Help teach me Eventing 101? Or, my son wants to be an eventer, now what?
For the past five years my son has been riding and showing Hunters. He is a good, safe, rider and the plan was for him to show Short Stirrup next year. He is also going to ride on our barn's IEA team for the 2nd year. Last year he just did flat and was 1 point away from qualifying for Regionals. This year he is doing x-rails and flat. He is in 6th grade and 11 years old. He showed over 18" jumps this year and had some nice ribbons and champions/Reserves at a local and local rated show series, including a huge win in a "Class of Champions". He has been complimented by many trainers and others on what a good rider he is and how good his position looks. (note-I am not under the impression that he is the second coming of George Morris, I am just trying to give an idea of his abilities at this time).
I orginally sought out an English barn because I wanted him to develop balance and position before he tried anything at speed. I actually thought he would eventually switch to Western, possibly reining, just due to our location but he LOVES to to jump!
Anyway, he has now said that he is just really getting bored with Hunters. He likes the jumping but HATES the slow canter he is supposed to do. He also HATES the flat work. I mentioned that Dressage is flat work but he thinks it would be more interesting to practice than just trotting around in an arena. He also hates the fact that when he goes to shows he really has no idea why he wins or loses or what to do to improve. He likes the idea that with eventing, after Dressage everything is based on objective scoring. He also never cares if he gets a ribbon, he just cares if he is getting better and having a good time with his pony. I knew this day was coming, although as a Mom I have NO problem with going slow!!
I see him not wanting to go to the barn as much for lessons, but he loves to go out in the pasture and jump things. He has said it is a loss of interest in hunters, not a loss of interest in riding and I believe him because I get bored watching his lessons so I can't imagine how he feels.
So, I am trying to figure out what our next step should be. I just can't wrap my head around how you train for 3 different things!!
I have located 2 possible trainers and googled away to see what reviews they have and they are both positive. I am also open to suggestions. We are in Northwest GA, 30 minutes south of the TN line. I realize that we are going to have to drive probably at least 1 1/2 hours to get to anybody good.
So I guess my question is, how do get into eventing? Do you just start taking lessons with an eventing trainer? Do you have to take 3 lessons a week, one for each phase? How much should a kid at his level ride to progress? He rides a lot already, but does he need to triple that? What would you do/tell your kid the best, safest, way to start?
Also, we have a wonderful pony who has some dressage training. Her previous owner told us that she was told the pony could do eventing up to prelim. I have no idea what that means, or who told her that, or if it is true but I am under the impression that we own a pony that could at least do low levels. What I don't know is whether sending a kid who has never evented out on a pony that has never evented is a good idea. It doesn't seem like it would be, but does she need months of training or what? At this time I don't plan to move the pony or trailer in for lessons until we see where this is going. If he gets gung-ho about eventing then we will move the pony to the new barn so he can lesson on her. Until then I am hoping they will have a saintly old horse that he can lesson on.
Also, what equipment does he need? He, of course, has an approved helmet but that is all. Do I need to get him a vest? Are vests like helmets and don't need to be worn after a fall? Can I buy a used one and it be as safe as a new one? What about for the pony? We don't use any kind of boots or wraps, but does he need to get those for her? Even though he won't lesson on her at first, he will be practicing on her at home.
Can you recommend any good books or videos? We have a membership to EquestrianCoach, anything on there that would be helpful?
I know that the trainer will be able to answer all these questions, but I am just hoping to get some information and opinions from y'all as well. I figure if it all matches up then great, we are on the right path! What I don't want to do is to get him in a sitution he is not ready for and have him lose confidance or even worse, get hurt!
I really appreciate any help! He is used to being the only boy in the barn (he calls himself the King of Queens) so if you know of any boy eventers in North GA/ South TN I would love to see if he could ride with the same trainer! I keep telling him that surrounding himself with cute girls in tight pants will seem like a wonderful idea in a few years, but right now the only girl for him is his pony!
I think it's great that your son is interested in horses and seems very focused at such a young age! I would do what you can to encourage his interest.
