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Equestrian Sport Gallops Into The Rio Limelight


Fireworks at the Opening ceremony of the Rio Olympic games

Opening ceremony at the Rio Olympic Games

Team USA at the opening ceremony, Rio Olympic Games

Olympic Flame at the Rio Olympic games

By Louise Parkes

Equestrian sport arrived in Rio with a total of 200 athlete and horse combinations from 43 countries to chase their dreams of medals in three separate disciplines, soaring over massive obstacles in Jumping displaying athleticism and grace in Dressage, and powering around a cross-country track in Eventing. What sets these athletes apart from the rest is that they do it in partnership with the horse.

The #TwoHearts campaign in the lead-up to Rio 2016 helped explain this extraordinary union of human and animal as a single athletic unit.

“Since 2007 there has been an 83 percent increase in the number of international competitions, and young people are being drawn into equestrian sport in greater numbers than ever before” said Sabrina Ibáñez, Secretary General of the FEI. “Our sport really appeals to the youth culture. The Brazilian Dressage team is a good example, with all four members below the age of 25, and one of them holding the distinction of being the youngest equestrian athlete at these Games.”
Another of the exceptional qualities of equestrian sport is that athletes of all ages – and both genders – compete together on a level playing field.

Experience counts for a lot at Olympic level, and New Zealand’s Sir Mark Todd (60) headed into his eighth edition of the Games. He competed in both Jumping and Eventing at the Olympic Games in Seoul (KOR) in 1988 and Barcelona (ESP) in 1992, before deciding to retire after taking individual bronze at the Sydney 2000 Games. Retirement didn’t suit him however, and he set himself a new target of returning to the sport just a few months before the qualification deadline for the Beijing Games in 2008. The rest is history.

The selection of William Fox-Pitt for the British Eventing team was another incredible tale. Many others might have decided to hang up their boots after a major head injury like the one Fox-Pitt suffered last year, but the former world number one and double Olympic silver medalist made a remarkable recovery to compete at his fifth Olympic Games.
Family connections abound, with husbands and wives, life-partners and cousins listed amongst the 75 Jumping, 65 Eventing and 60 Dressage horse and rider combinations. Brothers Michael (56) and John Whitaker (60), who between them have competed at nine Olympic Games, were in the British Jumping squad. At the other end of the age and experience spectrum, the Brazilian Dressage team included brother and sister Luiza (24) and Pedro (22) Tavares Almeida, with Pedro’s twin Manuel (22) as the team reserve.

EI President Ingmar De Vos had double cause for celebration after confirmation that all human and equine substance samples taken during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games had returned negative.

“Keeping our sport clean is a central part of our daily work at the FEI, but to have back-to-back clean Games in London and Rio is something for any sport to be proud of, especially as we were testing for more substances than ever before”, the FEI President said. “And that’s on top of absolutely brilliant equestrian sport in Rio, so we really have something to celebrate!”

“The sport in Rio was just incredible,” Ingmar De Vos said. “Two Olympic champions not only successfully defended their London 2012 titles, but they did it on the same horse, which is a fantastic achievement. Germany’s Michael Jung won with Sam in Eventing, and the British combination of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro topped an all-female podium in Dressage, just as they had four years ago in front of their home crowd. And the IOC President Thomas Bach was there to see them do it.

Equestrian sport has been part of the Olympic Games since 1912. Team and individual medals are awarded in three disciplines - Dressage, Eventing, and Jumping.

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