Tuesday, November 20, 2018

An Open Letter on The State of Eventing in Ontario

Amazing memories at the OHTA Champs 2016

  Where to begin.  Last year the OHTA  - Ontario Horse Trials Association - started posting on their Facebook page that the numbers of competitive eventers in Ontario was dwindling.  They wanted suggestions on how to "grow the sport" over the next few years.  A lot of good conversations took place, sans the OHTA in the comment section with ideas.

  A few months later, we receive an email with a survey on "Growing eventing in Ontario".  The survey was a bit of a lie, as they majority of the survey was about whether or not the OHTA should re-brand.  If they re-brand, what should be the new name?  The cost to re-brand would be around $1500.  

  I am all for re-branding in other instances, and know the benefits in marketing, but I personally felt this was a ridiculous waste of money for an Association that already has limited resources.  They said they felt "Horse Trials" was old and outdated and no one called it that anymore. Hmmm...my first conundrum here is that well, that is just plain wrong.  Especially here in Ontario.  Lets take a look at the 2019 schedule.

May 25 - Grandview Horse Trials
June 15 - Little Bromont Horse Trials
June 16 - Caledon Horse Trials
June 23 - Wits End Horse Trials

The list goes on.  So while our Provincial Association claims "Horse Trials" is old, outdated, and doesn't appeal to youth anymore, the host events are not in agreement.  Talk about oxy-moron.  So we have our Association saying one thing and the host events clearly disagreeing.  Somehow, they believed that changing their name, is going to make eventing more appealing and popular. I seriously doubted that.  I filled the survey out in detail.  I sent it to all my eventing friends and members to do the same.  Every single person I spoke with was in agreement, that re-branding was not only not necessary but a waste of resources at this time.

  A few weeks later OHTA posted on their Facebook that they ARE in fact changing their name and branding.  Well this was suspect, as the survey hadn't even closed yet!  Clearly the decision was already made to re-brand, and the survey was a clever way to make it seem like they cared what their members have to say.  Then the Facebook post was deleted.  Not impressed.  As expected, the survey was released a week or so after and the results are as follows;


  From the survey which less than a third of members answered, the results were pretty even for YES/NO on the re-branding. However the answer whether it will help eventing grow, was a clear NO.  More members definitely need a say. Perhaps this survey would have been good to complete along side our annual membership?  Maybe an idea for the future. 

 Since the board already posted on Facebook they were going to go ahead with it before the survey closed, I have my doubts on how legit the whole thing was, but I digress.  The agreement was made to change the name OHTA to OEA - Ontario Eventing Association.  Not to be confused with the Ontario Energy Association.

  Last week was our AGM and awards banquet. Unable to attend this year, I waited by the computer for the "exciting news" we were going to be getting that would show what the OEA is going to do for alllllll those adult ammies who are loyal to the sport year after year with little thanks.  We were promised an announcement right after the AGM but that didn't happen.  Little tid bits of info trickled out here and there as the days went on.

  The OAE has announced in its initiative to "Grow Eventing", the following;

Rebranding to the name OEA 
Eliminating the Provincial Championships (our only Champs)
Doing 2 test ride dressage clinics in March/April
Offering $20 XC schooling at select locations on weekdays at host event sites
Invest and support the YRs - we currently have no program at this time

 Let me go over these one by one.  I have already addressed the $1500 they spent on a new name.  

Oh boy.  I am not trying to be negative, but this is a bit silly.   I mean this is something great to offer, at any time.  I do not agree with OEA funds being put towards this, and that this will help grow eventing.  First of all, Ontario is massive.  Only a select few will be in the area to trailer to this location in winter.  Most eventers have their own dressage coach.  Most local horse communities around here offer test ride clinics year after year.  Our dressage branch does, and even they have trouble filling the spots.  You have to bring your own lunch.   You have to pay $20 a test.

  I could get behind this if it was offered in multiple locations, for free, with lunch provided.  Otherwise I don't really see how this is a perk of being a member.  I don't see how it helps grow the sport.  Why is energy being spent on this, when it is needed elsewhere.

Next up;

 While we all love a good XC schooling. I have a few issues with this too. One that it was being used as a perk for Adult Ammies. If it was a free XC lesson it would be. First mistake is holding it mid week. Most of us ammies work...and don't have ample time off.  Again, its $20.  It should be free.  You can school almost all the host locations for $50.  You must bring a coach.  So someone like me who travels to a coach, who isn't an eventer, leaves me hanging.  If you do have a coach, you're still looking at paying your regular lesson fee.  They at least say they will provide a coach.  No comment until I see who is provided but, you better hope it is someone good and I doubt it is free coaching.  $10 for two stadium rounds.  Might as well just enter a jumper show at that point.  One plus - snacks and drinks are provided, so there's that.  I will try and go anyways.  I am not saying this isn't a good idea, because I think it is.  But I do NOT think it is a very good "perk" for all us adult ammies who dump thousands into this sport annually.  I think its more of a "bare minimum" attempt to please members.

