Question #5: (Current freebie!) Could you give me a short checklist of things I need to do if I plan to start eventing this spring?

I see there are "unrecognized trials" in MD, and I suppose that is the kind one starts at (also schooling days at some xc farms)! For instance, I've seen that certain things are required, helmet, vest, but what is a medical armband, and where does one get this?? I am going to join the USEA Area II, or do I join USEA? I am not interested in accruing points at this time. I just want access to information so I can get more knowledge and experience. (Andi)

Thank you for asking this question Andi, as I'm sure there are many others in the same boat as you are! It's hard to learn what you need to know, without already knowing what you need to learn about, isn't it?? The good news is that eventers as a rule are a very friendly and helpful, so don't hesitate to ask questions or ask for help while at your events. You will make lots of great friends in the process as well! 

That said, you will feel most confident going into your first event if you are truly prepared for it, so here are some tips: 

If you haven't done so already, make sure that you attend some events as a spectator, and/or a volunteer. And if you can attend, or volunteer at, the same local event venue that you plan to do your first event at, your familiarization with the grounds and conditions will go a long ways towards easing your anxieties on the day of your event.

Whether you choose to do recognized or unrecognized events is totally up to you. There are pros and cons for both. Unrecognized events are usually quite a bit cheaper and laid back, but on the negative side, they can sometimes include cross country and stadium courses that are poorly designed. Recognized events are no doubt more expensive, but you can have more confidence that the courses are expertly designed to ride well, and therefore properly educate horse and rider. You personally are in an area where many unrecognized events are run at the same venues as recognized, so you may be fine with unrecognized. But I would go check out the cross country course at any unrecognized event that you are not familiar with. Look for solid, inviting fences, with a fairly consistant height throughout, on courses that flow nicely. Often riders new to eventing initially prefer cross country fences made with more flimsy materials, with lots of air beneath or between materials. They seem to look a little less daunting than the fences that are completely solid! But you will find that the solid jumps actually ride a lot better! Horses focus on solid fences more easily and completely, and riders tend to ride a lot more forward to them!

All events, and most cross country schooling venues require the proper helmet, a vest, and a medical armband. You should be able to find the USEA armband at most major tack shops, online, or through the USEA itself. Filling it out is pretty self explanatory. It asks for your pertinent info and medical history.

You do not need to be a member of USEA to compete at the Beginner Novice level (you do at other levels), but you would then pay a non member fee for each event. If you are going to go to more than a couple of events in the whole year, you are better off becoming a member. Plus as a member you get the "Eventing" magazine, which is awesome! 

Read the RULE BOOK ! And keep abreast of any changes, as there always seem to be a lot of little rule changes in this sport!

Some differences coming as you are from the hunter world are things you will find in the rule book like: no standing martingales in jumping phases, and no boots/wraps of any kind on the horse in dressage. Waiting for the signal in the dressage and stadium phases, and making sure you start within 45 seconds of that signal, are very important to note.

THIS is where you will find the dressage tests to memorize. And the OMNIBUS is where you will find the list of recognized events, and all of each event's pertinent info. You may enter events the old fashioned way (by mail), or you can use the very convenient EVENTENTRIES.COM

You are free to compete in any area event, so although you live in area 2, you can compete anywhere you want.

Your local Dressage and Eventing Association will likely have a listing of unrecognized events, schooling shows, clinics, and cross country schooling days. And will be another way to meet some great eventing buddies!

I highly recommend that you take an eventing coach or an experienced eventing friend to your competitions, at least at first. It's not required, but having someone there to tell you what to do when, will really help. It's also invaluable to have someone experienced to walk the cross country course with you. They may be able to inform you of potential pitfalls on the course that may not be obvious to you. A good example of something a first time eventer may not think of when walking the course is a classic shade/sun issue, jumping from light into dark. While a particular jump may look innocuous to you, if you are jumping from the bright sunlight into a wooded area that is shaded and dark, you will need to possibly have a more controled approach to it, and give it a stronger ride.

As a coach I find that riders often want to get on too early to warm up for a particular phase, or want to do way too much jumping, for example. But if your event is all in one day, as some are, part of the challenge is to pace youself and your horse. You want to make sure you have your horse properly settled in, warmed up, and ready for each phase. But if you overdo the warm up and make your horse tired or stale, he probably won't perform his best. Leave the horses' best efforts for the ring!

As a general rule, I like to allow for about 30-45 minutes for a dressage warmup (although I will often add 20-30 minutes of hacking on a loose rein first for a tense horse). For one day events (where I have just done the dressage phase) I
usually plan to be in the warm up area ready to start warm up about 20 minutes before x-c. Get the horse limber, listening, and out in front of your leg. I usually jump the cross rail once, the vertical a couple of times off of right and left turns, and finish with the oxer at the speed of your cross country course off of each lead. If that's good, I'm ready. As a rule, you must ride x-c at your exact posted time. So do not be late. I find that most events are somewhat flexible and want you to succeed however. So do not be afraid to ask the steward if you can let someone else go in front of you if something happens right before your time, like a tack malfunction, or a crash at a warm up fence. They leave some flexibility for riders who have time conflicts due to multiple horses.

It's important to note that you can not be made to ride before your posted time for dressage or cross country, unless posted times have offically been changed and re-posted. So if you get tacked up and head to warm up and hear that they are running 20 minutes early (which happens often), don't panic! You CAN go early, but you don't have to. And if they are running late, it's best to get off your horse and wait, rather than sit on him any longer than you have to. If it's hot, find somewhere shady, and make sure you both stay hydrated.

Stadium jumping is a different matter. If they give posted stadium times, those are usually approximate times. So you need to keep up with how stadium is running time wise, throughout the day. As if they move that up 20 minutes, you need to be ready 20 minutes earlier than you have planned.

Many one day events now run in the handy format of dressage - stadium - x-c, where you do your stadium jumping in your cross country attire. And the stadium becomes your warmup fo cross country, as you go right to x-c when you finish your stadium round. They usually allow a few minutes for you to regroup, and take a few more warm up jumps near the starting box. So if you want to jump a few at x-c speed, or if your stadium didn't go so smoothly, and you need a few more jumps to get going again, you have that option.

Events spread over 2 or more days may require a bit more warm up for the jumping phases. Say you do dressage and stadium on Saturday, and have x-c by itself on Sunday. Because you haven't done anything previously that day, it would be advisable to do a full 30-45 minute warm up for x-c.

I always found it helpful to write up a schedule for the day, working backwards from each ride time (when to start tacking up for each phase, and when to be on) - and then keep that on me all day. And then be ready to change that if the schedule changes.

And last but not least, always remember the two biggest rules in Eventing:

#1: Keep the horse between you and the ground!
#2: Have fun!

You will have a blast Andi! Eventing is the greatest sport ever! There is simply no better way to deepen the partnership that you have with your horse.

(If you have any more specific questions on this subject, please add them below in the comments section.)

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