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All Breeds Go At The American Eventing Championships

All Breeds Go At The American Eventing Championships

Earlier this summer, I came across an “ISO” post on Facebook for someone looking to buy their first show jumper. “Budget is tight” it said at the top, then listed a few not out-of-the-ordinary qualities; desired age, jumping up to 1.20m, would pass the vet, etc. “Low to mid five figures” it said at the end of the post.

I relayed this to a friend as we were leaving the American Eventing Championships over the weekend and her jaw dropped. It was just one more thing that widened the gulf between our two sports. She’s an eventer, I’m a hunter/jumper rider, and in that moment, the chasm was never more apparent. “Tight budget” in eventing means a $1,500 Thoroughbred off-the-track that you make up from scratch, on said tight budget. But in show jumping, tight budget means $20,000 to $50,000 just to get started. This got me thinking ­–again– about the cost of my sport and that what we have accepted as normal is nothing short of crazy to other equestrians.

I had already been astounded by the accessibility of the American Eventing Championships, held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington from August 28 – Sept. 1. Over 900 riders, the overwhelming majority of them amateurs, qualified to compete in their own personal “eventing Olympics” to ride for national titles from the 2’7” Beginner Novice, all the way up to Advanced level.

Unusual breeds in action: a Norwegian Fjord on cross country at the AECs. Ph. Alison Green/Shannon Brinkman Photo

Every breed of horse that you would and wouldn’t expect to take part in eventing was piloted around by their proud riders: alongside the expected Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods, there was a Norwegian Fjord, all kinds of Irish Draft horses, a Bashkir Curly, many spotted Appaloosas, Quarter Horses… Buck Davidson rode what looked like a Clydesdale (actually a very drafty Canadian Sport Horse) in the Training Horse division, for Pete’s sake. I’m not saying that other breeds are shunned in the hunter/jumpers, but we’ve far from cultivated this kind of all-are-welcome environment.

In the back gate area, there were no professional grooms of Hispanic descent polishing boots. No one handed their horse off to staff. Instead, to a rider, parents, friends and spouses served as support crew. Riders hung out with their horses and friends while waiting for their final placing. It’s not as if every A-circuit hunter/jumper riders has a groom following her around but . . . you know as well as I do that it’s far and away the norm. Again, the chasm widened.

Get you a friend who will be your groom despite her walking cast. Ph. Erin Gilmore/Shannon Brinkman

That culture difference alone was enough to make me want to take up eventing (unfortunately, I am a big baby when it comes to galloping around in the open. . . must work on that.)

Having the warm and fuzzies from watching home-grown horse people do self-care at a national championship was nice, but show costs are show costs, right? I expected that the AECs would be as pricey as nationally rated shows.

Wrong. The entry fee for the AEC is $410 for the lower levels, and a single, $21 USEA/drugs/meds fee was the only add on. The Kentucky Horse Park charged $250 a stall for the week. For comparison, just two weeks prior the USEF Pony Finals were held at this same venue, those same Kentucky Horse Park stalls went for $275, and in a brilliant cost breakdown article by The Plaid Horse, the estimated show fee total was $805 (total price tag for Pony Finals came in at $8,000, according to The Plaid Horse.)

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It should also be mentioned that if they qualified for their show jumping phase, every rider at the AEC got to jump their round in the famed Rolex Stadium. Top finishers received a very long list of prizes that ranged from cash to clothes to tack, and with over 100 media interviews done throughout the week, winners were really given the royal treatment with video and press features. You better believe the stories about rescue horses making it big and $500 Appaloosas abounded.

“Spending five days at the American Eventing Championships made me feel like I was looking at a sport that had a place for me.”

It’s hard to bash “my” sport, because I’ve loved the hunter/jumpers for as long as I can remember. But spending five days at the American Eventing Championships made me feel like I was looking at a sport that had a place for me. It’s just getting harder and harder for me to feel that way about the A-circuit hunter/jumpers. Low-end horses priced in “the mid five figures” are just the start of it.

Now if only I could get braver about riding in the open. If you need me, I’ll be doing a hunter canter in an open field somewhere, eyeing very small logs and thinking about next year’s American Eventing Championships….

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