “The change of speed at which speed faults are calculated is to have one meaningful speed that competitors can learn and remember.”  Seriously? Riders that are capable of remembering dressage tests, show jump courses, and where that next jump on cross country is hiding are surely capable of opening the rulebook and looking up the new speed penalty time, if they even have to look it up at all after the first glance through! Please don’t insult your riders. They’re not stupid. Part of riding the next level is looking up what are allowed questions and speeds and learning what to expect on that next level. And why on earth should a BN rider and T rider have the same speed fault time? They’re competing at almost a foot in height difference, and more than a foot in jump widths. That is not making the speed appropriate to the jumps.

I don’t think raising the jump height and max allowed speed is in the best interest of the horses and riders. If a rider wanted to jump higher, or stop getting speed penalties for going too fast on XC, they should either learn to ride the level as required, or move up. If moving up is not within their ability, then they need to learn to ride the level as required. If riders don’t have the ability to move up, why change the level to force the move up? If the rider simply has no desire to move up, or a horse is simply not capable of moving up, why change the level to force them? Why should a rider who complains they get speed penalties because their horse is hard to adjust be allowed to move on? The levels don’t get easier. Make your horse’s pace match the size of the fence. Don’t make the size of the fence match the horse’s pace.

I also have an issue with the new rules about what is allowed on cross country. It seems these rules are to retroactively make already existing questions OK. Hold your TDs and course designers accountable for fences that are deemed inappropriate by the riders instead of adjusting the rules to allow for inappropriate jumps. For example: Beginner Novice is the starting point for most horses and riders who have little to no experience. The rules will now allow for a jump to be before and after the water crossing. How often have you seen more experienced horses (at say training level) jump a jump before water and then suck back and go, "whoa, there's water here!" They are surprised by the water elements still. How is a Beginner Novice horse supposed to react? How will a Beginner Novice rider (who has not competed above BN) convince a horse to jump the jump before the water when he's staring at the water? It's asking for a fall. Why are you asking the green horses and riders to navigate obstacles that are set in spooky and "gotcha" ways? Right now the most they have to to is steer to the next fence and keep their leg on, and have a good, safe experience. If a rider is bored with a level, they need to move on to the next, plain and simple. Don't adjust the levels so bored riders don't have to move up.

One thing I could support are standard championship level classes having a fence or two that are bigger in SJ, and combinations and questions on XC at the current level’s height, but the next level’s difficulty. If you’re going to a championship (area championships or the AEC), you’re probably bringing your A game and are a competent enough rider to handle the next level. That and it is a championship. Championships aren’t supposed to be hand holding events, they are a test of skill. Create a championship series at lower levels that allow the more difficult questions for riders who are looking to move up to the FEI levels eventually and the world stage.

Don't punish the backbone of the sport: the juniors on ponies and adult amateurs on their tried and true horses or adult amateurs that are nervous and just want to have a bit of fun. The professionals will continue to train their horses as they deem appropriate and move through the levels, but the thing to note is that they are professionals and it is their job to be better than the rest of us. They're the ones that will handle the changes the best. I know most lower level riders will probably be ok riding the changes. But in doing so, you've ruined the safe and fun environment that the lower levels create, as well as isolate and exclude the riders who pay the professionals.

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