Thursday, March 31, 2011

Follow-up: Course Photos

Munstead BE90 fence #4 from British Eventing Course Photos
*Note the 3 fences preceding this in the photo album. All of them make
a gradual and natural progression to this slightly
more intimidating spread. 

I am a "fan" of this British Eventing Course Photos page on Facebook and I can't believe I forgot to mention this great resource in my XC course description post from Tuesday. Once again, the British eventers have their act together and it's just one more fabulous example of the nice network they share amongst fellow riders. These are rider photos posted publicly for other riders to see when preparing for showing at certain locations and over specific tracks. I think that almost more than anything, seeing pictures of what you might/most likely expect at any given event helps a lower-level, young, or purely amateur rider overcome those "pre-event jitters" that certainly keep us - sometimes - from performing at our best. Maybe the course description/photos idea doesn't fall so much under skills preparation as it does sports psychology. :-) Were I to view the course in the Munstead album (linked to in the above photo), I would see some great elements -- which, taken alone, might be a bit beefy on their own -- but make sense as they are presented in the flow of the course. After seeing this, I would feel very good about entering this event, or if I was not sure my horse and I were ready, I would make a better-informed decision to enter at BE80/BN or school a bit more and choose an event another month or so down the road. It's all about having enough information to make good, safe decisions for ourselves beforehand. 

One issue that was (inevitably) raised after my previous course description post was the idea of "getting the answers to the test" beforehand. In my book, that refers to "cheating." What do you all think? Do these photos being shared amongst riders throughout a given season feel like cheating? I can see someone's point in feeling that way, but in all honesty, it's no different than if I were to visit a venue myself, walk the spring course, and then make a plan for what to expect on the fall course. Any changes or updates to that course being revealed between spring and fall doesn't seem like cheating, either, as I can maybe ramp up my ditch schools or practice more drops into water or other similar activities between spring and fall, but the fact still remains that Eddie won't see anything until we're galloping down to it on show day. The only difference is that I will feel prepared, and my gosh I know that 90% of my challenge on XC day isn't always the's getting my head out of my ass and onto the job at hand. Course photos and descriptions seem to make me more prepared (thus, a better, SAFER rider on the day). I'd really be interested to know if most people see this type of resource as a great benefit to riders, or a dishonest approach to competing.

Another comment I've heard about my post involved the issue of less dressings at the lower levels (which almost everyone agreed with unanimously, especially if that allowed the organizers to save money on the LL fences and perhaps use that for a more meaningful return to the competitors....more prizes, more food at the competitor's party, another port-a-potty or two....whatever). The one sketchy comment I did hear said something along the lines of "decorations aren't a problem if you do your homework before the event." In theory, this is true and I know what that speaker intended by that comment. But, in all reality, it is absurd to work into our schooling routine a special consideration JUST FOR tackling the challenge of checkered table cloths, wooden animal cut-outs, or plastic watermelons. That's expensive for me to have to recreate at home, and it doesn't AT ALL relate to the things we should really be asked to have mastered at an event at the lower levels: balance, forward momentum, scope, accuracy, pace, connection, control, etc. Nowhere in the annals of the history of the sport of eventing does it say "and thus a horse and rider combination should always be ready and prepared to encounter natural obstacles (as would be found hunting or riding across country) such as banks, ditches, streams, drops, hedges, stone walls, and wooden rolltops with plastic Canada Geese scattered on top of and around the base of the jump." Decorations are ACCESSORY, and often they are a distraction from the true test at hand. Brush or wood chips are part of the fundamental obstacle dressing and I love flowers or bushes, hay bales, pine straw, or stone that help to shape or fill-in a jump (especially a portable jump); plastic toys or cups/plates are TRASH, as far as my horse is concerned, and I don't ask him to jump fences covered in junk when I'm at home. Why would I want to pay $150 to do that in front of my friends, peers, and God-knows-who-else at a competition? 

Ultimately, I was thrilled to hear that there are many other frustrated eventers out there and I don't feel alone in my musings on this subject. If anything, it has caused me to think, "You know, just because it doesn't affect 100% of the eventers out there doesn't mean it ISN'T a problem." If someone is worried about it, and then it seems that more and more people are bothered by it as well, then it garners discussion. I am by no means a whiny cupcake, and I have honestly done far better in my competition experiences than it sounds, so maybe I shouldn't be complaining. But, I see something that bothers me and I feel as though it is causing friction that damages the sport I love a lot. Bottom line: I didn't start this conversation to criticize or demand changes in courses on the whole. I'm really not that horrified about what I've faced in the past, and Eddie has jumped everything in front of him in our dozen or so recognized events the past few years. What I initially wanted to put forth was simply a way to better know and prepare for what those courses are (especially if it's a course or venue where I've never ridden). How do we make smart decisions on where to go for a good experience and a sound investment for our hard-earned cash? Something like the ERA course updates page or the Facebook course photos page may be a GREAT step in the right direction for what a lot of us out there are looking for. Helping even one eventer make a good decision to find the right event is success, in my book. If we could turn that into 10 eventers, or 20, or 100, then we'd really be rolling!

No comments: