Whatever discipline you compete in, you could be competing against professionals at a fairly amateur level. This always causes a lot of debate, especially on social media and I think it is a really interesting and difficult topic. There are many good reasons to why professional riders compete at lower levels, but do these outweigh the the cons?
Why do professional riders compete at lower levels?
Firstly, it is important to mention that these professional riders are not competing at lower levels for the sake of trophy hunting. They will be at these competitions with their younger and developing horses.
Especially when it comes to sports like eventing, you wouldn’t expect a horses first competition to be a 3* just because the rider is a professional. It would not be fair on the horse to expect them to make that huge jump into the world of eventing. But also, would this be fair to all the amateur riders who work really hard to get all the points and experience needed to work their way up the levels?
It could be argued that entering dressage at a higher level for the first time wouldn’t be so much of a shock to the horse. But I still feel that young horses need these early outings to get used to the show ground atmosphere, or they may never take to competing later in their life and career.
Could other riders compete for the professionals?
One argument/idea I have come across in the past is that the idea that the professional rider could get someone else to ride their horse in lower level competition. This could be a member of their staff who already help exercise the horse.
I think this is quite a nice idea and I’m sure that in some cases this already happens. But many riders do not own their own horses. Owners ‘give’ professional horses to ride to bring the best out of the horse. Horse owners may not want unknown riders taking their horses out for their first experience of competition.
I also think that it is important for the bond between horse and rider for the professional rider, who will hopefully be competing this horse at top level. Riding the horse at their first shows will help the rider learn more about the horse which can only help them down the line.
Should professional riders compete HC?
Competing HC means you take part but you are not included in the rankings. You get all the experience of a competition without the chance to get placed. This is often seen at shows where the horse and/or rider has surpassed the requirements to compete in the class, but still wish to do so. For example; a horse and rider winning at Novice dressage may only be able to take part in an intro class as HC.
I can understand why this is a good idea for professional riders at lower levels as it gives them a chance to give their horses the experience they need without taking away from amateur riders.
However, competing HC doesn’t allow you to work towards qualifiers or earn points to move up levels, which is necessary in several disciplines. Also, it isn’t any cheaper to compete HC and with memberships and entries being expensive enough as it is, why shouldn’t they be entitled to earning some of these costs back?
The pride of riding with the Pros
To many people, competing against their heros is an amazing experience, win or lose. To many amateur riders, having the opportunity to compete against top riders is something you could only dream of. So while I can see it being frustrating losing to top riders, I can’t help but think competing with them would be a fantastic experience.
What do you think about professionals riding at lower levels? Have you ever found yourself competing against the pros?