  As for investing and supporting the YRs, I can't comment because I don't have all the details. I do know we have no program right now.  I also know that it is insanely expensive to do YR.  What parents can afford to send kids to FEI events to qualify? Not a lot.  I support fundrasing for YR, but what I do not support in any way whatsoever are the two points that stood out to me.  One being "move the talent up".  I have so many issues with pushing kids and anyone really to "move up".  Our sport is dangerous, it is not some game to field high performance teams and get kids upgrading as soon as possible.  Someone even commented on the OEA Facebook that instead of Champs, we should be pressuring people to upgrade.  Yep, you heard that right.  I could write an entire blog post about how bad of an idea that is, complete with examples of people injured due to the pressure to upgrade.  Which brings me to final, and most aggravating point.

Victory gallop with your bestie? #goals No longer possible in Ontario.

  Championships are cancelled.  That's right, you heard it correctly.  We are no longer running Championships.  It wasn't even discussed, just dropped like a bomb out of the sky on us. No one asked us, just nope. Done.  Where is the money going that would have gone to host champs? To the YR program.  Which the OEA has deemed more important to the sport than hosting a Championship end of season.  So they want to fund YRs to go to their champs, but the grass roots riders who SUPPORT ALL OF EVENTING in Ontario, get nothing. Zilch, zip.

  Before you think this was about hosting it, it's not. Several locations have stepped up to offer Champs this year and have been declined.  They have offered to do it as a one day show, run concurrent with non champs, just have separate ribbons etc, and were denied.  Apparently they don't want to do it if they can't have it over 2 or 3 days.  Funny, considering the main reason people don't go to Champs is because they have to go over night.

I'm going to let OEA in on a little secret.  I know it can be hard to understand your membership when you live in horse country and most people board and are living in a higher pay scale, but a good chunk, I would be willing to bet the majority of members are full time working adult amateurs like me.  They not only work full time, but may keep their horses at home.  Leaving for a weekend is not always feasible. Whether it is finding help, or paying someone.  If an event is 3 hrs away, we drive there and back same day.  If its overnight, we don't have that option.

Compare Champ Ribbon to a Trillium H/J Champ ribbon.  OEA makes minimal effort

  Without Champs, what competitive goals can we as riders and competitors make?  Why can't we get a "big show", and win a "big ribbon".  Why is everything about high performance? Why is OEA focused soley on supporting professionals, and making future ones.  Their slide going around the internet literally says something about making future professionals.  Surely they are not so ignorant to think that this is where their main support comes from.  I heard an argument that Young Riders stay in eventing, so it will help the sport grow.  This is so wrong, from my personal experience anyways.  Most of the people I know who did or aimed for YR, ended up quitting riding entirely.  They certainly aren't eventing.  The kids on the ponies?  The adults who just started in adulthood?  The established adult with a hefty bank account? They stick around, year after year.  Perhaps the pressure of High Performance team, and the financial commitment aren't the best to "grow eventing".

  So now, us ammies, are left with a full eventing season next year.  With no Championships. Our Champs money going to fund the kids who already are supported by parents who have money.  Our "perks" money going to Yrs too, and leaving us with some dressage test ride clinic and a cheap XC schooling.  They need people who actively compete - not just professionals to have a say.  Not just parents who have YRs, and not people who are promoting their own products through our organization.

lifelong, dedicated eventer PC: Bailini

  Of course this isn't just a rant. It is a place I can have my say, get feedback, and also be heard over those who just see my comments as bitchy on Facebook.  I have some suggestions on what we can give back to our members coming, but first let's look on some examples from other organizations;

