With the London Olympics taking centre stage for the next few weeks, a list of memorable, not so memorable and downright odd Olympic equestrian memories and moments were a must for this blog. I have started out with dressage and show jumping moments for part I of this blog and will follow up in part II with the eventing.
Some background information…
Equine events began at the Olympics in 1900, when competitions in vaulting, four-in-hand driving, mail coach driving, mixed hacks and hunters and three types of jumping (high jump, long jump and show-jumping) were held. Most of these events were later discontinued.
Equestrian competition was dropped from the 1904 Olympic Games, but returned thanks to Count Clarence von Rosen who was Master of the Horse to the King of Sweden.
The 1906 IOC Congress liked his idea of adding dressage, eventing, and show jumping to the program of the next Olympic Games in 1908. However, due to issues with the newly formed International Horse Show Committee, they were not introduced until the 1912 Games in Stockholm. These three disciplines would be held at every Summer Olympic Games through to the present day.
Participation of Civilians
Until the 1952 Summer Olympics, only commissioned military officers were allowed to compete in the Olympic equestrian disciplines, making it a men’s only sport. In 1951, however, Olympic equestrian sport was not only opened to civilian riders, but also became one of the very few Olympic sports in which men and women compete with and directly against one another.
Women made their first appearance in dressage in 1952, jumping in 1956, and eventing in 1964. And, the rest they say is history as women have made their mark in all equestrian disciplines since then!
Riders in the dressage events had 10 minutes to perform collected and extended gaits. They then had to jump five obstacles and the final test was to jump a barrel rolling towards them. Sweden won all three medals.
There were no Americans on the dressage jury and the Americans were placed last. The Swedes won all three medals again.
The public found the dressage so boring that on the first day only 51 paying spectators showed up. On the second day this number jumped to 634.
1932 Los Angeles
The silver medalist Bertil Sanstrom from the 1924 Olympics was disqualified for clicking his tongue at his horse.
For the first time women and non-commissioned offers were allowed to compete. Danish dressage rider Lis Hartel was the first women to compete in Olympic equestrian events.
Eleven women competed and Lis Hartel from Sweden won silver despite being paralysed from the knees down due to polio. Liselott Linsenhoff from Germany won bronze in the individual competition. In the team event the all-woman team placed. However, once again the judges were faulted for their nationalistic partiality and two judges were removed by the FEI.
Linsenhoff made history in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics as a member of the gold medal individual dressage team. In the 1972 Munich Olympics Linsenhoff again earned an individual gold and a team silver medal.
The judges were reduced in number from five to three and were all chosen from countries with no top class riders to prevent judging scandals. The tests were filmed and the judges could review them later in peace and quiet. The medals were given out two days after the event.
The surprise fourth place finish was by the all women American team.
Civilians were allowed to compete in dressage and show jumping but eventing was solely for the military riders.
Based on experience gained from the two previous Olympic Games, a new ruling stipulated that each country could send four riders. The one unfortunate regulation still had the individual and team awards given for only one round. Germany did not send a team as they were still unwelcome in France after WWI.
1932 Los Angeles
For the first time a 5 metre (16.4 feet) wide water jump was included on the course but there was no team competition as no countries sent complete teams.
Forty four riders from fifteen nations attended with the exception of Germany and Eastern European nations. Humberto Mariles of Mexico rode last with his one eyed horse Arete and kept spectators on the edge of their seats. He entered the arena knowing that he had to get less than 28.5 penalty points for his team to win gold and if he had less than 8 faults he would win gold himself. He left the ring with just 6.5 penalty points.
For the first time the show jumping results were to be awarded after two rounds and non-commissioned offers could compete. Germany also took part for the first time since the war.
Australia had very strict quarantine regulations and offered all competitors top level horses for international riders instead of having them bring their own. This was an unrealistic proposition resulting in a move to Sweden for the equestrian events.
The Rome Olympics were the first Olympics to be televised! Another big change saw the individual and team events run separately. In the individual event the irregular jump height and spacing intervals saw 26 of the 64 riders eliminated. The famous D’Inzeo brothers, Raimondo and Piero took home gold and silver individual medals respectively for Italy.
In a step backwards the team and individual medals were one again awarded based on one event.
Canada was triumphant in Mexico and Jim Day, Jimmy Elder and Tom Gayford won Team Gold. This was also where the public cheered on Stroller, the small darling of the show jumping world, a pony from England and his rider, young Marion Mould. He had won the world over and won again taking individual silver for Britain.
Michel Vaillancourt made Canada proud winning a silver medal in the individual competition. The show jumping team event was held in Montreal at the Olympic stadium and only the lack a rain before the event saved the competition from what might have been disaster as the footing, a thin layer of grass on humus over concrete, would not have held up to excessive moisture.
Originally planned for Moscow, these games were changed to Rotterdam as many leading equestrian countries chose to boycott them after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Canada won the Team Gold again thanks to Ian Millar, Michel Vaillancourt, Mark Laskin and Jim Elder. In Moscow not one North American or West European country chose to compete. For the first time the individual show jumping and not the team event was chosen as the last competition to be held in the Olympic stadium.
These Olympic Games will always be special to Canadians as our team of Ian Millar, Eric Lamaze Mac Cone and Jill Helselwood brought home a silver medal in the team competition. Then to top it off Eric Lamaze and his wonder horse Hickstead won gold for Canada in the individual competition. Not a dry eye in the house that day!
Canada’s Ian Millar makes a record 10th Olympic Games appearance!