Equestrian sport arrives in Rio with its head held high, the bit between its teeth, and on the crest of a wave of expansion across the globe.
The Rio 2016 entries are all in, and a total of 200 horse and rider combinations from 43 countries will compete for Gold in three separate disciplines: dressage, eventing, and jumping.
“Since 2007 there has been an 83% increase in the number of international competitions, and young people are being drawn into equestrian sport in greater numbers than ever before” said Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez. “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.”
At just 18 years of age, Giovana Prada Pass will be competing against 62-year-old Julie Brougham from New Zealand, highlighting another of the exceptional qualities of equestrian sport in which 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) is the man with the most as he heads into his eighth edition of the Games. Todd, who was named the “Greatest Rider of the 20th Century” by the FEI, has two individual gold medals to his name thus far. He competed in both jumping and eventing at the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988 and Barcelona, Spain, in 1992, before deciding to call it a day after taking individual bronze at the Sydney 2000 Games in Australia. Retirement didn’t suit him however, and only someone of his caliber could succeed in setting himself a new target of returning to the sport just a few months before the qualification deadline for the Beijing Games in 2008. There, he finished in 17th place individually.
Another comeback king is Australian eventer Shane Rose (43) whose 20-year Olympic journey includes team silver in Beijing along with a whole lot of heartache. Rose has battled cancer and experienced more disappointments and broken more bones than it seems possible over the course of his career.
And the selection of William Fox-Pitt for the British eventing team is 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, which left him in an induced coma for more than a week. But the former world number one and double Olympic silver medalist has recovered and will be chasing down that elusive gold at his fifth games in just a few weeks’ time.
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, are in the British jumping squad, while at the other end of both the age and experience spectrum, that young Brazilian Dressage team includes brother and sister Luiza (24) and Pedro (22) Tavares Almeida, with Pedro’s twin Manuel (22) as the team reserve.
“We have a really wide age-range in our fan-base due to the nature of our sport and we expect a huge following during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games,” Ibáñez said.
Olympic Equestrian Facts and Figures
- Equestrian sport has been part of the Olympic Games since 1912.
- Team and individual medals are awarded in three disciplines: dressage, eventing, and jumping.
- Team USA holds the record for the greatest level of participation, with 236 horse and rider combinations competing throughout the history of the games.
- Team Germany has won the most medals, collecting 75 to date.
- The equestrian events of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will be staged in the Deodoro Olympic Park alongside basketball, BMX, canoe slalom, fencing, hockey, modern pentathlon, mountain biking, rugby sevens, and shooting.
- The Deodoro Olympic Park is the second largest Olympic cluster of the Rio 2016 Games venues.
- Jumping: 27 countries, 15 teams, 75 horse/rider combinations
- Eventing: 24 countries, 13 teams, 65 horse/rider combinations
- Dressage: 25 countries, 11 teams, 60 horse/rider combinations
- The Rio 2016 sport entries also include 34 reserve horses and 33 reserve riders.
- The countries represented are: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Palestine, Poland, Peru, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Republic of South Africa, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, the United States, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe