Maiya Bond

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced athletes throughout the country to adapt from the traditional forms of their sports.  One group of athletes dealing with this change known as “eventers,” athletes who compete in the equestrian sport of Eventing, have recently been able to compete again, but with many new rules and regulations.  

For the readers who are unsure what eventing entails, it is a 3-phase equestrian sport that includes dressage, show jumping, and cross country riding.  According to “A History of Eventing” from the Fédération Equestre Internationale — the highest level of governing body for equestrian sports, “it originated as a way to train and test military horses for their fitness and abilities.  Dressage showcases skills from the parade grounds and the jumping phases demonstrate speed and stamina.”

The eventing season, which runs from early spring to late fall, began at about the same time as COVID-19 lockdowns, cancelling many competitions and changing many athletes’ training schedules.  One of the first competitions, Carolina International CCI — a major event early in the competition season — which was scheduled to take place March 19th through March 22nd, was cancelled on March 13th.

According to an email from Marc Donovan, the event director for the Carolina International CCI, the event planning was already far under way when the COVID-19 Pandemic began to strike.  While consulting information from the World Health Organization, the competition’s organizing committee continued to examine their options for running even though the operating expenses continued to increase every day. 

“So we watched the tent companies set up and maintenance crews mowing and trimming all the while thinking about the impact of cancelling,” Donovan said. 

Eventually, the Fédération Equestre Internationale and the United States Equestrian Federation issued mandates to halt all regulated competition, and the Carolina International CCI was officially cancelled for 2020.

On May 5th, the United States Equestrian Federation released their COVID-19 Action Plan for USEF-Licensed Competitions, which included regulations such as barring those with COVID-19 symptoms from entering the facility, requiring masks at all times except for when mounted on a horse, six-foot social distancing except in a few cases, prohibiting spectators and non-essential personnel from the facility, and halting competition if someone is not complying to the regulations until they begin complying or leave the facility, among other rules.

One of the first competitions to run after the release of the COVID-19 Action Plan was the Plantation Field International June Horse Trials on June 5-6.  As Mary Coldren, Plantation Field’s event organizer, said in the United States Eventing Association article “The New Normal: Eventing in the Age of COVID-19” by Jessica Duffy, these first competitions back would set the tone for the rest of the season.  The COVID-19 action plan had to be followed exactly as to show the outside world that it could be done and it could be done safely.  Running a competition with no face-to-face interaction proved to be challenging, but Coldren was able to get the job done.  All entries were submitted completely online, disinfecting wipes were provided in order to make sure all equipment stayed clean, volunteer numbers were decreased to the bare minimum, and judges used walkie-talkies to communicate. 

“I’m happy with the way things came out,” saidColdren, and it seems so was everyone else as competition quickly went back to near full capacity after the Plantation Field International June Horse Trials. 

Alison Chubb, a professional eventer and coach in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, gave her perspective on eventing during the COVID-19 pandemic.  When the virus began to break out, Chubb was training and preparing for competitions in South Carolina, a place where many eventers go to continue training and competing during the winter months. As lockdowns began to limit her ability to compete and travel, Chubb remembers many people around her beginning to panic. There was so much uncertainty, Chubb decided to cut her time in South Carolina short and go back to Pennsylvania in order to avoid possible travel bans and state border closings.  Luckily, horse care was considered an essential line of work, so Chubb was able to keep riding once she was back home.

With the cancellation of so many competitions and the closing of many eventing venues, Alison decided to decrease her training intensity and focus on strengthening her weaknesses.  At first, Chubb’s clients decided it would be best to take their horses home and stop taking lessons for the time being.  Though as the lockdowns continued, Chubb saw a very large increase in lessons as many riders were using this time off from competing to strengthen their skills.  Now, lessons and training intensity is almost back to the pre-COVID-19 normal.

Chubb believes the new COVID-19 competition regulations are not very difficult to follow since eventing is already such a spaced-out, outdoor sport with a very detailed schedule which lends itself to social distancing.  The new regulations are very smart and easy to follow which makes everyone involved feel very safe.  Chubb also says the regulations bring some new positive factors to the competition as well, such as a relaxing of the stressful atmosphere.

All-in-all, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the face of eventing, but being the strong community that it is, eventers have managed to adapt and continue doing what they do best.