Increased emphasis on dressage. "We have forced riders to cross the line between discipline and domination," wrote Olympian, author and international coach Jim Wofford in his popular article "Eventing Lives in the Balance" about the consequence of eventing's ever more intense dressage training on cross-country performance. "When we truly and correctly collect our horses, we also subdue their initiative."
Although increasingly technical cross-country questions require many fences to be ridden at show-jumping speed, highly schooled horses also will be waiting for rider direction when jumping at top speed, he points out. "A system of training such as this will work well.until you miss."
Rider responsibility. "This sport is not taken seriously enough" by some competitors, says Advanced eventer and coach Danny Warrington, a former steeplechase racer. "One of the greatest things about eventing is that it can't be bought. You have to work hard, and you have to earn it. Eventing is so much a horsemanship sport. But some people think, 'We'll buy a horse and do four Prelims, four Intermediates, then go Advanced.' The patience of the old horseman is lost. Riders just want to go, go, go." Danny, whose wife, Amanda, was killed in a cross-country accident 10 years ago, sees entry-level eventers in his clinics who are impatient to get out on course before mastering basics such as keeping their horses straight to the jumps. He says eventing is "an extreme sport from Novice on up; treat it as such. You need to spend years doing this, so when you get to the three- and four-star levels, you'll know what's going on."
Opinions on the measures most likely to make eventing as safe as possible run the gamut from better education to stiffer penalties, and each proposal has its pros and cons.
Reduce cross-country speed, take away square tables and toughen show-jumping. "Knock 20 to 30 meters per minute (mpm) off every division's speed and see if that doesn't help," says Denny. He points out that the cross-country speed remained unchanged over the decades as course design became more technical. "Take the big vertical square fences off the course, or [to avoid causing undue hardship to organizers] make them more rampy by adding hay bales in front." The tougher questions could be asked in show-jumping, where the fences fall down on impact. "At the end of the day, someone is still going to get first, second, third and so on--you just start to do it in a safer way." For the small cadre of elite riders who would complain that this type of test is "too easy," Denny has a question: "For the survival of the sport, is it better to make it too easy for the strong ones--or too hard for the weak ones?"
Increase emphasis on education. "There is a trend toward instructor certification [through USEA's Instructor Certification Program, or ICP] becoming almost a prerequisite to the coaching of event riders," says Gretchen Butts. Even with a common educational foundation, she concedes there is natural variation in coaching quality--and in rider personality. "Riders can hear the absolute best coaching in the world and it's still up to them to do the right thing."
Danny Warrington supports the ICP concept but believes it can be implemented more effectively. "I don't think it's accessible. I've been chasing my Level III certification for two years. Every time a Level III workshop comes up, either I find out I missed it, it's already full or it's in Portland, Ore." (Danny is based in Maryland.) He suggests that ICP could be better run out of a permanent, central facility with regularly scheduled workshops to which candidates could travel.
The U.S. Pony Clubs should be another target of eventing education, Danny says. Historically a starting point for many riders in the upcoming cohort of top-level eventers, USPC could now use some updating, in Danny's view. "The USPC Rule Book is, to me, extremely outdated. We could get the ICP to help the USPC! Even Ivy League colleges update their textbooks now and then! Everyone says 'There's a gap in the education,' but we can fix that. Instead of looking for a new source, we can apply the sources we have."
Stiffen the standards for qualification. "Our very strong feeling is that you should be out there demonstrating mastery," says USEA President Kevin Baumgardner. As of December 2008, moving up to the next level will be tougher. "For instance, to go from Prelim to Intermediate, the new rules require four clean cross-country rounds as well as qualifying dressage and stadium scores. This is a significant change from the FEI (International Equestrian Federation) qualification standard allowing one stop on cross-country. This will help," Kevin adds, "but we also need riders to move up only when they are ready, not just when they've achieved minimal qualification."