Equestrian Sports Too Confusing For Olympic Audience
 By Winniefield Park   •   17th Aug 2016   •   1,310 views   •   0 comments

Adelinde Cornelissen pulls her horse Parzival out of competition minutes into their first dressage test, claiming he didn’t feel right after a bug bit him, causing swelling in his jaw and neck. NBC first reported that “The Dutch's Edward Gal holds the No.4 after Adelinde Cornelissen and horse Parzival retire due to the horses hairline fracture.” The reference shows up in search results, but not in the actual article. Most media however spins the story as a heroic sacrifice made by Cornelissen for the love of her horse. The critics howl that the bug bite story is a coverup, and the real cause is damage done by Cornelissen’s consistent use of rollkur.

The whole drama almost makes you forget the other RIO 2016 equestrian sport headlines:

1. Cross-country carnage takes toll on all teams, reads the headline from the Irish Field.

2. CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster compiled a video titled, Equestrian course beats up on horses, riders in Rio.

3. NBC posts a video titled Ever Wonder: Which summer Olympic sport is most dangerous? Carnage, dangerous and ‘beats up’ are not words with which you wish to have your sport associated.

The eventing world has been struggling with criticism for awhile now. So has dressage. And, there have been whispers that equestrianism might get dropped from the Olympic roster. Yes, equestrianism has been a traditional part of both the ancient and modern Olympics, but that didn’t prevent the International Olympic Committee from almost dropping wrestling from the schedule after the 2012 Olympics. The reasons: cost, politics, a difficult scoring system, and many would say, more importantly, poor television ratings. Wrestling was reinstated until the 2020 Olympics, but is no longer considered a core sport and many believe its Olympic future isn’t bright. Equestrianism could face the same fate as pressures from outside and within may force the IOC to take a closer look at the costs, the controversies, and the general appeal.

The IOC, at least in my mind, seems to favor the fresh, new and sexy. Beach volleyball for example. Seriously? Yes, those people are athletes, but must the women be wearing microscopic bikinis while playing? Women’s diving suits seem to be getting smaller too. BMX is cool, and a great spectator sport. Sports like gymnastics, archery, swimming and fencing are easy to understand, even for someone with no knowledge of the sport. Even a dummy like me can tell when someone jumps high, flips around impossibly and lands in the middle of a trampoline, bobbles the landing off of the uneven bars, or hits the middle of a target. How can a fully dressed, possibly rider and horse hurting, complicated to score, and in the case of dressage, intricately fussy to the point of ‘what-the-heck-is-going-on’ to the average viewer going to compete? The lack of televised competitions may be a hint.

So how do we make the equestrian events more spectator friendly? Can we make them cooler and dare I say it, sexier? And, how do we do it without endangering horses and riders? Do we pick from one of the seven FEI sports? Endurance would love a crack at taking its sport to the Olympics. But, this is a tough sell to spectators, and thanks to a specific FEI region, the sport is frowned upon by many. The logistics of building a 50 or 100 mile course is difficult.

Reining? Too much like dressage, although speed does up the spectator appeal. Combined driving. Again, this isn’t a great spectator sport unless you know what’s going on, and for many of the same reasons endurance might not be an option. Vaulting. Gymnastics on horse back. Enough gymnastics.

And the two regional sports governed by the FEI: tent pegging and horseball? These might have some potential. But the biggest problem is that they are regional. These sports are popular in a handful of countries, but not hugely so in most. Of the two, I think horseball would have the most potential. Fun, fast, easy to understand and we could work on those uniforms - perhaps something a little form-fitting with mesh.

As far as non-FEI sports go, I think I’d vote for TREC as an Olympic sport. TREC is a real test of teamwork between horse and rider. It’s easy to understand for spectators. Again, we could work on the uniforms, speed it up a bit, add some really interesting obstacles for the excitement and crowd appeal. What do you think?
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