Pride Cometh Before the Fall

I know that I am not a shy person, and sorry if you have already spit out your coffee at the thought of that. But, this weekend’s event really drove me to speak my mind… so here it goes.

On Saturday, I asked the TD if I could make a citizens yellow card? She said, No, which is probably very smart on behalf of USEF to not allow such a thing. It would be a disaster if any ole Jill Schmill could go up to another rider, flip a card and say “You terrify me”.   (But, come on, wouldn’t that be satisfying sometimes?!)

The TD then asked me what I saw and here is the report I gave her:

I was sitting up there in the shade with my students watching the Junior Preliminary 911 division and I saw enough to make my blood pressure boil. I saw a rider literally two wheel around a corner to a bank with the horse going about 550mpm. Not surprisingly, she missed at the bank because her corner was sickeningly fast and her poor horse had no idea what hit him. Three falls later….. the final bone in my craw was a different girl, who did the same freewheeling around the corner to the bank and made about 20 people gasp with fright. Shockingly, she survived that horrific display of how to effectively ride a bank and later in the course came to a downhill approach to a corner still going way too fast. Her lack of balance and excessive speed resulted in her horse leaving a leg and she splays across the grass with her exploded vest, gasping for air while the horse happily canters away.

I got to her quickly and helped her unbuckle her vest so she could breathe better. Horse is just fine, rider walks off the course just fine and probably thinks “My crappy luck!!!!” as she walks back to the barn. Ha! Better luck next time, chicka.

Ok, so by now you can tell that I am still upset. That last little paragraph might be a tad bit passive aggressive. And here is why:

The last girl did nicely come up to me and thank me for helping her with her vest the following morning. Of course I was happy to do it, and told her I was so grateful that she and her horse were fine. But, I am a teacher and I cannot pass up this opportunity to ask a junior rider to reflect upon why she ended up face first in the dirt.

The long and short of this conversation is that this junior rider told me that she knew the time was hard to make and that is why she was going fast. She knew that she was unbalanced and too fast the entire way around the course, and yet she was totally unapologetic about the fact that she was trying to get home inside the time. When I told her that if she was my student I would take away her watch and demand that she ride the course WELL, not for a ribbon. She literally rolled her eyes at me.

AND THAT, ladies and gentleman, is why I am so pissed.

It’s one thing to know that you are riding dangerously and to say that you really need to get better control of your horse and you will work on it in the future. And it is a totally different thing to know that you are riding dangerously and admit that you really don’t care because you were going for TIME. I am happy to say that I did not murder this teenager right then and there, as her mother was also in attendance and she might not appreciate my teaching methods. Maybe their trainer is the one telling them to go for time? Probably. Or maybe it is all the other teenagers in the group who are all egging each other along to get ribbons? Probably. But this is a serious problem that needs to be outed.

Pride cometh before the fall. That is such an apropos quote for this instance. I would not be so upset if it were not for the lack of humility that her speed was the cause of the fall…. and that the excessive speed is bad. She clearly understood that she was going to fast, she told me so. But she did not feel responsible for causing her horse to hit the jump.

Here is a little bedtime story:

One of the most amazing displays of horsemanship that I have seen with my own eyes is the change that Laine Ashker has done since her fall with Frodo Baggins at Rolex in 2008. These days, her riding catches my breath because it is SO good. She went back to the drawing board with her coaches and worked very very very hard to repair some holes in her cross country attitude and position. The results are astounding. She is now a virtual model of how to ride effectively cross country over modern courses. She is fluid, harmonious, fast and effective. She is smart and appreciative, and above all she is humble.

It is your responsibility to deliver your horse safely from the startbox to the finish line. Only you are up there having a conversation with your best friend. Your coach is not up there with you, your parents are somewhere else and your friends are at the mall trying on new shoes. You are the only one up there listening to the breathing and the gallop. And only you can value what that horse means to you. When you can appreciate just how precious a horse is, then maybe you can value a ribbon less.


14 Responses to “Pride Cometh Before the Fall”

  1. Christel cqrlson

    That is sickening. That is exactly why I want to bring back 3D. That is where we learned to appreciate our horses, getting them fit, caring for them daily. My best rides were on roads and track. Talking to my horse as I trotted or cantered. Galloping steeplechase. Then the best xc with a horse whose body was ready for the effort . My understanding is that a knowledgeable upper level rider can complain and censor dangerous riding. I’ll follow up on that. Just for fun and to realize all teenagers aren’t like that (think coach) view my daughters short video of her fall (good riding before ) it will restore your faith. Thanks for caring for the poor horse and the sport when the rider doesn’t

  2. Briana

    So totally agree with you – while many of our horses love XC, they never ask to win a ribbon and it is our responsibility to take care of them while on course – we’ve walked the course, they haven’t. We are in charge and their welfare is all up to us.

  3. Annie

    Spot on, Meika. ‘Making a team’ and winning ribbons seems to have become far too important to many. Ultimately the responsibility for that lies with our coaches and culture. What can we do about this??

  4. claudia Cojocar

    Well said Meika. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Gayle Atkins

    I am a horse breeder and fan. Thanks for speaking up on behalf of horses and against blatant and cruel vanity. There does not seem to be lower or upper age or class limit on character black holes.