At 11, he is still quite young so he has plenty of time to learn and grow as a rider. I don't think it matters too much what discipline he pursues as long as the trainer is instilling the correct basics. It is also important to make sure that your son enjoys what he is doing in order to keep his interest up. If that means a switch from hunters to something else, it is worth it, as long as the quality of instruction is still there.
With that said, I wouldn't invest too much in equipment until you try lessons with some event trainers in your area to see how things go. As far as lessons go, you don't have to take multiple lessons per week. If you go just once per week the trainer can easily incorporate both dressage and jumping exercises. In fact, a really good teacher will be able to help your son enjoy the flatwork. THIS is the most important thing I think in eventing. Good flatwork is essential, particularly at the lower levels. In the local series in my area, most of the lower levels have a lot of people going clear on both X-C and S-J, usually the only major issue are some time faults or maybe a rail or two in S-J. Many times, the final rankings have a lot to do with the dressage scores.
I would watch a couple of lessons first to get an idea of these trainers' styles, talk with them about their philosophy of riding/training and then take a trial lesson or two or three before deciding.
Rats!! Had you been in the NE section of GA I'd have recommended my trainer, Amy Nichols. She is one of the best Eventing trainers in the SE region and yes, while I am biased I have to say, she took an "old guy" and an "old mare" and helped them get started into eventing while keeping it fun and safe. I would still recommend her even for advice. Just let me know or you can google her.
So, my two cents. I love to read that there is a young man interested in eventing. It is a challenging sport, no doubt, but from what I read, I feel he would fit well with the challenge.
Yes, dressage is part of the sport, but with a good trainer he would begin to learn why/how dressage is important to jumping. The importance of balancing the horse, of asking with the aids, not the reins, and still letting them think it through is very cool. A good trainer will teach him that cross country is not just run and go, but very much a thinking game where you have to begin to learn striding, pace, and allow the horse to work with you.
Eventing is a discipline in its self covers three types (Dressage, Stadium, Field), but has its own approach and style that is different from the individual sports. As a parent I think you will find that there is a fantastic support group of help, and your son will find a more welcoming crowd of peers.
As to equipment, I agree with the view, don't spend a lot, but for the basics. You do need a vest, but no, it does not need to be replaced in a fall (like a helmet) and used is fine. So, helmet always, vest only on cross country.
Reading material, Anything by Jimmy Wofford for he is very clear in explaining what is needed for eventing. Take some of it with a grain of salt for he talks in large scale at times, but beginners can find value in his words. I would also look to getting books like 101 dressage exercises or 101 jumping exercises for they have some great basic workouts that would be good for the starting Eventer.
For the pony, I would invest in good splint boots and be religious about using them any time jumping. Also, there are conditioning exercises that will be required (and can be boring), because eventing is about endurance and athleticism. You do not want a tired pony at the end of a Beginner Novice run.
I figure other (much more) wise people will chime in. I really hope you can not only foster, but support this path. Eventing needs more young men in the sport (in this country). As you mentioned, maybe not now, but soon enough he'll discover that being a minority in this sport is a good thing for the social life. More so, I feel it will give a fantastic foundation of confidence. To tell peers that you can jump a horse over solid fences out in the field...tough one to challenge.
And make sure whatever trainer you end up with meshes well with your son as far as teaching and with you (and other responsible adults) as far as how the scheduling, charges, etc will work. Eventers tend to be a bit more independent than hunter riders and so you may need to ask if you need help with entries, etc.
Lots of great advice given here already. FWIW, you may be overestimating how much ability your son needs before he's ready to try a schooling horse trial. Many unrecognized, non-USEA events have Green as Grass or Starter divisions where the dressage test is only walk/trot, the XC phase is just some logs on the ground in an open field, and the stadium jumping phase is cross rails. It sounds like your son is almost ready for that sort of thing. I'm not saying not to get an event trainer, just saying that your son and pony might be ready for an eventing debut sooner than you think.
