Buxton, W. (1997). A Modest Proposal. The Eventer, Spring, 1997.

A Modest Proposal

Bill Buxton
October 13, 1996


It's funny how things work out. I think that it was Plato, Nietzsche or Bob Hope who said, "Under every cloud there is a silver lining." Take my season, for example; a textbook case of ups and downs.

Things started out great. Here it was, an Olympic year, and I was all set. I warned my boss that I'd be away for the summer, and sent my horse to Florida for spring training. And what happens? Does my erstwhile friend, Mr. National Coach (Peter Gray) select me for the team? No way. All that he could utter was something to the effect that perhaps my horse, Matty, and I might want to do a Preliminary 3-day before attempting a CCI****. Ah, what does he know? So, the stars in my eyes at the start-of-season crashed and burned.

But the silver lining? I got my revenge. I in fact went clear cross country in North Carolina. Well, so did Matty - at the same time, even. So we came back to Ontario ready to rock and roll.

And that we did - to the extent that we actually won the Preliminary competition at Killusty. Ian Roberts, my coach collapsed, and Kelly Plitz my other coach, had to revive him. The silver lining: she finally had an opportunity to use the first aid that was the biggest hurdle in getting her Level 3 Coaching Certificate.

And then, a week later (while I was home shining my trophy), bad luck struck again. This time, it was serious. Matty bowed the superficial digital flexor tendon of her off foreleg, so she was out for the rest of the season. So, good-bye to doing a 3-day event this season, and good-bye to any hope of us bumping up to Intermediate. At least there was a minor silver lining for Ian, whose heart probably couldn't take either. He's not getting any younger.

But the real silver lining, however, came by way of Kelly, who I think was still grateful of my having given her a chance to use her first aid. It was in the form of a little Appaloosa gelding, Graffiti. She loaned him to me to compete on for the rest of the season. Now some could say this was because Kelly is wonderful (and nobody knowing her would argue with her about that - or anything else, I might add.) Others might say that everyone else in the barn put her up to it because I was so miserable without a ride that I was depressing the whole stable. Be that what it may, I had a ride. Graffiti!

Now, you have to understand one thing. Melissa Evans is my hero. I figured that if she could smoke around on her Appy, then no problem with mine. Then Abernant: the reality check. Sure we were double clear. But the dressage judges notes sort of rang in my ear, "Rider not even trying to put the horse on the bit."

Let us say that this, and then Checkmate, suggested two things to me: (1) I am not Melissa Evans, and (2) Graffiti is not a dressage queen. But then, there is the proverbial silver lining. I couldn't do much about the former, but I attacked the latter with a vengeance. I would transform the horse and if that judge wanted to see impulsion, I'd show impulsion. No more "too much hand, not enough leg" comments.

All of which brings me to the purpose of my telling you this tale.

While all of this was happening , I was doing two things. First, to show that I was a serious rider, I got a subscription to the Chronicle of the Horse. Second, I was hanging around Checkmate with Russell Smith. From each of these two sources, I learned something important about eventing.

From the Chronicle, I learned that the biggest problem in organizing events is scheduling dressage. Simply put, the limited number of rings and judges means that dressage is a real bottleneck which limits the number of entries that a competition can accept.

From Russell, I learned that we need to get more spectators out to competitions. We need to make them more "user friendly." Well, heck, that's something I understand, since that's what I do with computers, and horse trials are just like computers, sort of.

Now, out of all of this, at the last show of the season (Glen Oro, to be exact - just so Leslie can put up a plaque), the solution to these two great issues in eventing came to me from the most unlikely source: Graffiti.

At Glen Oro we went into the dressage ring with determination (if nothing else). As I alluded to earlier, if we were going to get marked down, it would be due to too much leg, not too little. Let me put it this way, if that was the objective, we succeeded royally. We really got marked down. It was the fastest test of the day.

But therein lies the basis for my proposal: speed dressage!

It is perfect. Just consider this. Remember the bottom of the test score sheet where they give cumulative marks for pace, impulsion, and rider position? What if they added another row for speed? Then, the less of the judge's time that you waste with a bad test, the better marks you would get in this category.

The benefits would be amazing and transform the discipline. Dressage would become a true spectator sport, combining the grace of ballet with the excitement of barrel racing. And the waiting in the warm-up ring? Gone. Horses would be in and out in a flash. The Chronicle could stop complaining, Russell would be happy, and TV coverage would finally come to the eventing.

So next time you see me on a little Appy warming up for dressage, do so with respect, because that Appy is Graffiti - the horse who's going to save our sport.