When Cal Ripkin retired from the Baltimore Orioles after playing in every game for 21 seasons, all of America gave him a farewell sendoff, and, soon after, an induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. When a friend of Mary Alice Brown`s just contacted The Chronicle of the Horse about her death, the magazine replied that they would have to decide if she was “worthy” of an obituary.
Now it`s true that Mary Alice didn`t compete for 21 consecutive seasons in eventing. She had “discovered” eventing from Jean Campbell, her Smith College instructor in 1957, and rode in her first event that year. She continued to event every single year thereafter, including 2011, so that HER record was FIFTY FIVE consecutive seasons of eventing.
It`s interesting to me how little the sport of eventing seems to value consistency and commitment and perseverence, although it pays those qualities the requisite lip service. I often mention names of former great riders, like eight time Olympian Mike Plumb, at clinics, and I get that “deer in the headlights” blank stare from children who have never heard of him.
Eventers tend to be kids who worship slightly older kids, it seems, the glossier the better, and those who paved the way are, if not totally forgotten, at least irrelevant.
I don`t know why some sports, like baseball, celebrate their past heros, so that every star struck child knows the names of Babe Ruth, Joe Di Maggio, and Ted Williams, and in eventing their counterparts are “out of sight, out of mind”, but I think that it weakens a sport not to preserve its sense of institutional history. Bruce Davidson is still eventing. He`s about the best we`ve ever had. I mention his name during a lesson and I get the same glassy stare, as if I`d just asked a hard math question in a classroom. The kids know who Buck is, but many of them don`t know anything past their own short years of personal involvement.
Are riders like Mary Alice Brown significant in a sport? Do they “matter?” “How hard is it to compete for 55 consecutive years?”, might be the more relevant question. If it was easy enough so that lots of others had achieved it, then, sure, it`s attainment might not count for much.
The broader question that American eventing should be asking, I think, is why our newcomers aren`t being taught to respect their roots—And what this might mean for our sport`s long term continuity.