Come for the cross country …. Stay for the people (originally published in the Area II Newsletter http://usea2.net/departments/newsletters August 2014)
I’m not the only one who feels this way about eventing. We all love running and jumping cross country. If we didn’t, we would pick another sport, but beyond the cross country, what makes eventing special are the people. The riders, the organizers, the volunteers, the officials are all welcoming and willing to go out of their way to help each other. Here in Area II, we are incredibly lucky to have or to have recently lost many people who made making our weekends better and helping us enjoy eventing even more a major part of their lives. Since this is a “shout out”, it seems appropriate to start with the voices behind the events, our super announcers and controllers. We recently lost two of the best, Dick Thompson and Jim Lignon, but they were fixtures at Maryland, Waredaca, Plantation, Fair Hill and Radnor long before I came to Area II. I had the privilege of working with Dick fairly often and loved his stories of eventers from back in the day to the present time. He also taught me how to set up and work the electronic scoring system at Fair Hill and several tricks about positioning speakers to cover a course. Still carrying on is Brian O’Connor, who is not only a great announcer and controller, but could have a second career as a stand-up comic. He has announced at major venues everywhere, including the 2008 Olympic Games and has ridden both real and imaginary horses as part of fundraising efforts for eventers. How often have we all heard these voices announcing, not only where we are on course, but something special for us. How many times has some special moment on course been announced by them becoming a part of our eventing memory? I don’t think I can count.
We are also blessed to have in Area II, secretary extraordinaire, Mary Coldren. Mary somehow manages to assign functional ride times even when there are 4 riders each riding 5 horses at the same level and remains unflustered through horse changes, rider changes, monsoon storms requiring event rescheduling…She does all this calmly and cheerfully and always makes the riders feel that she is on their side. She really knows most of the riders and what works best for each of them. She is willing to help organize your ride times so it is not too early for your grandmother to drive in and watch or early enough that your trainer can help you before they have to ride their own horses. In addition to being the best secretary ever, Mary is a USEF ‘r’ TD and works behind the scenes in multiple roles at Fair Hill and Plantation after getting her start in the eventing world working for Judy Thayer and volunteering at Radnor. Judy is another long-time person that we’ve recently lost. Her work at Radnor and Fair Hill events as well as her teaching and training have touched many in Area II and she will be missed. XC at Fair Hill won’t feel the same without Judy there putting the final touches on the courses and assisting through the event. The upper level riders will particularly miss her introduction of the pumpkin path, an addition she brought to Fair Hill to help the riders make the long hack from stabling to the start without getting lost.
Fair Hill is one of several Area II venues that run multiple events every year and several of their organizers also play many other roles in eventing. Brian Ross, the co-organizer (with his wife Penny) of the Virginia Horse Trials, recently retired as a judge and TD. I was lucky enough to apprentice with Brian at an event that had more than its share of “special occurrences” and was deeply impressed by how he handled them. Brian always said something along the lines of there being enough ways to get eliminated and the role of officials being to help riders avoid them. For example, at one event, where the stadium jumping map was posted a bit late, one professional who had ridden preliminary, then missed a fence on the Intermediate course. Brian talked with the rider and gave them four faults. He said, “had the map been posted on time, I have no doubt you would have jumped that fence, but we can’t know that you would have jumped it clean.” Brian’s thoughtful decisions on the side of the rider were a great boon to the sport and while we don’t begrudge him more time at home and with the grandkids, we will miss him at the venues.
There are many more I haven’t mentioned and probably many I don’t know. But the past couple years have been a reminder that time is not always our friend. So say thanks, share a moment (and a great eventing story) with one of the people for whom you stay in eventing.