Nov 13, 2022

Being Qualified Is Not the Same as Being Prepared

By Liz Halliday-Sharp - Sidelines Magazine
Liz’s young horse, Cooley Nutcracker, who recently told her he was ready for Advanced and won in his first attempt. Photo by Shannon Brinkman

This story first appeared in the October 2022 issue of Sidelines Magazine.

I’ve been in this game a long time now and have had my fair share of ups and downs and mistakes along the way. I think that if you choose eventing as your sport, then it’s inevitable that you have some bumps in the road and moments of reflection when things don’t quite go to plan.

One thing I have learned through both my own mistakes and by watching others is that being “qualified” for a level does not mean that you are necessarily ready.

I felt compelled to write about this because I’ve noticed an overwhelming number of riders recently who have put themselves and their horses in a situation that they weren’t ready for, and the end result has often been huge disappointment, loss of confidence, injury to horse and rider or worse.

At the beginning of each season, I think it’s important to set realistic goals based on the experience of both you and your horse. Whether it’s to complete your first Preliminary or to compete in your first five-star, I think it’s important to set goals to keep you striving to be better.

The next step is to plan a schedule for preparation events to help both you and your horse be prepared for the competition that you’re aiming for. At the beginning of the year, I try to make a plan for the horses who are moving up a level, but I always say to my owners that the horses will tell us if they’re ready. This is something that I’ve stuck to now for many years and I really believe in it. By staying flexible with the plans for the less experienced horses, I think it gives you time to pay more attention to their preparation, both mentally and physically, for the next step up. Sometimes it’s easy to get so determined to compete at the next level that we forget to listen to our horses. This sport is about the partnership, so we need to keep checking in to see how they feel, too.

Another concern I have is trainers encouraging riders to move up too quickly for a level that they are perhaps not ready for. I coach a lot of students and I’m certainly one for pushing a horse and rider when they need it, but I’m also very aware that this is a dangerous, difficult sport and we should be considering more than just the qualifications. I’m quite a competitive person, so I believe that in a sport with three phases we should strive to be proficient in all three at a specific level before moving up to the next. However, in saying that, the most important thing from a safety perspective is the cross-country phase. I believe that this part of the competition should feel very comfortable and polished before deciding to take the next step up. So often I see riders who have had a bad event and experienced problems on cross-country who then move the horse up a level at the next show “because that was the plan.” Of course this move up is unsuccessful because the problems that were in place at the lower level shine through even more when the courses get harder. I, too, have been guilty of this mistake in the past, so I can speak from experience!

My advice would be to listen to your horses and be realistic in your review of past events. It’s important to be critical of your riding and your preparation, and to be honest about the good, the bad and the ugly. You might find that sometimes you have to disagree with a trainer who’s pushing you too hard, but ultimately you’re the one riding your horse and you both need to feel confident.

Being honest with yourself about the reality of a situation is sometimes the hardest thing when your goals are big, but ultimately the rewards will be greater. There’s no shame in admitting that your horse is not quite up to the level, or that you as a rider do not feel prepared.

My hope with this column is to create mindfulness for everyone in a sport that I love and believe in. Every great event horse truly enjoys eventing as much as we do, so it’s up to us to help them become their very best, even if it takes a few more competitions than planned.

Nov 30, 2022 Classic Series

2022 USEA Classic Series Season Comes to a Close at Ram Tap

In the final USEA Classic Series event of 2022, three horse and rider pairs rode their way to the top of the podium in the Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice 3-Day divisions offered during the Ram Tap Horse Park Horse Trials which took place November 18-20 in Fresno, California.

Nov 29, 2022 Eventing News

US Equestrian Announces Bid Allocation for Week 10 of the 2023-2027 U.S. Eventing Calendar

US Equestrian opened a bid process for one event to host the Advanced level in Area 3 on Week 10 for 2023-2027 due to an event cancellation. The bid process was conducted in accordance with the 2023-2027 U.S. Eventing Calendar CCI4*-L, CCI4*-S, CCI3*-L, & Advanced Policies and Procedures. The USEF Eventing Strategic Calendar Review Task Force made recommendations to the USEF Eventing Sport Committee who made recommendations for final approval by the USEF Board of Directors.

Nov 29, 2022 Area Championships

Crabo, Keyser, and Martin Conclude 2022 Season with Area X Championship Honors

Concluding the 2022 Area Championships season was the Area X Championships held during the SAzEA H.T. which took place November 19-20 in Tucson, Arizona. Three Championship divisions were offered, allowing three horse and rider pairs the opportunity to conclude their 2022 eventing season by being crowned champion!

Nov 28, 2022 Instructors

The Importance of a Secure and Balanced Position in all Three Eventing Phases

“The highest priority must be given by instructors to developing in their riders a correct, balanced, supple, effective, and independent seat for dressage and for jumping.” - “Teaching Principles” in the new ECP Eventing Handbook by the Levels

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