Tiers Not Required

11722638_857467494302380_1982562145014132252_oRecently, one of the e-Venting team postulated that maybe it would be a good idea for safety reasons to have a Two-Tier system. In essence, events would either be classified as easier or harder for the level so you could pick an appropriate one to step up to the next level at. The rest of the team were not so enthusiastic, and in the spirit of encouraging discussion and debate here’s why.

Firstly, how would you classify an event? How difficult it seems to you is very dependent on both your recent experience at the level, and what that particular horse finds tough. You may have a ditchy horse, or one unsure about water, or one which finds turning combinations or skinnies difficult. Or maybe as a rider you don’t want to see a series of maximum dimension fences at your first run at the level. That would make your easy event someone else’s tough event.

Secondly, when would you classify an event? If you do it a year in advance, in time for the schedules, it really constrains any course changes and improvements. If you don’t do it until just before the event, once the course has been set and seen by BE, then it’s too late to be useful because entries closed weeks ago. And what happens if you do it a long way in advance and then the reality on the day is that it should have been the other tier? People will be furious! And how will you determine the geographical spread? Will events pick, meaning you may not get any in some areas of the country, or will BE choose, forcing some venues to dramatically change their courses so there is an even mix in all areas? What about qualifications? Will you only be able to get them at certain upper tier venues, meaning if there isn’t one near you, then you’re penalised by having to travel further?

Thirdly, will it make eventing safer? Or will it just encourage people to have a go at an ‘easier’ track at the level above? The idea seems to ignore the personal responsibility we all have when we compete – if something seems just too tough for your horse on that day, you either withdraw or retire. But if something has already been classed as an ‘easier’ course, then will riders be more likely to have a go at something they have misgivings about?

11728990_857466794302450_7901116165180772249_oWe all felt that really, stepping up is a matter of doing your homework. If you know your horse is a bit ditchy at BE100, then don’t enter a Novice and cross your fingers, go and jump ditches until it isn’t an issue! Or if you as a rider are a bit unhappy about maximum dimension fences, then jump them (even showjumps will fulfill this purpose) in your training until they don’t look big any more. Your aim in training should not be to get the horse ready for an easy course at the level above, it should be to do enough that whatever comes up, the horse and rider have the tools in the box to answer the questions.

And then there’s the other sort of homework. Course walking. Walk courses. Walk a lot of courses at the level above. Look at who ran there last year – if it had sections full of pros, maybe that’s not an ideal step up event. Most events don’t change significantly year to year – it’s too expensive.  The exception to this is centres like Aston le Walls; so again, have a think about whether or not those are the right venues for you to step up at. They might well be because you can school over them!

Many venues are guilty of not making use of alternatives which would be a far easier way for adjusting courses so that they cater for all combinations at a level at the single event. Some fences cannot be escaped though, and these are normally the fixed fences such as ditches which remain unchanged year after year.
And finally, the biggest reason why we’d hate to see a two tier system is that for us, cross country is about having a sense of adventure. About not knowing what will be on the course until you walk it. About not having control over all the variables. About pitting yourself and your horse against a challenge, and coming home victorious. We love the adrenaline, we love the excitement of knowing you’ll need your wits about you to get round a course. And we don’t move up until we’ve got to the point where we walk a course at one level and know that barring random acts of idiocy, we’ll be ok. But the level above, that looks fun, and stretches our comfort zone a bit, maybe it’s time we moved up…


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1 Comment

  • I’m all for healthy debate, and – in that spirit – there are a number of points in your article which I disagree with! Let me make it clear, I am not particularly pro or anti two tiers, although I think it is an interesting idea, but I don’t believe your arguments against are valid. Specifically, point one: It should be perfectly possible to classify courses as upper or lower tier, this would be done by the TD in conjunction with the course designer. Having spent yesterday in the company of some of best known and most respected course designers and coaches in the world, it is clear to me that, although people have different perspectives and no doubt there would be the odd controversial decision (just as you get the odd “bad fence” or slightly mis-pitched course at the moment) it would be perfectly possible to produce a set of guidelines which would enable courses to be categorised U or L. I would suggest that the grading would be based on the level of experience primarily of the horse, so L courses would be suitable for greener horses, and would be technically slightly less demanding, rather than smaller.

    Second point: when would courses be graded? Answer, well in advance. I don’t believe this would constrain course changes in any way, it would simply provide a framework for making them – so a designer would ensure that any changes didn’t significantly increase the technicality of a L track, while he/she could be a bit bolder with changes to a U track.

    Third point: rider responsibility – I think this is hugely important but I don’t really think two tier affects this issue materially either way. You could make a case that it increases rider responsibility, in that riders would enter events on the basis of more knowledge of what degree of difficulty to expect when they get somewhere. My view would be that all events at say BE100 level would be qualifiers, and rider responsibility would come in again to say that surely anyone with some sense would realise that to step up to Novice without having done any upper tier BE100s would be ridiculous? But otherwise, you could just put a little rule in saying that at least one qualifying event would have to be a U one.

    Regarding your later points, I agree that homework is vital, and there is no point in entering a 90 level event (ANY 90 level event until or unless you are perfectly comfortable jumping a fence of maximum dimensions for this level, and preferably a bit more, in training. I also agree that any specific issues regarding certain types of fence need to be ironed out rather than trying to find venues which avoid the issue. I don’t buy the “if sections are packed with pros the venue may not be suitable” argument though, there are so many factors which affect where pros take their horses, in fact it would give me confidence that the ground is likely to be well prepared and the courses fair if it was popular with them – of course, it would reduce my chances of being well-placed but that’s a different issue…

    Lastly, a point of information: course designers are actively discouraged from using many alternatives these days, it’s not the way the sport wants to go (rightly or wrongly). The view is that if the main/quick route needs an alternative it probably isn’t the right fence in the right place anyway. Alternatives have a vital role as a “get out of jail” so if you have a run out at a skinny at the top of a step, or a corner as the second element of a combination, there needs to be an alternative as it may be difficult/impossible to get at the original fence to represent. But as an easier option to a difficult question, they are well and truly out of fashion.