2012 Summer Olympics—Horse Event Primer and a Few Fun Facts

August 03, 2012

Have you been watching the Olympics? I’ve been spending hours glued to the TV because…equestrian events! Thank you NBC Sports! So far they’ve had the sense to air good portions of the three equestrian events that take place at the Games: eventing, dressage and show jumping. If you’ve never watched equestrian events, here’s a quick primer for what you can see, and a few fun facts:

Currently, equestrian events are the only ones where men and women compete against each other as equals.

The three equestrian sports at the 2012 Olympics are dressage, “Grand Prix” or show jumping, and eventing (also known as three-day eventing).  Each sport has a separate team of riders and horses.

In dressage, horses perform a series of movements known as a “test.” The first two rounds, the movements are in compulsory order. The third round is “freestyle” and set to music. Dressage has been called “horse ballet.” In show jumping, horse and rider must complete a course of approximately 15 fences within a set amount of time. Penalties are assessed if poles are knocked down, a horse refuses a jump, or if the horse and rider do not complete the course within the time allowed. Eventing takes place over several days and includes three components—a dressage test, a cross country course, and a round of show jumping. (The dressage and jumping aspects are completed in the same manner as the regular dressage and show jumping, but at a less demanding level.) Eventing is the triathlon of horse competitions, and tests the horse’s fitness and the rider’s all-round skill.

In each of these sports, team and individual medals will be given out. Two hundred athletes will compete for the six gold, six silver and six bronze medals at the 2012 Olympics.

Riders must be a minimum age of 18 to compete in eventing or show jumping, and 16 to compete in dressage. The oldest member of the U.S. Olympic team is Karen O’Connor, a 54-year-old eventer competing in her fifth Olympics. The youngest is 18-year-old Reed Kessler, part of the show jumping team. And the oldest athlete at the entire 2012 Games competes in dressage: Japanese rider Hiroshi Hoketsu, age 71.

Equestrian events began in 682 B.C. when a four-horse chariot race took place at Greece’s 25th Olympiad.

Until 1952, only male cavalry officers were allowed to compete in equestrian events.

Lisa Hartel, of Denmark, won a silver medal in dressage at the 1952 Games, despite being paralyzed from the waist down by polio and having to be lifted on and off her horse.

Also in 1952, Foxhunter, the horse that carried Colonel Harry Llewellyn to Great Britain’s only gold medal of the Games (in team show jumping), received a congratulatory telegram from Winston Churchill.

The horses that compete in the Olympics have their own passports. The passports don’t have pictures, but line drawings indicating the horse's identifying features. They also contain a list of the horse’s vaccinations.

Check online or with your local TV stations if you’re interested in taking a peek at the world of equestrian sports (or click here for the best schedule I've found). Eventing finished earlier this week, dressage is taking place now and show jumping starts Saturday. Here’s a quick YouTube video from the eventing competition to whet your interest: 

What’s your favorite Olympic sport?

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  1. I am not very into sports and rarely watch them on TV, but I do have a soft spot for the Olympics. This year unfortunately I've been so busy of late that I've not been able to watch a single thing and hope to be able to watch a few things after the fact online. Maybe this weekend I can catch a few events--there seems to be lots of excitement this year (maybe there is all the time, though). Interesting things about the equestrian events--I love that both men and women can compete in the same events and that age is not necessarily a factor. Do the horses get flown over to London? I hadn't even though of how they make their way--or is that a really silly question--they must travel over on ships surely? Didn't the Queen's granddaughter win a medal? It is exciting watching all these events!

  2. Danielle--Yes, the horses get flown over to London--in a FedEx plane! They are also kept in large containers--like portable stalls. Zara Phillips, Princess Anne's daughter, won a silver medal in the team eventing. I didn't know this, but Princess Anne also competed in eventing in the Olympics many years ago! And Zara's father, Mark Phillips, is the American eventing coach, so Zara certainly comes by her horsemanship naturally.

    I like the Olympics because you get to see little bits of sports that don't normally get much coverage. We usually tape segments of the coverage and watch them without commercials.

  3. Thanks, Kathy! I didn't know any of this, though I have watched a bit of it in this Olympics. They all look so regal.

    Kathy M.

  4. You're welcome, Kathy! They do look pretty spectacular, don't they? The horses are so gorgeous and fit, it takes my breath away.

  5. Lots of interesting information here (as usual for your posts). I have to admit that my favorite event is gymnastics, but I'm not surprised that yours are the equestrian events. We were in Colorado last week, and for the first time in all the years we've been going to the same cabins, we turned on the tv to watch the Olympics.

  6. Thanks, Cheryl. I like gymnastics, too--and I also like seeing little bits of sports you never get to see on TV. There's something special about the idea of the Olympics. I think it makes it more compelling to watch, as you found out.