  •  Alberta Horse Trials Ass hosted a clinic with three different clinicians - free - paid for by AHTA and Alberta Equestrian.
  • They also offer a boatload of awards, way more tha OEA https://albertahorsetrials.com/index.php/awards-subsidies/
  • In the past, they have paid for teams to travel places like Rebecca farm and compete
  • ACCQ (Quebec Eventing) fully funded teams to travel to the Long Format Three Day at Oakhurst Farm http://www.acccq.ca/d-veloppement-des-athl-tes---athlete-development.html
  • ACCQ Also hosts countless clinics, and mini trials, and XC schooling days - heres their guidelines for such "ACCC-Q CLINICS"
- organized by the Development committee of the ACCC-Q or with the application of the Athlete Development Fund of Equestrian Canada after being approved by the committee.
- has to be an eventing clinic (or beneficial to the development of eventing in Quebec and/or of Quebec eventing athletes);
- must offer a benefit specific to ACCC-Q members (for example: cheaper entries, raise of funds for a specific project for the members, or other form of benefit);
- must be open to all ACCC-Q members (within the limits of the number of places and levels offered);
- should not be in conflict with a sanctioned Horse trial organized in Quebec. Where a potential conflict exists, the committee must ensure to get the approval of all organizers potentially impacted.

* These will be advertised by email, Facebook and our clinique section on the website providing the links.

  • ACCQ Also offers a fun day - schooling horse trial a reduced cost
  • British Showjumping offers free and reduced membership after so many clear rounds.
  • In Ottawa we have the National Capital Horse Trials Association. This is a free association you join if you compete in the Ottawa area.  They give out amazing prizes and plaques for year end.  Best of all - NO membership required.  If they can do it, why can't OEA?  They have also helped fund teams going to Mid South Team Challenge.  http://www.nchta.ca/
  Obviously nothing is going to make everyone happy.  These are however, some examples of how other Provinces are rewarding members.  I believe we have the most events and members in Ontario.  Where is all the money going?  Where are the efforts to support those who already love and fund the sport?

PC: Bailini

 I personally have been eventing for 14 years.  I attended my first event at 11 - Touch A Rainbow Horse Trials.  I was part of the YR program.  I have evented in Scotland, England, Ireland, Ontario, and Quebec.  I have worked for Olympic eventers, I have worked for world class eventing producers (think Fernhill).  I have ran my own shows, ran my own short courses, done year end awards, have sat on the Board for Dressage Canada and currently sit on a Board with my profession.  I don't feel as though I am ignorant to how these things work.

  In 24 years eventing, I have spent;

$1,076 on my OHTA membership
$2,996 on eventing levvys
$32,000 on entry fees

  I have spent approximately $36,000 in this Province on this sport on FEES alone.  While I may not be a pro who brings 10 horses an event, this money is all my own, hard earned money (or my moms when I was under 17 lol).  My time and money is worth something to me, and I really wish it was worth something to OEA too.

Snapple at Hawkridge - age 13

Westy at Dreamcrest - 14

Westy at Fiddlers Green - 14

If you want ideas to grow the sport, why not ask those who have been in the sport the longest, not driven by money or fame.  I should think, we have the answer.  Some points for suggestions, with notes;

  • Better prizes/awards at Events  
    • I don't know what it is with Ontario, but our ribbons are sad.  Compared to those in the US, or even the Trillium Hunter Jumper and Dressage Shows!  Running shows myself, I know the cost of nice ribbons, and it is minimal.  One sponsor could be obtained per event to supply ribbons.  Maybe OEA could get a sponsor for ALL ribbons for the year, and save event organizers the cost, in turn they could reduce entry fees for us.  If you want someone to find a sponsor OEA, contact me.
  • Better year end awards
    • We used to have awards like the Thoroughbred award, it is no longer.  There are a handful of awards, but they are dwindling. They even got rid of Horse of the Year this year!   Why not contact Thoroughbred Incentive Program to see if they will join forces with OEA? Why not ammie awards? Why not more breed awards?  Why not ribbon to 10th for year end like the Trillium H/J Associations?
  • Recognition for hard work
    • Similar to rider levels in Dressage in the US.  Say Pre Entry-Pre-Training is bronze, Training to Prelim Silver, and Int/Advanced is Gold.  Say you need to complete 3 events, or 3 on your dressage score to earn this.  A nice plaque or prize to show the achievement and riders listed on the OEA website.  Cost is minimal.
  • Making the sport less geared towards expensive tack, horses, going pro and wintering in Florida
    • These things are all great but they are not what eventing is about.  Eventing is about the ultimate test between horse and rider.  Riders don't need an $800 air vest.  But when you join a new sport, and you see this around, and everyone is trying to convince you this is what you need to event and you can't afford it, you are going to look elsewhere.  Eventing is intimidating to outsiders and I think those who event currently don't realize that.
  • Stop with level creep.
    • Stay within the levels as they are designated.  We do not need corner to corner combinations our of the water at Training level.  Trakehners at Entry.  These ever changing more difficult courses make it harder for those new to sport to feel they can challenge the course, and won't be surprised when they arrive at an event to see their Entry course has a 3'6 brush, trakehner, ditch, and water crossing.
  • Once an Event date is set, keep it.  
    • We are eventers. We can event in the rain, sleet, snow.  The last few years of dates changing and events not knowing if they are running until the last minute has made a lot of people very gun shy.
  • Subsidize entry fees, clinics, team events
    • Education is invaluable.  XC schooling is fun and all, but what we need is to educate riders about eventing, XC, and the sport.  Why not host symposiums with big riders, like the Carl Hester and Charlotte ones at Caledon.  Offer day seminars for free - on what is eventing. How to attend your first horse trial.  That type of thing.  Most people who want to event but don't, don't because the thought of it all is too overwhelming. They don't know where to start.  There are professional eventers out there trying to grow the sport, why not ask them to help? I'm positive they would donate their time. I know I would.
    • Team events can be the pinnacle for a lot of riders who do not want to go pro or FEI, but want to feel the team atmosphere, or have the pressure to show at a big event.  Other Provincial memberships, and the NCHTA have no problem funding these. Why can't Ontario? Again is it fundraising? There are people who are willing to do so if the board is not interested.
    • We all know events are expensive.  If every event donated one Sr and one JR entry per their event, OEA could use a random draw or a qualifying system to give out these free entries per event.
  • Bring back the Championships!
    • This is the end goal for many riders. Something to strive toward even if it just means qualifying.  Many riders will never get to travel out of Province to experience a "big" event, or a Victory gallop, or the original format - Dressage, XC, showjumping.  Let's reward riders for their season.
    • Teens and young adults live for these shows.  Some plan their whole year around it.  These riders may turn to other sports where there are "Champs" available.  The memories made at these events last a lifetime.
  Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.  Sincerly, OEA member 50713.


