Learning the Ropes

By Brad Turley

Even with a trainer helping me learn the ropes, I found Eventing a bit confusing at first. From getting ready to compete, to packing for the competition, to arriving and warming up through each phase, it sure seemed like a lot of rules and regimen. And the clothing thing … I felt like a runway model. Being one that doesn’t like to read user manuals, I found the Rule Book to be a bit complex.
Learning the Ropes
In my three years of competing, I’ve seen first-hand of what some might say are potential infractions:

  • No, you’re not supposed to enter the dressage ring before the whistle or bell or buzzer or the judge waving her hands to go away.
  • Yes, judges are a bit touchy when you don’t hear the whistle or bell or buzzer and everyone in the warm up area is pointing at the judge who is jumping up and down saying it’s time to enter the ring.
  • No, you’re not supposed to do flying lead changes at “X” in the Novice B test – even perfectly executed ones.
  • Yes, it is against the rules to jump the warm up jumps in the wrong direction – in either stadium or x-c.
  • No, you can’t use side reins when lunging – even in the approved area.
  • No, I don’t recommend leaving the Stadium judge speechless because he couldn’t believe that it was possible to leave out so many strides in one ride.
  • Yes, men are supposed to remove their helmets when being presented with a ribbon.
  • And no, having your horse escape from his stall on more than one occasion is not considered the way to meet your fellow competitors.

But even with all of my embarrassing moments, I’ve found most organizers, judges and TD’s to be fair, helpful and courteous. Here’s one of many of my “learning the ropes” experiences.

I had gone to an event my first year and remember jumping the x-c warm-up jumps in one direction. It happened to be the direction my trainer told me to jump and I remembered it. Well at least the direction, not the red on right thing. So the next year, I go back to the same event and was all excited about going out on course. My trainer turned to help someone else and I started to warm up – in the same direction as the prior year. The problem was (you guessed it) that they changed the direction that year.

As I was in mid air over my first jump, I heard the announcer say, “Will rider 100 please see the TD at the warm up exit – immediately!” Well, wouldn’t you know it, I and everyone else in the warm-up knew what I did. So I sheepishly rode over ignoring all the murmurs and stares from my fellow competitors and approached the TD (without even glancing at my trainer).

TD: “Did you know what you did wrong”.

B: “Yes, I jumped the wrong direction. Am I disqualified?”

TD: “Do you know why we ask everyone to jump the same direction?”

B: “Yes, for our safety.”

She looked at me for a few moments.

TD: “Are you having fun?”

B: “Absolutely”.

TD: “Will you promise to never do it again?”

B: “What, have fun?”

TD: “No, jump the wrong direction.”

B: “Yes, Ma’am, I promise.”

Another pause

TD: “Please continue your ride and be safe.”

After the event I searched out the TD and introduced myself.

B: “Do your remember me?”

TD: “Yes, you’re wrong way Harry.”

B: “Yea, sort of. But I wanted to thank you for being understanding and not eliminating me. I was pretty jazzed and obviously wasn’t thinking. So, Thank You!”

TD: “Do you know why I let you continue?”

B: “No.”

TD: “Because both you and your horse were smiling so much during warm-up, I just wanted to see what would happen once you got on course. And I have to say, I watched you out of the box and ride your first two jumps and I am certain I made the right decision. Both of you had even bigger smiles. With all the intensity of a horse trial, it is always nice to see someone just having fun. Keep it up and please, remember we want you to be safe.”

BT: “No problem, Thanks again!”

Fast-forward two years to a clinic with one of the world’s top riders. After the clinic, we were sitting around telling tales. I told of a few of my mishaps. Come to find out he had done some of the same things I did.

B: “Wow! What did you do?”

Top Rider: “I graciously conceded my mistakes, asked for forgiveness and got on with the job at hand. No big deal, things happen and it’s all about how you deal with them.”

Great advice and I continue to “learn the ropes” and (ask any of my friends) continue to inadvertently generate comical moments.

I bet some of you have some special moments, I’d like to hear that I’m not the only one … other than Mr. Big.