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How to succeed as a young rider in eventing

As we celebrate a fantastic performance by Team GB’s youth teams in Maarsbergen, British Eventing Accredited Coach Jonathan Chapman discusses the various ways BE helps young riders to flourish.

Probably half my client base is under 21 years old and many of them dream of being a successful event rider. There is nothing wrong with a dream; every journey starts with one. But to turn it into reality you need the infrastructure to build it. 
 
What does this infrastructure look like? There are physical elements to it and there are psychological ones (personality traits) that will define how far you can go. 
 
The physical elements include: 
  • Horse power
  • Training facilities
  • Training availability
  • Financial sustainability
  • The rider’s physicality (you need to be physically strong because it is a tough sport – not just when you fall off!) 
 
The psychological elements include: 
  • Intelligence
  • Emotional stability
  • Trainability
  • Tenacity
  • Courage
  • Organisational and communication skills 
 
I could go on. 
 
There are riders who have achieved success lacking one or two of these traits; they employ people around them who cover these deficiencies. But for consistent achievement you need most of them. We would all like to think that we have all these marvellous qualities, but it’s not until you’re under pressure that you really find out your own strengths and weaknesses.
 

How British Eventing can help

The whole British Eventing youth system is built around educating and training. Sport should be fun – that’s the initial motivation for doing it – but if progress is to be made then education has to take place. 
 
Subtly, the youth system also pressurises those within it. Training days place you under scrutiny from the coaches, and selection for teams and then performing for teams places you in unfamiliar territory. Both success and failure bring pressure – pressure to achieve the same again or better; pressure not to mess up again! All these experiences are character building, and not just for a career with horses. 
 
How important is selection to a rider’s future career? Well, selection will certainly raise a rider’s profile, perhaps making it easier to pick up rides and sponsors. But this is a double-edged sword. If you are selected, you are in the spotlight and there is nowhere to hide. A poor performance can be emotionally debilitating. Some riders will flourish under the spotlight and grow stronger; others will wilt. For many in the youth system, selection has been a springboard to a future career, and not just in equestrianism. That spotlight exists in every walk of life. 
 

The team experience

Once on the team, you then have the experience of travelling with the team, often abroad, and for some this is an adventure. From having total control of your horse, you have to hand it over to hand-picked grooms and international transporters to convey it to the competition venue. This can be quite worrying, but shouldn’t be. 
 
Once at the venue there are trot-ups to pass, opening ceremonies to negotiate, team cross country walks, sharing a hotel room with a teammate, team dinners and a whole host of new experiences to cope with. 
 
In any championship, the team medals are the most important and all decisions made are geared towards team success. So riders two, three and four may be asked to go long routes on the cross country to ensure clear rounds. This can be a hard pill to swallow when it will incur time penalties and lower your individual position. 
 
There is an awful lot for a person – especially a young person – to deal with. What the youth team managers do very well is manage this pressure, keep it in perspective and help riders to react correctly at the right time. This doesn’t just apply to riding skills, but also social skills, like how to interact with officialdom, social media, teammates and the general public. 
 
Sometimes these competitions feel like an ordeal for everyone involved. But when you are part of a strong team and you share that ordeal, it is not so overwhelming and you grow stronger and more resilient for the experience. 
 

What if you don’t make it? 

A likely outcome because few do and you need a lot of luck to keep horse and rider sound, regardless of skill set. You will still be better for the experience. Having trained with the elite of your peers and with world class coaches, team managers, vets, physios and farriers, you will have learnt something. I have worked with many successful people in several disciplines and they all have one thing in common: an encyclopaedic knowledge of their subject. 
 
Overall, the experience of being on a youth programme is very valuable. It teaches people a lot about themselves, their system and the world of elite sport. But if you don’t get that elusive team spot, or if it doesn’t go quite right on the day, don’t despair. Youth team medals are not a prerequisite to success in the senior sport. Enjoy the journey and take all the benefit you can from it. Then look to the future.   

Photo credit: Adam Fanthorpe