  1. AHTA subsidizes multiple clinics throughout the season. We generally pay ~$250 to ride with Clinicians brought in from the states and ~$200 for local(ish) clinicians. They also host an Eventing 101 clinic series, geared for people who've never evented before. These cost $25, so not free but as close as you can really get in the horse world.

    Level creep is such a big problem. Especially at the lower levels. It drives me batty that course designers (at least in AB) keep making each level progressively more difficult. The technicality of a Pre-Training course here is basically equivalent to Training at Rebecca Farm, just with fences that are 3" shorter.

    1. I am in envy of your options for all your cool programs.

      And I agree....I was worried about putting level creep in because a lot of people want to fight me over it, but I think it is killing the sport at the Lower levels.

  2. It can get so very frustrating when associations stop listening to their members. Don't get me started on EC! We need to support AAs they are the backbone of all the sports.

    1. yeah, did you get that nice email EC just sent about sport licenses now??? Ughhhh

  3. It's very interesting to read about the state of eventing in other countries. Here we have different issues, but our State Eventing branch is one of the best in the country. We pay a levy as part of our entry fee to every event we attend, and the money raised from the levy is invested directly back into the sport to support riders and clubs running events. It gives us access to some of the best equipment and courses even though we are very isolated (Western Australia). As a result the sport is booming because we know our courses and equipment are up to date and on par with the rest of the world.

  4. OMG - I feel your frustration so much that reading this post is making me angry! I get a little hulk smash at association bs (dressage rider here, but really similar issues).

  5. Couldn't agree with you more, the way to grow horse sports is to make things accessible at the grass roots level for both amateurs and youth (because a lot of the passionate youth end up being amateurs with not a lot of funds but with plenty of passion!)

    1. Exactly! I think eventing needs to lean a bit more to H/J model personally.

  6. Like AHTA, HTBC offers a few subsidized XC clinics every year. I feel like everyone takes advantage of them, and it's a great opportunity. I'd be quite upset if they changed that to midweek find your own coach XC schooling or dressage clinics. So weird. On the downside, we just lost one of our main events and our calendar is looking a little sparse for next year :(
    Re: the potentially 'fake' surveys, my work does that all the time to their staff and trust me, everyone knows the survey and sometimes even how the results are portrayed are suspect, and it's not the best idea for encouraging morale or participation.

    1. omg, my work does it too! So transparent and not in a good way lol

  7. Ugh I feel you with frustrations about the local organization. It’s great that you have so many ideas tho!! Let’s be real, that’s the most important part about solving any probalems anyway right? And involvement and engagement is all about accessibility and reach, not a silly new name haha!

    I occasionally toy with the idea of getting involved locally but the politics are so crappy and the folks who run the operation are so set in their ways....


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