Like everyone else on the planet, I spent a couple weeks this summer watching the Rio Olympics on TV. Like any great athlete, I was fully committed to my 24-hour-a-day, multi-channel schedule. By that, I mean that I spent the entire 16 days on my couch. I ate there, slept there and worked from home on my laptop there.
I was mostly taking in events that I would otherwise never watch. It’s a strange thing that when you stitch a flag onto someone’s uniform the average Joe will suddenly become an expert in synchronized diving or have very strong opinions about the quality of judging in rhythmic gymnastics. They will lament the lack of amateurism in the modern Olympics, but wouldn’t normally walk across the street (even with free tickets), to watch amateur anything. If you want to calculate the number of times you’ve seen weightlifting on television, take your age and divide by four. That will give you the number of Olympics which have been held since you were born, and will be equal to the number of times you’ve actually watched weightlifting, shot put, pole vaulting, and a couple dozen other sports on the tube.
I’m proposing that what these sports need in order to garner attention between leap years is more horses. Rio hosted all of the usual equine Olympic events (dressage, eventing and jumping), but during the modern pentathlon, it occurred to me that most Olympic sports would be far more interesting to watch if they were performed on horseback. Modern pentathlon almost has it, by combining running, shooting, fencing, riding and swimming – but they still insist upon separating them into different events. How much better would the fencing and shooting parts be, if you had to perform them while riding? I admit that swimming in a pool full of horses and riders would be a bit of a mess – some would even suggest dangerous – but it would certainly be more thrilling to watch.
Archery and javelin while mounted are obvious equitation events, as are nearly every track event. Imagine the 4X100 relay with a field of Thoroughbreds! High jump, long jump, cross country, the marathon… honestly, what wouldn’t be better on a horse? Pole vaulting would take some practice, but think of the potential heights which would come from the forward momentum gained by galloping into the launch point! Water polo could be real polo, in the water.
Despite mulling it over for several weeks, I still can’t think of a way to make rowing an equine game and I admit that volleyball would become an endless series of un-returned serves. Basketball would be pretty awful for similar reasons (not to mention the damage to gymnasium floors) and the racket sports like badminton and table tennis would have painfully short rallies, but very few Olympic events wouldn’t be vastly improved with the addition of horses.
The winter Olympics has similar potential. The biathlon is a pretty cool combo of shooting and skiing, but shooting and riding, that’s Jesse James cool. I’d be more likely to watch skiing if they were pulled by horses (sort of like water skiing on snow), and the one horse open bobsleigh is pretty much self-explanatory. Polo on ice; however, is an extremely bad idea.
What sells sport in North America? Speed, corporate sponsorship and the potential for grievous injury. How else do you explain NASCAR? Taking tired old Olympic event, and putting them on horseback will immediately add speed and danger – could viewership and its accompanying advertising revenue be far behind? Four years from now, I’ll be wearing another (deeper) groove into my couch watching the Olympics, but if you want me to pay attention to discus, or the hammer throw in the intervening years, mount up!