If you were at like me you probably spent the second and third weeks of last February watching the winter Olympic Games. Ice skating, skiing, luge, bobsled, snowboarding, and a host of other events kept us glued to the TV, reveling in the skill and determination of the competitors. In 2016, we’ll again have the chance to stare in awe and root for favorites when the summer Games are held in Rio de Janeiro. My primary interest, of course, will be in the equestrian events. In years past only small snippets were shown by the networks, but now with wonders of the internet, we’ll be able to see much a larger number of competitors and get a major horse fix.
The earliest Olympics in ancient Greece were tests of skills that warriors needed and since horses were a vital part of battle, they included horse and chariot races. The modern Olympics began in1896 but it wasn’t until 1912 that the equestrian events we’re used to seeing were included. Horses are the stars of three events – dressage, eventing, and show jumping – and play a part in a fourth competition I wasn’t aware of before. The Pentathalon has a show jumping phase where competitors ride horses they’ve never handled before over a challenging jump course.
Equestrian events are among the few where men and women compete against each other. This wasn’t true initially. Up until 1952, only military officers and “gentlemen” were allowed to take part. Starting with the Helsinki Games, all men could participate in all the events and women could ride in Dressage. In 1956 women were permitted to do Show Jumping and finally in 1964, they began to compete in Eventing. Now they contend on equal terms in all the riding disciplines.
Dressage starts with a Grand Prix test that all the teams take part in. The scores of the top three riders on each team are added together to get the team score and placing. Then the top 25 go on to do the Grand Prix Special test to compete for individual medals. The thirteen best then compete in the Freestyles. These are the crowd pleasing performances where the horses “dance” to music. The scores from these two tests determine the individual medalists.
Eventing originated as a three day contest to prove the quality and endurance of cavalry horses. Today it still consists of three separate competitions: dressage, cross-country jumping and show jumping. On day one, the dressage demonstrates the horses’ suppleness, training and obedience. Because these horses are not specialists, they do somewhat less demanding tests than the dressage stars and their tests are scored by listing the number of faults. So the lower the score, the better. On day two, they show their skill and courage on a demanding cross-country course with difficult and often scary solid fences. The Show Jumping phase on day three demonstrates their fitness and soundness. Again the riders vie for team and individual medals.
The last equestrian event is Show Jumping, the exciting attraction that usually sells out. Everyone likes watching the horses and riders tackle the very challenging and technical jump course. Again, because these horses are specialists, the jumps are bigger and harder. The team and individual medals are well earned.
Have you watched the Olympic equestrian events? Which one do you like best? Have you ever attended an Olympics? I know I’d love to go to Rio in 2016. How about you?
Olympic rings: photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/joncandy/7267452456/”>joncandy</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
Dressage horse: photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/jessicamulley/3118654629/”>Jessicastjohn</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>