Ditto the advice to contact your local Pony Club. Even if you don't join, knowing the Pony Club folks will give you access to three very valuable things:
a. Insider knowledge of which of your local trainers may be friendly to eventing clients. A lot of folks who live far from their "real" event trainer use the bye weeks to work with a local dressage or showjumping trainer.
b. Potential access to pony jocks who might be willing to help school your pony XC or take the pony to a horse trial or two.
c. You'll find out where eventers hang out when they're not at horse trials. Recognized horse trials are super fun but also fairly expensive, and your son may find it useful to cut his teeth at cheaper events like eventer derbies, hunter paces, schooling dressage and jumper shows, etc.
Do talk early and often to your event trainer about what can be accomplished at home, on the pony. Even if the pony is not an "eventer" quite yet, I'm guessing pony is eminently capable of helping your DS practice these skills:
a. Accurate geometry in the dressage ring. Try downloading a few USEA Beginner Novice dressage tests (walk/trot/canter), or a few USDF Intro tests (walk/trot only) and seeing how your son copes with the geometry. Although he'll need to have his tests memorized by the time he gets to a USEA Beginner Novice horse trial, you can give him a taste by "calling" the test at home. He may be surprised at how difficult, and engaging, it is to try and accurately ride your horse through these figures!
b. Although there's no substitute for actual cross-country work in the open, Jimmy Wofford has a theory that all XC obstacles break down to five fundamental fence shapes: vertical, oxer, ascending triple bar, hogsback (three bars with the highest bar in the center, like a house roof), and the obstacle without height (such as the ditch). You can school all of those shapes in the arena. You can make a fake ditch at home with black landscaping paper, go out of your way to walk the pony through rain puddles, or use natural terrain to get your horse used to going up and down banks (although this is not something to try without speaking to an event trainer about the right posture and rein-slipping-and-re-grabbing for banks.)
c. Maintaining a steady, even pace without tugging all over the pony's mouth is a critical skill for cross country. This might get your son a wee bit more engaged with the slow canter work he's doing in the hunter ring; it's good prep for putting in a steady, even XC and stadium round in eventing.
Good luck! Welcome to the party!
Last edited by jn4jenny; Nov. 12, 2012 at 09:06 AM.
The USEA (United States Eventing Association) has a list of certified Eventing instructors on their website. Check it out. The certification program is very good (I know from first hand experience) and the instructors primary concern is SAFETY, along with good technique and a strong knowledge of all aspects of Eventing.
Congratulations on being so interested in your son's passion for riding. In addition to the links and suggestions above.
www.usea3.org is the website for AreaIII US Eventing.
Suggest you go to http://www.gdcta.org Georgia Dressage and Combined Training Association. This is a good place to local area trainers, schooling shows and clinics.
This is the link for the Birmingham Dressage and Combined Training Association. Gives you two groups to work with.
Interview the local Pony Clubs - some are better than others.
"Never do anything that you have to explain twice to the paramedics."
Courtesy my cousin Tim
As others have said, Pony Club is a great resource. As with any all-volunteer operation, the quality of local programs is uneven. I would not rely on PC as his primary source of learning; instead consider it a great supplement to lessons and training. PC has a rating system that spells out what skills and knowledge each kid must demonstrate to pass the test for each level. PC rallies (competitions) are divided by rating level, so the kids compete against those of similar skill. They’re judged on both riding and horse care, and given a report at the end showing what they were credited and deducted for. And unlike hunters, parents are not allowed to hover and “help”.
For books, start with the US Pony Club Manual of Horsemanship. Get your son the "D" level book (Basics for Beginners), which is written for kids his age. Get yourself the "C" and "A/B" books also, to give you an idea of what to expect in the future.
I’m not familiar with the web site you mentioned. There is My Virtual Eventing Coach which has extensive information on the sport—not sure how much of it will fit your son’s reading/comprehension level but it might help *you* get a better grasp on his new game.
