“Have any of you ridden the other disciplines?”
Deborah and Elizabeth looked at Tara. With a laugh, Tara said she gave dressage a try when one of her friends was unable to compete in a schooling event a few years ago. “I had no idea what I was doing. I ‘followed’ the horse’s lead. Remarkably, we finished with a third place ribbon.”
Tara following the horse’s lead in a dressage schooling event (Jul 2009)
And, so, began the interview with my three daughters. With the Summer Olympics scheduled to begin shortly in Rio, one of our local TV stations had asked my daughters several weeks ago if they would like to do a piece on the Olympic equestrian competition. The local station had been following their riding efforts since last summer, and thought it was an ideal opportunity to introduce general sports followers to equine sports. They agreed to give it a try.
Speaking with the media is not new for the girls. They’ve done a few interviews before. Their longest was a 20-minute, web exclusive for ABC 7 in Los Angeles, last year. One of the questions, they are asked often, what is it like competing far from home. They generally reply that while it can be challenging at times, the aim is to keep everything in perspective – concentrate but relax, and, most importantly, have fun.
The Olympic experience is no different. While the stage is bigger and the expectations are greater, the riders see it like any other competition in their own preparations and with their horses. Many are already competing on the international circuit, so there is not much in terms of additional preparation. Their training is about staying sharp. The focus is safely transporting the horses to and from Rio. Each team has received from the FEI, the governing body that oversees equestrian sports, a comprehensive list of supplies and equipment approved for Olympic competition. In addition, the host nation, Brazil, has provided an extensive list of regulations, practices and controls for the entry and exit of horses. When the horses and their riders and support crew meet, it is a process of settling into their surroundings and back into their routines.
Tara and Cameron on a circle exercise course at RRC (Jun 2012)
At the Olympics, the girls described the equestrian events as seeing horsemanship and horses at their very best. A horse with a very skilled rider will do anything that is asked of it. In the early days of equestrian sports, one would see a rider-horse combination doing it all – dressage, show jumping and cross-country – all to showcase their horsemanship skills and the abilities of their horse. In the present day, it is highly specialized according to discipline for rider and horse. Rarely would a rider be found competing in all three disciplines. And, more rare will one find a horse competing in the three disciplines. A beginner in eventing (dressage and cross-country) is the closest one will find learning all three disciplines.
“Who will win?” Deborah replied equestrian sports is the one sport in which “anyone can win, that is how level the field of competition is. It is very similar to the NFL axiom of ‘On any given Sunday’.”
Eventing (Aug 6-9): The favorite is Michael Jung from Germany, currently ranked #1 in FEI Olympic Rankings. His primary competitor is fellow German rider Ingrid Klimke, the 2008 and 2012 winner of the Olympic Eventing Trials. Other contenders include Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson from New Zealand. Todd is the record holder of titles and championships won. Riding for Team USA is former two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Phillip Dutton. Dutton, originally from Australia won Olympic Gold in 1996 (Atlanta) and 2000 (Sydney). He changed his citizenship to the United States in 2006. Teammate Tamra Smith should also be considered as a possible medalist after contributing to the 2014 Team Gold in the Nations Cup at Bromont CCI*** in Quebec.
Dressage (Aug 10-15): The heavy favorite is Germany in both the team and individual events. Dutch rider, Anky Van Grunsven, is a contender also, winning Olympic Gold in 2008 (Beijing). Leading Team USA is Steffen Peters. Originally from Germany, he became a US citizen in 1992 after the Barcelona Games. In 1996, he led Team USA to a Team Bronze in Atlanta. He currently rides Legolas, who is ranked the world’s #1 dressage horse.
Show Jumping (Aug 14-19): Team USA is strongly positioned to medal. They are led by Kent Farrington, rated in the top ten of best show jumpers in the world. His teammates are Elizabeth Madden, a previous Olympic Gold Medalist. She was ranked as the fourth best rider and top woman rider in 2013. McLain Ward, who helped Team USA win Olympic Gold in 2008 (Beijing) in Team Show Jumping, rounds out a very strong contingent. The UK, Netherlands, France and Germany are also considered strong medal contenders.
Deborah flying Comet over a 1.45 m double fence combination (San Juan Capistrano, Jun 2015)
Last question: “Any chance of seeing any of you in a future Olympics?” Deborah: “Depends.” Tara: “Maybe.” Elizabeth: “I don’t know.” Both Deborah and Tara added, “If any of us has a chance to be a future Olympian, or ride the international circuit, it would be Elizabeth. She is loaded with talent. From our perspective, her instincts are unrivaled by anyone in the world.” Deborah added the observation, “The best part, nobody knows who she is and how strong of a rider she is.”
Last word to Elizabeth: “I still don’t know. I’d rather remain as that unknown rider who comes out of nowhere, then slips back into anonymity. Makes for a better story.” With plenty of smiles and a few laughs, the easy interview wrapped.
The local TV station indicated portions of their interview will tentatively air on Sunday, Aug 7th during the late evening sportscast. It is unknown if the one-hour, late night news, sports and weather broadcast will be livestreamed. The station is currently fashioning the three-hour-plus interview into a 45-minute web exclusive.