Tag Archives: equestrian sports

Olympic Games of Chance

Two days to the Rio Olympics opening ceremonies, and the games of chance are still being played. The Zika virus, polluted water venues, 1964_Olympics_equestrian_stamp_Japan-wikicommons games of chanceand a bacterial risk to horses.

Glanders is a contagious fatal equine respiratory disease. Humans can contract it too. In the past few years, hundreds of Brazilian horses have been killed to stop its spread. Horse owners argued that the tests are too often inaccurate. Health officials did not want to endanger horses coming for the games. The risk of infection is still there, and riders decided to take it.

You’d expect a story like this would get a lot of coverage. It didn’t. There’s been too many other things going wrong in Brazil.

Rio_de_Janeiro_bid_banner_2016_Summer_Olympics-rodrigo-Soldon-wikicommonsOfficials of the IOC and host country will take any and all measures to ensure safety and smooth-sailing, so to speak, for the games. They can kill horses, can’t they, but they can’t kill problematic humans. They can move them however. Poor areas deemed unsightly or dangerous to visitors and tv cameras are relocated, with bulldozers usually.

National funds are used to build facilities always said to improve post-Olympics life for residents. Rarely do they. Rushed or shoddy construction, and Olympic-size facilities that are way more than what a city needs for sports and recreation. Velodromo_Municipal_do_Rio_2016a-Team-Erdgas-wikicommons

Tracks, playing fields and pools don’t keep themselves up. They require continued expenditure of money and time. Cities around the world are littered with unused remnants of their Olympic Games. No money. The buildings may crumble quickly, but the Olympic debt doesn’t.

Reuse: A Permanent Home

It’s way past time for a permanent Olympics home. Greece, for summer games, and Switzerland, winter games, would work. Greece has the history of the ancient Olympians. Switzerland has the Alps, clock makers and an aura of neutrality. It also has the IOC headquarters. Greece, analysts and athletes have made good arguments for these sites long before I thought of them. Maybe another couple of sites as well, so there is a fallback in case of natural or political turmoil.

Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympics, believed that moving the games around would foster global understanding by letting people get to know different countries, different peoples. Good point. But it is outweighed by the cost, corruption and conflict that accompany every Olympic games.

Sarajevo_1984-Olympic_Symbol-Hedwig-Klawuttke-1997-wikicommonsI hope the Rio Games go well. But I hope too that we remember the frightful games of chance – natural and socio-political – that occurred in the lead-up to them. It’s time to rethink the Olympics for the long term. Not just say whew, that went better than expected, and stumble along to the next ones.

Rodeo Kings

From St. Thomas Dog Blog July 8, 2011. Sadly in this year’s Stampede, 2 horses died in chuckwagon race crashes.

William & Kate open 2011 Stampede Parade (ctv pic)William and Kate opened the Calgary Stampede and attended the parade. William even took part in a chuckwagon race. I’d wondered what they’d do. Before their visit, there was a furor about their endorsement-by-attendance at what some call an event about animal abuse.

But wait, doesn’t Vancouver Humane Society have abandoned and abused animals in its own city? Doesn’t it receive calls about horse starvation within its jurisdiction? Isn’t there factory farming in the Lower Mainland?

And the UK’s RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports? (sorry, Stampede articles are gone.) Isn’t there abuse and neglect within the Horses jumping fence in steeplechaseUK? What’s happening with fox hunting? That can pretty hard on horses let alone the fox, if there’s still hunting of live foxes. And polo. Show jumping, eventing, steeplechasing, hurdling: all involve horses as active partners under the control of a human.

The protestors made a lot about the UK having banned rodeo in 1934 and that it was William’s “great-great-grandfather George V who signed [it] into law.” Funny, I had no idea rodeo was part of British culture and history. Not like Canada and the US where the activities that comprise rodeo have been part of the national landscape since the beginning.

Stampede and all horse sports

Prince Philip 2005 driving competition Lowther wikicommonsBut there are horse sports that William, his father and brother, his aunt Anne, his cousin Zara, grandfather and other members of both sides of his family actively participate in. Polo, show jumping, eventing and driving. His paternal grandmother and late great-grandmother have huge stables of Thoroughbreds and have long been active in “The Sport of Kings.” How many horses are killed yearly in Thoroughbred racing alone?

