The 1936 Olympic Games – The Story of Jenny Camp
 By mosquito   •   5th Oct 2010   •   7,433 views   •   1 comments
Back before World War II, equestrian sports were dominated by military horses. After World War I, many nations concentrated on developing top cavalry horses horses that were strong, fast, intelligent and brave – all qualities needed in war, but also qualities that made great sport horses. Testing out cavalry horses on the cross country course or in the show jumping arena saw great national rivalries as each country sought to prove their cavalry horses as the best without the arena of the battlefield.

In the United States, in the late 1920s, the Army made a major change to its horse breeding programs to improve its stock. That was the establishment of the ‘Army Remount Service’. For the first time, there was a highly structured, scientific approach to horse breeding for the cavalry, and the Army Equestrian Team was the best way to test the success of the program in peace time. Most of the Remount horses were part thoroughbreds, although few were purebreds. Some of the best horses from around the country were bought from farmers, breeders, and other private owners to develop the horses. Morgans, Standardbreds, Quarter Horse types any horse that had a reputation for speed, strength, or jumping prowess was chased down by the Remount.

The 1936 Olympic Games – The Story of Jenny Camp

And it wasn’t just horses that benefited from the changes. The establishment of the ‘Advanced Equitation School’ at Fort Riley in the 1920s gave the best and most talented riders a chance to focus on horse training and riding skills. Established officers who showed potential with horses were selected for this prestigious school, and just about all of America’s equestrian Olympians in the 1920s and 1930s came from this one program.

It was in this environment that one of the greatest eventing horses of all time was bred, the wonderful mare Jenny Camp. Jenny Camp was foaled at the Fort Robinson Remount Station in Virginia in 1926. She was a small bay mare (she never touched 16 hands), but her sire was a top thoroughbred jumping sire called Gordon Russell. Her mother isn’t known for sure, but was probably a part-throughbred, part-standardbred mare. Because Jenny was small, she started out as a polo pony, but she turned out to be a natural jumper, letting herself out of most paddocks without difficulty. And so her eventing career began. She was given to Lietenant ‘Tommy’ Thomson at the Equitation School, and an illustrious partnership was born.

Her first Olympics was the 1932 games in Los Angeles. The equestrian games were organized and run by the US Army, and there were grumblings early on from the other competing nations that the games were set up to suit the American horses. A medal haul of 1 gold, 2 silvers and 2 bronze medals suggests that whatever they did, and however honest it may or may not have been, it worked.
Jenny Camp was part of this success, picking up the individual silver in eventing and leading the US to team silver too. There was little that was spectacular about her performance, and many said that she was ‘workmanlike’. The absence of many countries because of the Great Depression also took something away from her performance. But Tommy wouldn’t hear any criticism of Jenny. He vowed to prove she was really the best sports horse in the world, even if it took another medal to prove it.

Jenny Camp was ready for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The 1936 games was a storm of controversy in many events with the approach of World War II, and the equestrian events were no exception. By the start of the three-day eventing, the carefully prepared US dressage and show jumping teams had earned no medals, the events being dominated by the Germans who had won all the golds in the individual and team events.

In the eventing, after the dressage the US team was in second place behind the Germans, and Jenny Camp was in contention for a medal. But the 1936 cross country course was notorious. In particular, it was fence four, The Pond, which was causing the problems. It appeared straightforward – a three foot post and rail fence into water, cross the pond, and jump out again. But as the horses started going round the course, something seemed suspicious. The first US rider around, Captain Raguse riding Trailolka, popped into the water, taking the straightest, shortest route. What they found though was that the water was suddenly deeper than it had been on the course inspection, and the surface underneath was soft and boggy. They took a bad tumble, Trailolka injuring her shoulder, but they managed to remount and finish the course.

In those days there was no way to send messages back to waiting riders, and one by one the riders fell at The Pond. The second US rider, Captain Willems on Slippery Slim, followed the same route, but this time there were tragic consequences. Slippery Slim landed heavily in the mud, became trapped, and broke a foreleg. He was immediately destroyed. Not only was the death of Slippery Slim a great blow to the US team, it also took away any chance of a team medal. Other countries fared badly too. Only 15 of 48 starters successfully negotiated The Pond. 28 fell, 3 refused to attempt it at all, and 3 horses were destroyed because of injuries at the obstacle. Oddly, the Germans had no problems and their horses all negotiated the fence safely, taking a wider and much longer line to the left side of the fence.

By being second after the dressage, Jenny Camp was lucky to be late in the starting order. By the time she started, the rumors about fence four were filtering back to the waiting riders. Tommy sensed that something was suspicious about the fence, and even though he hadn’t inspected the longer left-hand route, he took it anyway, taking a chance that he and Jenny would figure it out as they went through. His plan worked, and Jenny Camp completed the course without penalties, and followed up with a clear round in the show jumping arena to take home the individual silver medal. This made Jenny Camp one of only three horses to win individual eventing medals at consecutive Olympic Games (the next one would be over 50 years later when Charisma won his second consecutive gold at the 1988 Seoul games).

Were the rumors about Fence Four true? Well, the results were astonishing. All the German riders took the longest route through what appeared to be a straightforward obstacle, and all completed The Pond safely. Of the other 18 teams, only 3 finished the three day event with enough riders to earn a team score – Germany winning gold, followed by Poland and Britain. France and Italy did not have a single horse and rider complete the competition.

And what happened to the US Army Remount Service, and to Jenny Camp? The 1936 games would be the last Olympics until after World War II, so there would be no chance for Jenny to go for a third medal, and changes in military practice meant that few of the remount horses saw active duty in the War. Jenny was too old now for cavalry use, and she saw out the days of the War as a broodmare in California, finally passing away at the ripe old age of 32. The Remount Service continued only until 1948, when it was officially closed, after sending out the 1948US Army equestrian team at the London Olympics. How did it go? They won the team gold, and the team included “Tommy” Thompson too – and he took home the team silver is dressage just for good measure!
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Horse News More In This Category:  Horse Stories      Horse News More From This Author:  mosquito
My horse is good at letting himself out of places....but all he does is run though the fences....or unlocks the gate or door! He is insanely smart!! Neat article! Where do you come up with this stuff?
  Oct 5, 2010  •  8,697 views
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