Equestrian events have been part of every summer Olympic Games since 1912. Yet there are still some who question their status as a sport. After all, they have nothing to do with a person running faster, swimming stronger, throwing further or tumbling with better control.
But there is something quite unique about equestrian events, something that no other Olympic sport shares. This being that the essential equipment is not an inanimate object. Think about hockey sticks, gymnastic hoops, swimming caps, archers’ quivers,a basketball, and the like. All are manmade objects. In equestrian sport, the key equipment is a horse. A living, breathing animal.
Actually, this comment understates the importance of the horse. In equestrian events, the horse is not so much an item of equipment as an equal partner in the athletic activity. Horse and rider are a team; both are the athlete. If one fails, so does the other.
If a swimming cap springs a leak, a quiver snaps, a hoop breaks, or a ball deflates these essential equipment items can all be replaced by others. Crucially, if a horse is injured they cannot be replaced and the rider/horse unit needs to withdraw.
The sport is governed by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) as its peak body. The FEI has strict rules that govern the safety of both rider and horse. So an injury to either party is likely to mean the whole pair’s withdrawal from competition.
Already, two of our Australian equestrian partnerships have had to withdraw from the Games because of injuries to their equine member:
Megan Jones’ horse, Allofasudden, had an injury to its left fore foot.
Shane Rose’s horse, Taurus, was also diagnosed with a leg injury.
Yes, both rider and horse have a risk of injury in this sport. Both can have lasting problems if musculoskeletal conditions and injuries are not diagnosed correctly and remedial actions taken to ensure full recovery.
So next time you view an equestrian event or highlight, be in awe of what is a unique partnership between rider and their mount. Marvel even more at the successful doubling of injury prevention efforts implemented in the background to ensure that they can compete as one.