  6. Karin

    I appreciate your honest post. My daughters and I look up to you and learn from you and other great trainers locally. It’s something we can reflect on even if we aren’t close to riding at that height and speed. Horsemanship/partnership/stewardship of our equine friends is something that translates to all levels of competition. Good thoughts to ponder….

  7. Liza Horan

    Sadly I am not surprised. The mentality is the real problem and I would have taken note of the program she is in. My students are not allowed to wear a watch until they are at the CCI* level and never at a horse trials. They have been taught to get good first and fast second. It takes a long time to get good! Good for you for saying something, both to the girl and the TD!!

  8. Funny talkin' Mexican lookin' dude


    Agree wholeheartedly with you on this. Have seen a lot of this myself, and as I head down to the AECs this week, I know I will see a lot more of it.

    I will disagree with some regarding the “bringing back the long format” and romanticizing the good ol’ days where everyone prepared their horses perfectly and no one rode like an idiot. Bad riding is bad riding and it wasn’t invented along with the short format. If someone isn’t going to do the adequate preparation before an event, it doesn’t matter how long the course is IMO. It’s their attitude toward the sport and their horses that is the issue.

    Probably the culture of instant gratification that we find ourselves in plays a big part.

    The YR phenomenon is also tough. You are 19 years old and looking at a lot of your peers going out and dropping 250k on an ex Olympic horse to take to young riders. People get sucked in to following that trend and you’ve got kids running their horses at 2* fences and they have only been around a couple dozen XC courses in their entire career!

    Then you have what I call the ‘B grade trainers’. Now before you snap my head off, just hear me out. I am fully aware that there is a niche for everybody. There are trainers out there who are excellent for teaching beginners. There are some who are great for teaching Advanced level riders. However the ones I am talking about, would be the ones who don’t have that much competitive experience or even training experience in general, who set up shop and create “Dandelion Eventing Team” or some such thing. They enter the very difficult world of trying to make a living as an equine professional and they will do whatever it takes to get by.

    So when they do get a couple of clients, they will go shop for the horse in order to get that commission, and they are so desperate for the client to stay satisfied so as to not leave them, they will do whatever it takes for them to get a result. Combine that attitude with giving their riders sub par information about their riding which is always sugar-coated to the extreme, and you end up with exhibit A: eye rolling young rider who is doing her damnedest to book a one way ticket into a wheelchair if she’s not careful.

    I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom however. I know of one coach based in Ocala and another in North Carolina who each have serious competitive chops but won’t tolerate that millennial bullshit. They each coach plenty of young riders and the fact that they lead by example, hopefully they are imparting actual ‘horsemanship’ onto their students.

    I don’t think you can label all Upper level riders as the bad guy in the same way as you can’t just label the spoilt rotten shitty youth of today the bad guy either. There are plenty of each that are out there for the right reasons and care about their partners. However, as long as we have the amount of ‘B grade’ educators that we do, we will continue to see this same scenario, with the saddest part being, that it’s the poor horses who generally end up paying the price.

  9. Liz

    Meika, I have only ridden with you a few times (not nearly enough), but from the very first time I felt a connection with you. The way you think and the way you teach just make sense to me and it what I need to get better and stay safe.

    I’ve been battling my inner self that wants to move up to Novice, I am no where near perfect at BN, but try and be safe, and I think Tiger and I could do it. However, I know to do it safe requires time I don’t have right now, and unless I could get into a regular lesson program with you it just isn’t worth putting my horse at risk. Nothing is more important to me than to keep my horse safe. I was there the day he was born and we have done a lot of amazing things together, we didn’t start cross country until Tiger turned 20. I like to think that the care I have taken with him over the years has afforded me the luxury to take up new adventures and keep up with those bratty teenagers and I’m hoping we’ll still be hacking over fences well into his 30s.

    Until I get more free time Tiger and I will continue to hack around the BN course grinning ear to ear because its just so much darn fun.

    I do wonder where we’d be if we met you when we were younger and boulder and when I was able to ride 6 days a week.

  10. Linda Allen

    Your first sentence in bold type in the last paragraph sums it all up. Thank you Meika

  11. Mara

    In NC, where I moved from to Oregon, jump judges at the CHP were allowed to give “yellow cards” and call in (over a radio) excessively bad or aggressive or abusive riding. I only volunteered there a few times, but there were always one or two riders I felt deserved a call out. Most were wonderful, and learning, and could be forgiven a mistake here and there. However, there are a always a few that don’t deserve the horses they ride.

  12. Gina Bailey

    See the same “concept” in the Jumper divisions at shows…. riders running at the jumps, not counting strides, requiring the horses to “figure it out” and eventually scaring the horse into the dreaded “stop”….. Now the horse is known as a “stopper”…. we have local A rated barn and most of the amateur rides stop ……. it is a travesty….. the horses either stop or they win……..

  13. Rachel McCart

    Well said, Meika, and thank you for speaking up!
    Having switched to eventing from other disciplines, one thing I value most about eventing is the true horsemanship, which includes protecting our horses’ safety as well as our own. Compromising horsemanship is compromising our core values.

  14. Tracey A

    Well said!

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