Don't blink or you'll miss Olympic equestrian events

EQUINE SPORTS

July 29, 1992|By Muphen R. Whitney

I hope all you fanatical horse people are not expecting to turn on your televisions this week and see lots of coverage of the Olympic equestrian competitions.

You will have to be content with gymnastics, basketball, track and field, boxing, wrestling, swimming, diving and the occasional glimpse (maybe) of a few of the six medal opportunities for horses and riders.

I have never understood why equestrian endeavors get such short shrift by the media moguls of Olympicdom and sportsdom. I covered the Olympic Festival in North Carolina a few years ago for various newspapers, news services and radio and television stations, and I was amazed at the initial lack of interest on the part of editors and news directors.

Yet equestrian sports offer some of the best, most exciting and most interesting stories in all of sport. First of all, this is the only Olympic sport in which men and women compete on a completely equal basis. (Tennis doubles might be an exception, but men and women play with each other, so to speak, rather than against members of the opposite sex.)

Equestrian sports are also the only ones in which competitors are partners with another living being that is not a homo sapiens.

And in equestrian sport, age is not a barrier to be overcome -- it is a factor that equates with knowledge and experience.

The sport is fertile ground for producing good stories, but what are you likely to see as Olympic equestrian coverage on network television?

Based on past experience, you will see every devastating fall and every problem on the cross-country course of the Three-Day Event competition. You will not see any of the team or individual dressage competition; the dressage portion of the Three-Day competition may be briefly alluded to, but don't count on it. The jumping phase of Three-Day and the show jumping team final are scheduled for broadcast, but might be pre-empted by something else.

This year NBC is trying an experiment to bring extended coverage on a pay-per-view basis to cable television subscribers, of events that won't get regular broadcast coverage. For $29.95 per day, or $125 for all 15 days of the Olympics, you can see uninterrupted coverage of all six equestrian medal opportunities.

For those of you who didn't sign up for this Triplecast coverage, here is a guide to this year's equestrian sports at the Olympics.

There are three equestrian sports contested at the Olympics: Dressage, Three-Day Eventing, and Show Jumping. Dressage and Show Jumping have competitions for individual medals and for team medals. The Three-Day competition will award team and individual medals based on the performance in one multipart competition.

Three-Day Eventing takes place over three days of competition (with another day off for a breather) and consists of three main parts: dressage, endurance and show jumping. The endurance part consists of four phases: steeplechase, two phases of roads and tracks, and cross-country.

The steeplechase phase is not a steeplechase race. Each horse works individually over a steeplechase course. Roads and tracks is basically trot work to prove the horse's endurance and soundness.

The cross-country phase is the one most familiar to spectators. In this phase horses and riders must negotiate some truly mind-boggling and spine-tingling obstacles.

Don't confuse the dressage and show-jumping portions of the Three-Day Event with the Dressage and Show Jumping competitions. These are separate competitions with separate teams and separate requirements.

This Olympic's Three-Day Event began on Monday with dressage and continues today (endurance) and tomorrow (jumping). The team Dressage competition takes place on Monday, Aug. 3; individual Dressage is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 5. The Show Jumping team competition will be held Tuesday, Aug. 4. Individual Show Jumping qualifying rounds will be Friday, Aug. 7, with the individual jumping finals held on Sunday, Aug. 9.

Here's a rundown on the three equestrian teams representing the United States at these Olympics. All riders had to meet certain qualifications established by the United States Equestrian Team Inc. (USET) in Gladstone, N.J.

Candidates have to be U.S. citizens, qualified amateurs according to the rules of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), born during or before 1974, and be a member in good standing with the USET and the American Horse Shows Association (AHSA).

There are rules for horses, too. They must be at least 7 years old, meet FEI rules, be in good standing with the AHSA and be recorded with the AHSA.

Show-jumping and three-day competitors must have competed in specific levels of competitions and received certain levels of scores in order to be considered for the teams.

Dressage competitors competed at selection trials in Florida in March. Six horse and riders were selected to compete in Europe, and after this, the team of four plus two alternates was chosen.

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