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Apologies in advance for a rather rambly, stream of consciousness post.

Riding at the horse park for our competition was a bit surreal. Spring Bay is a bit of a unique horse trial in a lot of ways. Obviously, running XC at a different venue than SJ and Dressage is interesting, but it is more than that.


As we walked from the trailers to Dressage or SJ at the horse park, you could see the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event coming together. Crews worked to build tents and platforms around Rolex Stadium. The grass on the XC field was being mowed and tended to. Even the barns not being used for our event were cleaned and prepped, ready for the 5* horses to show up.

It’s easy enough to go to a schooling show, especially in eventing, and feel like you belong. Most everyone is on either an OTTB or a QH or a mutt of some kind. (sorry May). It’s pretty rare to see the newest or the best tack/equipment etc on the school ponies poking around baby starter. If you go often enough, you get to know most of the riders/trainers/horses on sight.


So I have gotten… pretty comfortable in that atmosphere.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I ventured to the Kentucky Horse Park, as it preps for KY3DE, my over-sized thelwell pony siting in the trailer, ready for Starter. I watched the Prelim riders perform their long and complicated Dressage tests (to me anyway). I walked the SJ course when it included 3 combinations, a triple bar, and was set to full prelim height. Thinking back on it, it was the first time I have ever been in a competition ring with jumps set to that height.

Then I picked up on the chatter, which horses were just out to do the CT to start off their season, and which horses were stepping down for a confidence building start. Confidence building?!

So the feelings started to creep in. This wasn’t really eventing. Who was I to call myself an eventer? Even a recent article on Eventing Nation seemed to acknowledged it:

I think we should respect the person that chooses to compete at Novice because that’s where they are happy and are enjoying the sport just as much as the person who is running around Kentucky.

Against the Move Up Mentality 

HAH! NOVICE?! Girl, those BN jumps look big right now. Did this person purposefully skip the very lowest levels of our sport? The levels that run multiple divisions in nearly every event and help pay for the judges, venues, secretaries etc etc etc? I like to think not…

I have told myself for years that getting to Novice would be really eventing, but the truth is, a couple of weeks ago, me and my horse went to compete three times in three different phases. And we were competent and competitive in each phase. To me, that is eventing.


And you know what? I had FUN! By Sunday, I was eyeing the BN XC fences with excitement instead of anxiety. (May still thinks it would have been WAY MORE fun to “gallop” through the mud over the bigger fences.)

So I look my own doubts head on, and I remind them that being an eventer and a horseperson means showing off your horse to the best of your abilities in that moment. My choice to run Starter doesn’t need any explanation beyond the choice to set myself and my horse up for success. In fact, it needs FAR LESS explanation then anyone who pushes their horses up the level without proper fitness or training.

Moral of this story? Do right by your horse, and the eventing community will always support you.

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  1. Emma

    ugh i totally know what you mean about “impostor syndrome” and feeling like i somehow don’t count bc i don’t do xyz or whatever. even subconsciously i constantly find myself saying things to people like, ‘oh yea i just do the lowest levels, just the starters and unrecognized’ etc etc etc.

    ultimately tho it’s so counter productive to put definitions on what constitutes “real” eventing and what doesn’t. it’s a big, inclusive, friendly sport, ya know? there aren’t actually any gate keepers from what i can tell, outside our own minds haha. and actually, at least in my area, the sport is exploding in terms of expanding points of entry for new comers — everything from ground poles divisions to more CT and derby type offerings so people can get comfortable dipping their toes in. not everyone has FEI aspirations, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still identify as members of the sport!

    1. Emily

      Yup! My grand goals in life are Novice hahaha but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy running around XC with my horse like every other eventer. 😉

  2. L. Williams

    Nice post – I am not an eventer but the fact that you went out and ran XC to me is “really eventing” regardless of the height of questions asked.

    1. Emily

      hahaha thanks girl! When I did H/J, I definitely had the same feelings. You weren’t really a hunter in the 2’6″ divisions… and you definitely weren’t an eq kid unless you were doing the big eq. Truth is though, no one really cares.

  3. Centered in the Saddle

    I know exactly what you mean! Sometimes it’s amplified for me because I don’t own my own horse. But then I think about explaining eventing – at any level – to a non-horse person, and think about what they would think if they saw me doing anything on cross country and I remember that all eventers are badasses. All of them.

    1. Emily

      oh yeah! Anyone outside the sport is like “OMG, you’re so brave!” and I am like “really? I am?… Cool!” haha. Sometimes it just takes perspective.

  4. Amanda C

    I think it’s easy to feel like that, no matter what the level. I know that when I was at BN I was like “once I get to Novice I’ll be a real eventer.”. And then we were at N and I was like “Ok, Training… that’s real eventing.”. And then we eyeballed P and I was like “once we’re going Prelim, that’s technically upper level, so it’s LEGIT.”. And while it was a hugely indescribably amazing feeling to cross the finish line at my first P, it lasted about a day before I started to hear it echoing in the back of my mind “Yeah but that was a soft Prelim course, and it’s the lowest of the upper levels…”. UGH. OMG. SHUT UP ALREADY, INNER DEMON. I dunno what the heck I’ve been trying to prove to myself all this time. Certainly no one else gives a shit.

    And the funniest thing about it is that I don’t look at a Starter or BN or N competitor and think that they aren’t real eventers. Just the opposite actually, I have nothing but respect for ANYONE who is ballsy enough to put themselves out there and try to do this, no matter what level, and that feeling has only gotten stronger in me as we’ve moved up. We’re ALL working our butts off, and it takes a lot of balls to leave that start box no matter how big the jumps are. Yet I have had a hard time holding myself to that same standard.

    I think that part of is that, the more we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone (so going from unrecognized to recognized, or moving up a level, or whatever), the more we realize how much BIGGER the possibilities are. It’s easy to feel yourself shrink a little bit. But I’ve come to realize that you can either choose to feel a little defeated by that discomfort, or you can choose to see it as a good thing and embrace it as part of your growth. That part is up to us, and no one else. “Comfortable is the enemy of growth. Learn to be content in all circumstances, but never comfortable.”

    1. Emily

      This is a great point. All of this “pressure to move up” is internal. I have friends that support me and cheer me on and tell me that I am totally ready to move up… but they would keep cheering and supporting if I stayed at starter indefinitely. That inner demon though? He thinks I am insane. 😛

  5. ksmcilwee

    Thank you for this! My mare and I are getting ready for our FIRST EVER event in two weeks. UGH! I’m 36 years old and new to eventing (but not to horses) and my mare is 6 and new to everything. We’ll be competing in the Green division at a local schooling event (18″ crossrails). I’ve been struggling with this a little. The doubt sinking in, “we should be doing more of this” or “we should be doing that instead”. What you said helped me put everything in perspective. 18″ crossrails are where we currently belong. I want to have fun and set my horse up for success, and this is how we will do it. Maybe the next show we’ll be ready for Adv. Green, maybe not. Maybe next year we’ll be ready for BN. Maybe not. Maybe we’ll stick with 18″ crossrails forever because we love it and that’s all we decide to do. Whatever the case is, I want to have fun with my horse and I need to get out of my own head!

    1. Emily

      YES! CONGRATS on just ENTERING your first event. I am going to speak for every eventer that reads this that we are irrationally excited for you. The height doesn’t matter. Your score doesn’t matter. What matters is the GIANT SMILE you are going to have on your face when you cross those finish flags.

      You have to report back on how it goes!

  6. nadsnovik

    I totally agree that it’s about respecting your horse and where you are. I cannot even fathom going novice on June even though I went much higher with Georgie. I think I’m more of an Eventer for staring slowly and sitting at Intro and BN than if I just moved up the levels and was unsafe or put my horse at risk. Real Eventers are good horse people first and foremost

    1. Emily

      Agreed! Real eventers put their horses first, always.

  7. Tracy

    I feel like this isn’t applicable to eventing, but to a lot of horse sports. Sometimes in the hunters, I feel like I’m “not really a hunter” because I don’t jump 3′. But you know what? The height really doesn’t matter — it’s all about doing right by your horse and doing what’s right for you as a pair <3

    1. Emily

      Totally! I remember showing in H/J and feeling like the 2’6” divisions “don’t count” but putting down a great hunter trip at any height is an accomplishment!

  8. the_everything_pony

    I agree with you there! Just as Amanda said though, I think anyone going out there and doing it is badass in and of itself. It takes guts and dedication to do it, and anyone who’s out there is an eventer to me. It’s very easy at any sport to think you’re an “imposter” at a lower level, but most of the time, lower levels are where organizations get the most gain. I was a little surprised that the article did say Novice… I had your same sentiment “what about BN and starter?!” when I first saw it lol. BN and starter are so important as you said, and I don’t think it makes them any less of an eventer. Is a gymnast less because they never made it to the Olympics, and do small competitions for fun? Nope! Still an athlete. So for me, an eventer is an eventer at any level!

    1. Emily

      Preach girl! haha The more the sport supports the lower levels, as well as the upper levels, the better off the ENTIRE sport is.

  9. T

    I think I’ve actually fallen off more due to B getting excited about galloping in open spaces…jump height isn’t the issue ATM, lol. In all seriousness, I get it…The last bigger dressage show I went to I felt entirely out of place. I don’t think I’ve ever once been to a show and thought anyone there wasn’t a “real” competitor, so it’s funny that my brain would like to be so negative about my own efforts 🙂

    1. Emily

      Hahaha the things we do to ourselves is crazy! Especially in a sport that is so humbling. Maybe we’re all just a little deranged ?

  10. KC Scott

    Any level, including a 3 phase where SJ is a few cross-rails and XC is full of tiny logs, is “real eventing” to me. For awhile I (stupidly) rode with a trainer who didn’t believe anyone needed to start anywhere below Novice, but she was dead wrong. If you go XC, you are aiming your horse for solid objects in an open area. Doesn’t matter the height of the obstacle, it’s already more than a lot of riders ever do (not saying any other discipline is less-than, just that it takes a different mindset).

    Maybe it’s bravery or maybe it’s insanity- probably the latter- but for some reason we keep doing it!

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