Monday, September 13, 2010

In the company of eventers

(Pictured left: Jodie Stowell and Comet headed for cross-country!)

My trip to the American Eventing Championships this past weekend was really wonderful! Yes, it would have been more exhilerating, challenging, and rewarding had I been competing as well, but just getting to spend time at the gorgeous new Chattahoochee Hills/Bouckaert Farms was amazing, and the quality companionship of my friends was fabulous. I really thought it was a super event and I think everybody was happy. Lots of smiling faces and very content horses and ponies everywhere! Congratulations to my friend, Jodie Stowell, and her sweet horse, Comet, who finished 6th in their Preliminary Amateur division. They were the only pair to show jump clean (with only 1 time fault). Way to go, Jodie!!!

I have been reading Sara Gruen's novel, Water for Elephants, and it is a wonderful book (and, not just because it's about animals). There is a line in the book that talks about the main character and his desire to be "in the company of animals" and -- besides my contentment in the self-same situation -- it makes me think of the safety, satisfaction, and comfort being in the company of anything a person really loves. That's what prompted the title of this blog entry today.

Regarding my comment from last week about being in a place where everybody "speaks the same language," it is so true, particularly of eventers. There are less than 20,000 eventers in the U.S. registered with the USEA (this doesn't account for a certain number of eventers out there who are no longer actively competing, have let their registration lapse, or are competing at a level low enough that they aren't required to be active members of the USEA). That's a tiny, tiny number of participants in a world-class, Olympic sport. It makes for a small world, a tight concentration of fellow riders and competitors, and a limited circle of others out there who understand what we all do everyday and on a regular basis. When walking to/from cross-country at any given event, two riders may pass one another: one on the way to the start box, and one on the way back to the barns after completing the course -- and the universe of meaning that can pass between two "strangers" in just one meeting of the eyes, nod of the head, and softly whispered "good luck" is almost impossible to describe to a non-eventer. Eventers do not compete against one another. Perhaps that is what makes it such a special sport. We all train together, compare notes, advise one another, encourage one another, lend/borrow equipment, give one another rides to lessons/shows/clinics, etc., in a spirit of comaraderie. What is transmitted between two riders passing on the hack to cross-country is simply the concept that "You and I are two very lucky people to be sitting here on these horses, on this day, getting to do this activity. Good luck to you, because I want you to do well, have fun, conquor your fears, excel in your partnership, rise higher and accomplish more than you ever have before. And -- more than anything -- I want you and your horse to finish that course safe and sound." Just a passing glance in the world of an eventer can say volumes that are never, ever truly spoken. Because, only another eventer can understand what goes on in the hearts and minds of all the eventers out there.

 I had such a great time this weekend at AECs, and even though I wasn't riding, I really was. I "jumped" every obstacle with each rider out there, I "galloped" each stride, and I "saw" every spot, "checked" at each turn and drop, and "kicked on" as each rider aimed for the finish flags. I think eventing is such a special sport, because there are so few of us out there. In some respects, I would love for our sport to be well-known, popular, with heavy involvement from people all over the world, so that random strangers I might pass on the street would know exactly what I do and how that shapes me and makes me special. But, that's just not the way it is. Very few people even know what "eventing" is, as opposed to something mainstream like football, baseball, basketball, golf, tennis, or hockey. We are like the residents of a miniscule country that are surrounded on all sides by the inhabitants of a large nation that lets us pass into its borders, and vice versa, seemlessly and wordlessly, yet at the end of the day, the "Eventing Nation" goes back home and sleeps soundly in the knowledge that no matter who they are, where they go, what their accomplishments are, or how they succeed (and sometimes fail), that they are happily and forever "in the company of eventers."

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