Regarding riding and lessons, no he does not need to triple his current activity. He should be able to do starter-level events with his current amount of riding and one lesson per week. Lots of riding in the pasture is a good thing, though more emphasizing getting/keeping his pony fit rather than lots of jumping. If trainer or vet teaches him how to measure recovery from exercise, he can set himself goals for improving her fitness and measure his progress, even when not competing.
You’ll need an event trainer’s evaluation to know how capable his pony is for the sport, but if she’s had basic dressage training, jumps willingly, and is free from major soundness problems, she’ll get him off to a great start. Chances are he’ll have outgrown her by the time he’s considering a move to prelim, which is the lowest of the “upper levels” of eventing (3’7” fences) and likely 4-6+ years and a huge commitment of time and effort away.
I also agree with looking into Pony Club, but not for a sole source of instruction.
I'm not in your area and can't help with trainers, but as an eventing mom I can tell you that your son is NOT too young to start. I see kids under 10 on their ponies at the unrecognized events all the time. My daughter did her first event around 11 years old and she really could have done one earlier than that. In your area you would look for schooling events that include "Amoeba" and "Tadpole" levels. Amoeba can be completed at a walk/trot... Tadpole you'd have to canter at least in the dressage test, and the fences are usually 2' to 2'3".
One thing you mentioned is that your son is tired of cantering around at the slow canter required by hunters. Well until your son is eventing at Training/Prelim he is not going to be doing anything faster out on cross-country.. not without speed fault penalties anyway. Even on her small 15 hh horse, DD had to really do a controlled slow canter to avoid speed faults when she was at Novice. So eventing is not just running fast outside of the ring and jumping things.
Good luck! I hope he gets the chance to give it a try!
my sons started just by taking lessons at an eventing barn and then joined pony club - either way to start would be fine imo.
If he really just wants to event than I would go to an eventing barn - because there can be lots of other stuff with pony club. Some good, some not so good. Don't get me wrong - pony club was great for my sons - both are national prince philip games champions. They learned alot, met a lot of great people and had some great experiences. Each club is different.
The vest is all you really need to add to start. An eventing barn will likely have great ponies/horses for him to get his feet wet with for cross country - this is important - to start on a safe, well seasoned mount.
My boys were lucky that I evented too - so knew what to do/get. Your learning curve will be almost as great as his.
Thank you to everyone for such great advice! I really appreciate you taking the time to post. I have looked at all the links too. That Discover Eventing site is great for those who are new!
I have gotten him a lesson for Weds with a new trainer in Alpharetta. We will take a few there and after Thanksgiving we have a lesson with second trainer in Jasper as well. Both trainers are 1-1 1/2 hours or so from us, but I couldn't find anyone closer that I felt would be able to teach him good solid fundamentals. We are just in the worst place in the world to try to find good teaching! We are lucky to have such a good Hunter barn only 25 minutes away.
He is so excited to try this! He is not the typical boy that doesn't care about technique. He REALLY wants to get it right and to know why and how things are done a certain way. He is just a really neat kid and that's why I am willing to do all this for him. His Dad and I have told him that as long as he is working hard with a great attitude we will do whatever we can to help him.
I also love hearing we don't have to invest in a ton of equipment right off the bat! I do think that if it looks like he is enjoying everything a pair of boots for the pony and a few of the recommended books may show up under the Christmas tree!
We have looked into Pony Club, but in our area there just isn't anything at all. I haven't looked up in Chattanooga, I will try that as well. Both my kids (I have an 8 year old daughter that loves to ride as well) would love to get involved with something like that. We just don't know ANYBODY that is part of one.
Well, I think that answers all the questions. And again, thank you all so much for the wonderful advice and encouragement! If you see a cute blond boy tearing around on a chestnut pony then tell him hi!
OP check out Leslie O'Neal Olsen at dressagesimplysouthern.com in Villa Rica, GA. She is classically trained dressage with sound jumping knowledge. She may be closer for lessons plus she may be able to recommend a trainer closer to your location.
"Never do anything that you have to explain twice to the paramedics."
Courtesy my cousin Tim