How I'm Supporting Eventing?s Classic-Format Three-Day Event

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In his Practical Horseman column this month, Jimmy Wofford argues that We've saved the classic-format three-day event, a competitive format that seemed about the go the way of the dodo bird eight years ago. Today I'm going to second his opinion and explain how I'm trying to do my part to return the classic format to the important role it held in eventing for more than 75 years.

Jimmy and I share the outlook that the classic-format three-day event is the epitome of equestrian competition; we each believe that it's the true test of a horse and rider and is a tremendously educational tool for training horses and for riders. The educational aspect happens at and before the event, because the training and preparation that are necessary requires you and your horse to spend a lot of time together, getting fit and overcoming a host of training challenges.

In fact, CCI (the FEI?s three-letter classification for three-day event) means ?complete test.?

By the way, I'm glad I can support my respected friend Jimmy in this way, since Practical Horseman and the Horse Journal are sister publications under the AIM (Active Interest Media) umbrella.

Jimmy asserts that the number of horses who?ve contested the classic-format training level and preliminary level events over the last four years suggest that the classic format will survive and flourish. From 2008 to 2011, and average of 237 horses competed in the 10 or so training level three-day events offered around the county, with a bit less than 10 percent of that competing in the three or four preliminary three-day events offered.

I think that it would be possible to increase the starters at preliminary level if we could convince one or two organizers of training level three-day events to add preliminary three-day events, in order to make the preliminary events more easily accessible to riders. (Right now there are only three?in California, Montana and Kentucky.)

Robert Kellerhouse, who organizes the training level and preliminary three-day events at Galway Downs in Temecula, Calif., believes a critical incentive for getting preliminary entries is to have the competition recognized as an FEI-qualifying event. Robert and I have each found that many professional riders would like to run their up-and-coming horses in the classic format, but if it doesn't qualify their horses to move up to the two-star level, then they're almost forced to run in the short-format CCI1*.

I think that Sarah Kelly, who organizes the Rebecca Farm event in Montana, is going to make her classic format preliminary three-day a CCI1* this year for this reason.? I've urged her to do just that, because I want to run my mare Alba there in July, and I don't want Sarah to have to cancel the classic-format event for lack of entries, as happened last year.

Even though it hasn?t happened very often so far, Jimmy is confident that amateur riders who successfully complete a training-level three-day a time or two will move up to preliminary. ?You must think in long time frames when you are training eventers, and this is even more so when developing Classic horses and riders. It is a difficult sport, but that is the good news,? Jimmy writes.

The stumbling block is that it's a big jump from training to preliminary, in both difficulty and time. Plus, peoples? lives change, sometimes expectedly and often wholly unexpectedly. They get fired or get a new job in a new state; families evolve in ways that can be life-changing in little and big ways? (kids are born, kids grow up and leave or don't leave, parents become ill or die); financial upheaval upsets everything; and often the horse they've been competing so well gets old or hurt or dies.

All these things, and more, often remove horses from competition, so Jimmy argues that we have to convince riders?both amateurs and professionals, especially those who aren?t advanced competitors?that the classic format can be their ?Olympics.?

He says: ?Here's my major point about the future of the Classic format: if you believe in it, and want it to survive, then you have to do it.? He suggests that we need to convince our comrades that the classic-format three-day event is a worthy goal, as it was for so long, before the gremlins at the FEI decided they should change things.

Seeing the classic format as my ?Olympics??that's basically where I am in my riding career now. I was never going to have a serious international career, and since I'm now 52, it's not going to happen now either. Plus, I'm now the father of a 2-year-old son, and Heather and I have our own two businesses, which neither of us can run without the other. Also, Heather gets so nervous when I start on the cross-country course at three-day events that she can't watch, and I'll have to have a good reason (and a fabulous horse) to torture her by doing three-days at the two-star or higher level.

But I do now have three lovely, young horses competing at the preliminary, training and novice levels (and another promising 3-year-old who?ll be starting under saddle in a few months), and my plan over the next four or five years, at least, is to support the classic-format three-days at Galway Downs and Rebecca Farm by riding these horses there.

I wrote last week about my Quarter Horse mare Alba, who finished second in the classic-format CCI1* at Galway Downs last November. SHe's convinced me that she does, indeed, have the scope to go intermediate, but I think it will be a stretch for her, and since she gives me 150 percent every time I ride her, I never want to discourage her. Plus, she has nothing more to prove?she was left with us because her former owner thought she was ?crazy,? and sHe's already done far more than even I initially thought possible. So, for as long as Alba is sound and healthy, I plan to aim her either Galway Downs or Rebecca Farm every year. She might even do both events each year.

I'm aiming my 5-year-old homebred, Amani, for the training three-day at Galway Downs this November, and if her education and performance continue as well as they have been, I'll be pointing her for the classic-format CCI1* at Galway Downs in 2013.

After that' Well, I'm confident that Amani can easily jump intermediate and maybe even more, but I won?t know if she will jump those fences until I ask the question. I suspect that in 2014 she'll do a second classic-format CCI1* as I introduce her to intermediate, but I certainly won?t be disappointed if, for one reason or another, we decide that her career will be classic-format events too. After all, we bred her to be a three-day horse.

I hope that Bella, our 3-year-old homebred, will pursue a similar path as Amani. That would mean doing the training-level three-day at Galway Downs when sHe's 5 (in 2014) and moving up to preliminary after that. Plus, Heather has another 3-year-old homebred, named Piper, who I'm sure will at least do the training level three-days.

I'm quite sure that Boogie, the 4-year-old stallion I'm currently riding at beginner novice, has classic-format events in his future too. He's an Oldenburg and he has a really good gallop, but I know that the four phases and the steeplechase will do him a world of good.

So that's how I plan to support the classic format for the next several years. And since Alba, Amani and Bella are all mares (and Boogie is a stallion), I hope they?ll produce even more classic-format three-day horses for the future?if not for me, then maybe for my son, Wesley.