If you are a parent that is pushing your kid to make time on cross-country…back off.
I just recently had a conversation with a rider who is friends with another rider who has a parent that is a bit too involved. This poor rider with the over zealous parent is floundering and caving to pressure and this is detrimental to her and her horse. In this case, the parent is pushing the rider to make time on cross-country. Parents like this are more often than not, the ones that have never ridden.
A parent’s job is to ensure that his/her child is with a reliable and respected coach. Then they should let the coach work with the child to hone his/her cross-country skills. Parents can watch, learn and ask questions, but they should never give riding advice. If you are a parent that has never ridden a cross-country round, you truly have nothing to bring to the table. A horse is not a motorbike; it has a mind of its own, and the dynamic is so ever changing that no plan during a cross-country walk can be the answer to making time. A rider doesn’t just press the gas pedal and steer around the course.
Cross-country is an extreme sport that carries enough risks without someone feeling pressure to ride at speeds outside of his/her comfort zone. Making time on cross-country should be the last thing a rider worries about. Riders need to be able to safely make time at any given level before making an upgrade. Miles and miles of experience at low levels are what every rider needs to become an efficient cross-country rider. Often these crazy ass competitive parents are the ones pushing their kids up the levels. Setting up correctly for jumps costs time. But not setting up for a jump could cost a life. This is a grim reality in our sport. Only when riders who are solid and experienced at their level should there be a discussion to analyze the rounds for ways to shave off a bit of time. The discussion should be between the coach and rider. Parents can listen in, but keep their lips zipped.
The parents I have been witness to hounding their kids with remarks like “Did you make time?!” as soon as the kid crosses the finish line are usually not riders. Coaches have the responsibility of educating these parents. I understand that coaches need riders to make a living. However, when dealing with parents that bring to the table absolutely no cross-country riding experience with lots of ideas on how to improve cross-country skills, you need to explain the cold hard facts. If they don’t get it, fire them as clients. Do you want the reputation of a coach with dangerous riders?
What parents need to understand is that professionals are not making time at events by sacrificing their horses’ balance at jumps. They make time by riding economical lines between fences and never wasting a second when they land off of a fence. But of course, as the speeds increase at the higher levels, the top riders have to be able to set their horses up for jumps in a minimal amount of strides. Keep in mind, they are TOP riders, and they have their horses trained to listen to them, so they can execute smooth and quick set ups for jumps without risking their safety.
On the other hand, when inexperienced riders feel the need to finish a course inside the optimum time, they often start neglecting to balance their horse sufficiently before jumps. These riders are not doing this intentionally but in the heat of the moment, adrenaline takes over, and it is easy to make foolish decisions. Riders who are new to any level should never ride out of the start box with intentions of making time. Their focus needs to be solely on jumping every fence on course in perfect textbook style.
I am fortunate that the only advice my parents have ever given me before I head out of the start box is “BE SAFE and pull up if things are not going smoothly!” This is the advice that every kid should receive from parents. Making time is not easy, it is far from a priority, and it is a skill that takes a long time to execute safely.
Coaches and fellow riders need to stand up to these bully parents. Let’s make Eventing safer by educating parents on why every eventer needs to ride cross-country at the speed they are comfortable, not the speed they need to be competitive.