In Los Angeles, where William and Kate headed after Calgary, he is participating in a polo match. Not one peep about animal abuse in anything I read about that. Why weren’t the Vancouver and UK animal rights people all over that one?

I do not want to fuel activism against polo. It is a beautiful sport. But, like any sport involving animals, it has a lot of Prince William playing polo (commons.wikimedia.org)room for abuse in treatment of horses and in training methods. Read Jilly Cooper’s Polo. She explains the game and the training. There are good trainers and players, and bad. There are selfish, egotistical, win-at-all-costs brutes who take out their frustrations on their horse partner. Some training methods rely on infliction of pain to “teach” the horse. There can be individual and systemic abuse of half the polo team. The description of the training by the world-champion level Argentines is so horrific that I flinched at the mere word Argentina long after finishing the book. And that’s just the world of polo.

Look into the spikes and sticks used by some show jumper trainers to get a horse’s feet lifted high. I’m not sure that the flank strap used to cause bucking by rodeo broncs is worse than many tools used by horse trainers unwilling to practice patience.

Priorities for animal activists

Windsor_2009_Limelight-detail-don-carey-kersti-nebelsiek-wikicommonsShould we ban show jumping and polo? No. But abuse should not be permitted in those sports any more than it should be permitted in rodeo or any sport or event that involves animals. Also maybe UK and Canadian animal rights people ought to clean up their own backyards first. Feeding and fixing ‘stray’ cats, stopping the supply of puppies on Kijiji: that’ll keep you busy right there.

Jilly Cooper’s Rutshire Chronicles are sequential so start at the beginning, with Riders.They are wonderful books, with horrible people and lovely animals and some nice people. Here’s a link for all Jilly Cooper books on Amazon.

 

Dressage Top Hat

dorothee schneider diva royal ger-dderosaphotoA requirement for safety helmets to be worn by riders in all equestrian shows is a good idea and, by and large, the helmets look ok.  But dressage needs something that is as elegant as the sport itself.  Something that looks like, well, the traditional top hat.

After watching the Olympics dressage, where some riders wore top hats and some wore crash helmets, I thought can’t technology come top hat helmet by l'Hiverup with a protective helmet with style?  I googled it and, yes, others have thought the same thing.

The helmet on the left looks good.  I’d like to see it on a human head to see its proportions and if it still looks good when on.  The dressage helmet below  does have the shape of a top hat and obviously the protective capabilities of a helmet. But its size, with that protection, makes it also makes it look kinda like The Cat in the Hat.

Megan Rust helmet top hatA serious head injury in 2010 by Olympics dressage rider Courtney King-Dye started the move for helmets for all riders in all disciplines.  Yes, it’s a good idea.  A horse cantering, no matter how elegantly in dressage, is still moving at a good speed and a fall can cause the rider a lot of damage.

But dressage, of all the equestrian sports, is also an art form.  Looks and beauty of movement on the part of horse and rider is an Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro 2012 Olympic dressageimportant element.  Riders wearing a standard shaped crash helmet may as well complete the look by wearing snowmobile pants.

In show jumping and eventing, the crash helmet somehow doesn’t look as bad.  These are more clearly “sport” even though there is artistry in what horse and rider are doing.

But in dressage, the athleticism involved is hidden from view so that the beauty of the movement can be seen.  Like in figure skating, circus performance and dance.  You know these are superb athletes but you don’t want to see the strain of muscles pumping.  You want to see the beauty and fluidity of motion.

If dressage riders are going to wear standard issue crash helmets, you might as well reiningdemand ballerinas wear knee and elbow pads.  Please, scientists, keep working on a helmet that preserves the elegance of dressage as well as the heads of riders. While you’re at it, a protective cowboy hat for reining would be good.  The look of that hat is important too.

Congratulations to Team GB for winning gold in team dressage and show jumping.  And thanks to all competitors for incredibly exciting and beautiful performances.