Summer 2008…The Olympics are, of course, the pinnacle of global sports, and equestrian sports are no exception. This year’s Games promise to be just as action-packed and suspenseful as previous years. Hopefully, we will be spared the controversy of drug use, crossing start lines twice, and poor footing. I also hope that equestrian events get some primetime coverage, as in, not at three AM, their usual time slot.
Credit: IOC Olympic Museum Collections.
Equestrian events have been a part of the Olympics since 1900. Of course, there was chariot racing long before that, but since that doesn’t appear to be a mainstream sport, it is no longer part of the games. For a long time, eventing was open only to those in the military, and though civilians could ride in jumping and dressage, those disciplines were also dominated by those in the military until around 1948.
Equestrian sports are unique in that they one of the few Olympic sports in which men and women (and mares and geldings/stallions, for that matter!) compete on equal terms. The description of equestrian events on the official Olympic web site reads, “It is the ultimate in team sports, a horse and rider working together for years to hone feats of grace, daring, agility and speed.”
Since Hong Kong is such a humid area, those who are planning to compete in the Games are attending Heat and Humidity Workshops to prepare for the climate and to train their horses accordingly. Adjusting to such a climate is difficult for many horses, especially if they are used to dryer, cooler areas. Performing in heat can greatly hinder horses that are not used to it, so teams are working to ensure that their athletes can handle the stress. The workshops were attended by 160 delegates representing equestrian federations from across the globe. Throughout the workshop, it was made clear that the wellbeing of the equine atheletes was top priority, and that all riders should ride and train responsibly in the conditions and throughout the Games.
Show Jumping and Dressage will take place at Shatin, and Cross Country will be held at Beas River. Presently, the first location is a park and sports institute, and will be converted into a 100 by 80 meter sand arena with grandstand seating for 18,000 spectators. Stable blocks will be air conditioned and will be able to house 200 horses. The Cross Country venue will be transformed from a lush golf course into a twisting and challenging track. The course will be 5.7 kilometers long, and warm areas will be built accordingly. This venue will have stabling for 80 horses. Additionally, several training/practice arenas will be available at nearby Sha Tin racecourse. The equestrian venues were completed in two years and cost $103 million US dollars ($800 million Hong Kong dollars) to complete. A number of test events have been sucessfully held at the venues.
Beas River/Cross Country Course
Dressage: Germany, Netherlands, USA, Sweden, Switzerland, Great Britain, Canada, Brazil
Jumping: USA, Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine, Switzerland, Great Britain, Sweden, Norway, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Australia, New Zealand, China
Eventing: Germany, Great Britain, Australia, USA, Sweden, Canada, Brazil, France, Italy
As the Olympics draw nearer, I will post the teams and individuals attending, schedules, and other relevant information about the Games.