Nov 08, 2022

Creating a Safer Sport with the USEA Eventing Handbook by the Levels

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
Bec Braitling instructing a student during the 2021 EA21 Central Regional Clinic. USEA/ Terrie Hatcher photo

Are you, your student, or your child new to eventing or preparing for a move-up? Do you find yourself looking for resources to ensure that riders looking to take the next step in the sport of eventing are prepared for what is to be asked of them? The USEA Eventing Handbook by the Levels is a free resource that was developed by members of the USEA Eventing Coaches Program (ECP), formerly the Instructors' Certification (ICP) Committee, and is available to all USEA members. This guide encompasses clear and consistent guidelines for riders and trainers to refer to when navigating their way through all phases of all national competition levels and features rider requirements, exercises, demonstrated skills, evaluation tools, and more at the Starter through Advanced levels.

Coaches all over the country have turned to the USEA Eventing Handbook by the Levels in their own programs, including USEA ECP Level V certified instructor and Advanced level eventer Bec Braitling. For Braitling, the beauty of the Handbook is in the simplicity of its purpose: to create a safe, structured environment for preparing riders for each phase of the sport at the level that is most appropriate for them.

“I love how it starts,” shared Braitling. “It properly lays down the foundations of what you're building on, from the bottom up, in the sport. I like that it focuses on the broad needs of each rider and coach to tackle what's ahead, and then it just sort of builds on that for each level. I think it's really important how it starts and it lays that foundation so that as you go through the levels of the book, it's clear what your starting point is.”

The USEA Eventing Handbook by the Levels features a breakdown of all three phases for each level and offers teaching and rider requirements for each phase. As an example, if you look at the Starter level cross-country section, there are clear outlines of what is required at the level for the rider, such as the ability to maintain one balanced position for the approach, take-off, and landing over a variety of fences. Readers are also provided with a list of skills that the rider should demonstrate at home prior to entering a competition environment. For this specific example, a Starter level rider should be able to trot out in the open, transition between trot and canter in the open between fences, be able to recognize if they are losing control of their horse, and know what measures to take if that were to happen on the cross-country course to regain composure. Lastly, each section also offers exercises and concepts appropriate for that level of rider and exercises that will prepare them for the next level of competition as well.

“As a trainer, you could definitely identify what exercises would be suitable at each level to teach your riders,” Braitling stated, “and then you can test each rider and their skill set at that level before they go tackle their first competition or a move up. For me, that's what is most striking about the Handbook. It’s definitely more simplified, I think, which makes the process a little easier to understand.”

But the Handbook isn’t just a tool for trainers – it was developed for riders to use as a self-assessment tool or for parents who may want to develop a deeper understanding of the sport to ensure their child is enjoying the sport in a safe manner.

“In this sport, we have riders who are in a full-time program and we have riders that perhaps only get a lesson here and there. What's really important is that parents or riders in those situations are able to educate themselves and not just rely on their instructor to tell them these things, but they can be proactive to go out and really understand what that rider's responsibility is in the sport,” Braitling said.

For the riders who are new to the sport, the Handbook provides a guide to ensure that there are no holes in the foundation of their education as they work towards moving up the levels. For those already competing at the upper levels of the national rankings, the Handbook gives them a thorough understanding of what base level of skills they should be bringing with them into a potential move-up.

It is not just the Handbook, however, that Braitling feels is a useful tool for instructors new and old. She is passionate about the many opportunities that the ECP offers to trainers all around the country and the way the program can impact the training and safety within the sport of eventing.

“For me, as a country, we have to really focus on developing young riders, adult amateurs, young professionals and there has to be a continuity of the idea of what you're pursuing in your training. I think that's really evident in a lot of other countries around the world. And I think that something like the Handbook is a really great sort of reference point to understand what the goals are, in producing horses and riders. And being a part of the ECP instructor network just allows you to keep bouncing ideas off of each other, especially when you attend the workshops. You learn new ways of saying the same thing, but you hear it in a different way. And it just really resonates with you and then you take that home to your students. You could have been saying that to one of your students for a long time, and all of a sudden, somebody else inspired you to say it a different way and it just really is like a light bulb moment for that rider.”

For all members of the eventing community, it all ties back to one key point– safety. “That's got to be the big kind of take home. The sport has gotten a little more technical, a little more complex, definitely at the highest level, but we can't be learning those complexities late. You have to be learning and understanding that early at the lower levels so that you know everybody at that level is safe and that you're not having to go backward and fix holes in their education. I think that's why it's so important that we cover those bases that the Handbook touches on. It does create a much safer sport in the end.”

USEA members may download the USEA Eventing Handbook by the Levels at no charge in the USEA Member File Library by logging into their online services account. Non-members will be able to purchase the USEA Eventing Handbook by the Levels through ShopUSEA.

About the USEA Eventing Coaches Program

Coaches are essential to the training of riders and horses for safe and educated participation in the sport of eventing. The USEA Eventing Coaches Program (ECP), formerly known as the Instructor's Certification Program (ICP), was initiated in 2002 to educate all levels of eventing coaches with crucial training principles upon which those instructors can continue to build throughout their teaching careers. ECP offers educational workshops and assessments by which both regular coaches, Level I through Level V, Young Event Horse (YEH) instructors, and Young Event Horse professional horse trainers can become ECP certified. Additional information about ECP’s goals, benefits, workshops, and assessments as well as names and contact information for current ECP-certified coaches, YEH coaches, and YEH professional horse trainers are available on the USEA website. Click here to learn more about the Eventing Coaches Program.

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