Since 1912, equestrianism has made an appearance at every Summer Olympic Games. Aside from the equestrian component of the modern pentathlon, it is the only Olympic sport involving animals. Today, the sport kicks off the first event – aptly called eventing. For those of you who don’t know what eventing is (and admittedly, Olympic equestrianism can be kind of confusing), the United States Eventing Association puts it in layman’s terms, describing it as an “equestrian triathlon.” Basically, the riders show horse on the flat (not over fences, all groundwork) and over fences (over fences, duh). It’s broken up into three parts: dressage, cross-country, and endurance. In the Olympics, both individuals and teams compete in this event. The scoring is pretty straightforward – there are judges who watch each athlete’s ride and record penalties, which can come in the form of circling back around in an effort to reposition oneself in front of an obstacle, falling off the horse, or in cross-country’s case, exceeding “optimum time.” Here are three favorites to watch as you tune in:
Hailing from Germany, this isn’t Michael Jung’s first rodeo…wait, wrong form of equestrianism. Returning to the games after winning individual and team gold medals in eventing in 2012, he’s got an impressive resume. Currently named by the International Equestrian Foundation as the top-ranking eventer, he became the world’s first athlete to hold the European, World, and Olympic titles – all at the same time. Wild, right? Eventing is known as the most trying of the three disciplines, famously unpredictable and wishy-washy. But with a record like Jung’s, I feel like the German team is in good hands and definitely worthy of being named a favorite for the competition.
William Fox-Pitt has an especially interesting story. Just nine months ago, the returning Olympian suffered a tragic cross-country accident at the World Young Horse Championships, leaving him severely injured and in a medically-induced coma as a result of brain trauma. Now fully recovered, Pitt says that he is “very ready” for Rio, as reported by Daily Mail UK. Armed with his horse Chilli and star-studded teammates like Pippa Funnell and Kitty King, the world’s former number one eventer (2002, 2009, 2010, 2014) has his work cut out for him as he faces harsh opponents in Germany and New Zealand. But, on his fifth Olympic appearance, Fox-Pitt has full faith in his abilities and of course, his horse, telling Daily Mail UK that he is “a brilliant all-rounder” and is “very confident.”
Sir Mark Todd
Although New Zealand took a hit yesterday as Jock Paget and Clifton Lush were forced off the team due to a cut on the horse’s cheek, New Zealand is still a force to be reckoned with. Why? Sir Mark Todd brings some real experience to the table. A 60-year-old highly accomplished equestrian veteran, Todd has appeared in seven previous Olympic Games and won five medals, including two individual eventing gold medals from 1984 and 1988, an individual eventing bronze medal from 2000, and team eventing medals from 1988 and 2012. The team is reinforced with other strong talent in Jonelle Price, Clarke Johnston, and travelling reserve Tim Price.