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  • Dyan Vorster

School of Hard Knocks

Updated: Jun 2

“All’s well that ends better.” - Lord of the Rings

Eventing is an equestrian sport that is made up of three phases: dressage, cross-country and showjumping. Riders must compete in each discipline and are placed based on a combined score from all three disciplines.


The dressage phase (held first) comprises a set sequence of movements ridden in a dressage arena. The horse’s performance is judged on obedience, balance, rhythm, and suppleness with each movement being scored on a scale of 0 to 10 (with a score of "10" being the highest possible mark). The next phase is the cross-country. This phase is ridden over a long outdoor course which is built to test the horse’s physical fitness and bravery. The cross-country course is comprised of 30-40 large solidly built natural obstacles such as logs, stone walls, water, ditches, drops and banks which are jumped at a gallop. Show jumping is the final phase and is designed to test the horses’ endurance, obedience, and technical jumping skills coming as it does after the rigors of the cross-country.


My foray into eventing began with a horse named Yarrawonga. Yarrawonga wasn’t anything special to look at – a plain bay gelding with movement that was never going to win high dressage scores or impress judges – but he was a horse with a heart like a lion. We bought him from our farrier, Tralor Childs, a young woman with impressive muscles who made the backbreaking, physically demanding work of shoeing seem like child’s play. She never seized to amaze me as I watched her run through the horses in our barn without visibly breaking a sweat.


During my senior year of high school in South Africa, my parents sold their business and we moved to Port Elizabeth so as to be closer to the heart of competitive riding in the Eastern Cape (I did warn you that horses will consume your life). My dad, never a good spectator, had decided, "if you can't beat them, join them," and had begun riding at the tender age of 45. He is very competitive and was quickly competing alongside me in the show jumping arena.


Both of us were drawn to the excitement and challenge of eventing. I began dabbling on Man the Decks but needed a solid event horse and Yarrawonga fit the bill. Our first outing was at Vergeleging, a gorgeous course laid out on forestry land near Somerset West. It poured with rain that weekend and an already large Prelim course was made even more tricky by very wet going.


I hadn’t had Yarrawonga for very long, but we flew around the course without any problems, until we came to the water complex. It was a simple enough jump, down over a solid log fence, into the water, and out the other side. However, not having jumped Yarrawonga over a water fence before, I rode him in a little stronger than I usually would have, expecting him to back off the fence as most horses will do coming into water. Instead, he launched himself at the fence like a rocket. The rain had caused the water level to rise significantly making the jump deeper than it should have been. The result was catastrophic! We hit the water so hard and fast that he didn’t stand a chance, flipping over and depositing me on the bottom of the pond. As he righted himself, he accidentally stood on me. Jump stewards dragged him off and pulled me out of the water, but the pressure had caused some nerve damage, temporarily paralyzing me from the waist down. I was whisked off in an ambulance, but fortunately the damage wasn’t permanent, and I was soon back on my feet again - sore and bruised, but a lot the wiser!

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