The Best Way to Save Our Equestrian Games Is To Attend Them

Martin Fuchs and Clooney. Photo by Lauren Mauldin

BY BLOG EDITOR LAUREN MAULDIN

All the medals have been given out, and even bitten by the world’s top riders as they stood grinning on a podium. I’ve got a stack of Tryon 2018 hats stuffed in my suitcase to give my trainers now that I’m back home, and a souvenir saddle pad for my horse because it’s the only kind of FEI gear he’s ever going to wear. The vendors have packed up. The Tryon International Equestrian Center is quiet. WEG is done for another four years, which means it’s time to look back and digest how things went.

Even though I remain extremely proud of the games in my home state, I recognize they didn’t run perfectly and knew there would be some negativity. Eric Lamaze’s Facebook post is sure to elicit some strong opinions, both agreeing and disagreeing with his public stance on the games. I’ll never claim to know what the other side of Tryon was like as a competitor and admit that any horse show VIP experience that doesn’t involve standing in line in the sun for a burger cooked under a pop up tent sounds fancy to me, but I did have to agree with one of Lamaze’s points – the spectator turnout was terrible.

We can blame some of that on the hurricane. I had to talk members of my own party out of cancelling their trip, because of how the national media portrayed the flooding in North Carolina between weeks one and two of WEG. Just as I promised, there was no bad weather in the western part of the state (aside from the heat and humidity) and nobody had any trouble getting around.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

I’ll never know how many more of those blue seats would have been filled if Florence hadn’t made her way up the coast, but I believe the event would have been under-attended either way. I feel that way simply because in the weeks leading up to it I was surprised by how many people didn’t plan on attending, even if they lived within driving distance. That, more than anything else about this year’s WEG, is what gets me down when it comes to the state of our sport.

Social media and live feeds are amazing tools for staying up to date with the biggest events in the hunter/jumper world. They make it possible to witness top competition, but it’s no replacement for actually sitting in the stands and seeing things in person. I’m not a particularly patriotic person and I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t deeply follow FEI show jumping in my normal life, but on team finals day I decked myself out in red, white and blue, bought an overpriced (and now beloved) US Equestrian hat and slapped a flag tattoo on my face to watch the American team earn that gold medal in the most exciting jump off I’ve ever witnessed. Watching the medal ceremony, I couldn’t wipe the dopey grin off my face when McLain threw his helmet high into the air. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a little emotional watching the team wave to us in the stands when they did their victory lap.

You can’t get that kind of feeling from a live stream.

All decked out for Team USA!

Now I know that there are a hundred reasons why we all can’t pack up our bags and travel all over the world to follow show jumping – the very top of that list being the expense of keeping up our horses, but there are still ways to get outside your bubble. Whether you travel to show rated or stay local in your back yard, we all get used to our own circuits. We see the same people, trainers and horses so much that it all becomes routine. I bet those of you who show often could pin a class of regular competitors before it even started, and not be that far off.

Spectating out of your circle breaks this monotony, and there is so much to learn. I love watching Grand Prix riders warm up before entering a big class. Seeing how big names in our sport navigate crowded rings and watching them school the warm up jump is super educational.

Laura Kraut and Zeremonie. Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Plus being a part of the crowd for historic events is, simply put, amazing. It’s a feeling that even transcends personal riding experience. I brought my mother to WEG with me, and even though her horse exposure is limited, she still had a fantastic time. We can’t forget that show jumping, especially at big international events like WEG, is a spectator sport. In that way, it’s no different than the Super Bowl or the World Series, and it needs bodies in the stands for it to thrive.

Most people who ride horses competitively in the United States are within a few hours drive from a major horse show event. Maybe it’s a little Grand Prix at a local A show, or perhaps a huge evening class at Indoors. In a few years, it might even be WEG. Regardless of what kind of event it is, I encourage you to embark on a day trip and get out of your bubble. If you love the hunters, find an International Derby to go watch. If western pleasure is your jam, look up a big breed show near you. No matter what you show, we can learn a lot by watching those competing on a bigger playing field than what we’re used to.

McLain Ward and Clinta wave to the crowd. Photo by Lauren Mauldin

In four years, the World Equestrian Games will come again and right now Lexington, Kentucky is on the list of possible cities. Tickets won’t be free. Getting there won’t be the easiest thing in the world, but I already know that I’ll be securing my spot in the crowds. On team finals day, I’ll show up in my red, white and blue and cheer for clear rounds until my throat hurts. Maybe I’ll even bring a flag, but the details aren’t that important. What is important is that I hope to have plenty of company.

Hopefully, I’ll see you there.