Dates: Sat 28 July–Thurs 9 August (days 1-13)
Venue: Greenwich Park
Athletes: 200 (225 horses eligible)
Men: Chris Chugg, Brett Parbery, Bill Levett
Women: Edwina Tops-Alexander, Rachel Sanna, Lucinda Fredericks
Channel: London 6
Equestrian made its Olympic debut at the Paris Games of 1900 and after a brief hiatus, returned to the programme again in 1912, since when it has become a permanent fixture.
Along with Modern Pentathlon, Equestrian events are unique in that they are the only Olympic events that involve animals. Equestrian boasts at least one other feature that makes it something of an Olympic anomaly: it is the only sport in which men and women can compete directly against one another in individual events.
This traditional of equality dates back to the 1952 Olympics when equestrian was first thrown open to civilians having previously been limited to commissioned military officers.
While the events themselves have evolved significantly in format over the years, the current six events of eventing, dressage and show jumping, each with both individual and team competitions, have been around for most of the sport’s Olympic history.
Dressage tests the ability of a horse and rider to display both athletic prowess and supreme elegance. Often compared to ballet, it requires precision, technical excellence, and harmony between horse and rider.
At the highest level, horses perform a set pattern of movements known as ‘tests’ within a 60 x 20 metre arena, which are marked out of 10 for individual movements and the overall routine by a panel of seven judges. The horse must show all the paces – walk, trot and canter – as well as smooth transitions within and between paces.
Of Australia’s 11 equestrian medals, none have yet been registered in the dressage. Aussie Rachel Sanna riding Jaybee Alabaster is one to watch out for.
However, expect both the team and individual events to be once again dominated by the Germans and the Dutch who have a monopoly over gold and silver medals dating back 20 years. Holland has chalked up three golds and five silvers since Barcelona, while Germany has seven golds and four silvers.
Eventing is the ultimate test of the best all-round horse and rider combination; swift, agile, obedient and able to negotiate obstacles over all kinds of terrain.
The discipline comprises three tests – dressage, cross-country and jumping – taking place on separate days with each competitor required to ride the same horse. Dressage illustrates harmony between horse and rider; cross-country requires speed, endurance, technical skill and bravery, while the jumping phase call for precision, agility and impeccable technique.
Australia has recorded a number of achievements in recent Olympic events competitions, with team golds in 1992, 1996 and 2000. At Beijing 2008 the Aussies finished second to a strong German team, with the British in bronze medal position.
Our last individual eventing medal came from Andrew Hoy (Swizzle In) who won silver at Sydney 2000, while our last gold medal winner was Matthew Ryan (Kibah Tic Toc) at Barcelona 1992.
The jumping competition is a tense, exciting test of skill, speed and power requiring horse and rider to navigate a course of jumps that fall if knocked. Done at the canter – a fast, bouncy pace that riders can adjust to achieve a longer or shorter stride – jumping is held in an 80 x 100m arena containing 12-14 obstacles which vary in height from 1.4m to 1.6m, which the horse must jump.
Jumps are divided into five categories; verticals (gates and fences), spreads (triple bars and oxers) combinations (two or three jumps that are one or two strides apart), simulated stone walls and water jumps which the horse must clear without touching the water.
Despite our success in eventing, Australia is yet to record a medal in show jumping. However, while the USA is a frequent high achiever in both the individual and team events, the discipline is a wide-open competition with anything possible on the day given the degree of difficulty and variables.
Our best show jumping hope rests with Edwina Tops-Alexander who recently became the first female to win the Global Champions tour 2011.
Give it a go: