We've all waited long enough for the start of the 2020 Tokyo Equestrian Olympic Games. Finally, fans were able to watch four fabulous days of the best ballet horses in the world dance across the arena of Tokyo’s Equestrian Park. As the only sport to compete with a live animal, we know to expect the unexpected... and always a good story.
Here are our favorite moments:
Of course, we can't even begin this list without acknowledging the gold, silver, and bronze medalists. How lucky are we to get to witness these incredible athletes bring their best to the world stage?
TEAM Gold: Germany
Bronze: Great Britain
INDIVIDUAL Gold: Jessica von Bredow-Werndl (GER)
Silver: Isabell Werth (GER)
Bronze: Charlotte Dujardin (GBR)
See ya, top-hat. The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Board implemented in 2019 a ban on the traditional dressage top-hat. This was the first Olympic games we saw every rider in the arena wearing an ASTM & SEI certified helmet. Trending brands were seen on some of the top riders and many had fun with their countries’ colors. KASK led in popularity, with many different fashionable variations. Charlotte "Lottie" Fry from Great Britain and silver medalist Sabine Schut-Kery from the United States both sported KASK. Originally from Italy, their website will allow you to personalize your helmet to your own flag! Samshield was rocked by also silver medalist, Adrienne Lyle of the United States. Great Britain’s bronze medalist, Charlotte Dujardin, wore her flashy Charles Owen helmet on the big screen. Many of the riders appeared to bedazzle for just that extra shine!
Bonnets were also new this year. Whether for decoration, or to prevent irritation - riders at the Olympic games now had the option to add this accessory. Alexandre Ayache of France, Dina Ellermann of Estonia, and Joao Victor Marcari Oliva of Brazil all were found riding with bonnets in the show ring! Historically, dressage attire and equipment are as formal as it gets of the three disciplines, branching into bonnets at this Olympic level offers a fun splash and individualism.
We Love To See It
The "Bodybuilders of Equestrian Sports." After years of training for this very moment … we finally are presented with the most fit and well trained horses in the world. Rooting for your top horse can be difficult as each ride enters the ring. In no particular order, here are some of our top picks who effortlessly glossed across the footing: Everdale. Sorrento 15, Fogoso, Bohemian, Flambeau, DSF Dalera.
Each horse that came through the gate had a distinct conformation. Having flown in from Australia, Germany, Brazil and beyond, we looked for trends among the sport. Staying within the Warmblood family, we found top and popular breeds for the 2020 Tokyo Equestrian Olympic Games: German Warmblood Westphalian, Dutch Warmblood, Portugeguese Purebred Lusitano, Belgian Sport Horse, and Holsteiner.
A role model. German Gold medalist Isabell Werth knows how to put in hard work. She insists on flying with her horses when they travel, taking on the responsibility for their feed and care. Isabell believes in the emotional bond and partnership between horse and rider and how this can contribute to success in the ring. Jessica Von Bredow Werndl can also be found stepping in for her groom behind the scenes. Jessica prefers to braid herself, even before an event like the Olympic Games. It takes an entire village to support a horse and rider, many of the teams will not only acquire grooms, but managers, chiropractors, masseuses, acupuncturists, veterinarians, farriers (the list goes on!).
If you're at the Olympics, you've already won. Any rider knows how unpredictable horses are. The challenge to the sport beyond preparation can, at times, simply boil down to exhibiting patience. For Henri Rouste of Finland, this was the case. During his first appearance at the Olympic Games riding Kontestro DB, Kontestro spooked early into the program, deducting major points from his score and making the remaining test quite difficult to perform. It was rewarding to see Henri pleased at his exit, as there was still satisfaction for so many other reasons. Henri gave Kontestro a big pat on the neck, as though there was still a sense of major accomplishment for making it so far.
Caroline Chew, the first rider from Singapore to ever qualify for the Equestrian Olympic Games also experienced a disappointing round. Shortly into her test with Tribiani they were eliminated for blood in the mouth after the horse seemed to accidently catch his lip. Chew walked away disappointed, feeling the years of training only to lead to a disqualification, yet she says, “I would say it's quite miraculous we got here anyway. It was great and I felt really humbled and privileged to be the first Singaporean at the Olympic Games for equestrian. It's kind of a shame how it ended," according to channelnewsasia.com.
Mary Hanna of Australia competing in Tokyo.
At 66, Mary Hanna of Australia has appeared in 6 Olympic Games. This mother of 4 and grandmother of 4 has been riding since the age of 4 years old. “If you didn’t ride, you did not get fed,” Mary tells horsemagazine.com. Mary’s ambition was to compete in the 2020 Olympic games, and she was able to compete alongside her British hero Carl Hester. She will be Tokyo’s oldest competitor and is 54 years older than Tokyo’s youngest competitor. It goes to show that in this sport, age often benefits the rider with experience. Mary still plans to arrive ready and able to compete in Paris for Summer 2024.
Carrying her love with her. After receiving her score, Larissa Pauluis of Belgium aboard Flambeau waved to the camera, showing the name “GREG” with a red heart written on her white glove. This gesture is in memory of her husband who died suddenly last year due to a heart attack. Larissa rode her gelding in the twinkling lights of the rain and presented an undeniable bond between horse and rider. Flambeau regally danced for the Pauluis family, the anticipation and ride to Tokyo for the two appeared nostalgic and emotional. It was a true connection for both horse and rider, and apparent how such a bond can be healing for the soul.
Rodrigo Torres of Portugal wiped his tears of joy after an extremely successful freestyle with Fogoso. Dancing to the tunes of “Money” by Pink Floyd, Rodrigo would passaged one handed down the center line with a smile upon his face. The crowd clapped along and it was hard not to join in.
Denmark showed up for the dramatics with rider Carina Cassoe Kruth playing variations of “The Time of Your Life,” from Dirty Dancing and “Dance with Somebody,” by Whitney Houston. Steffen Peters jumped in with some big personality riding along to some techno music by Calabria and Starley (Call on Me Remix). His gelding, Suppenkasper was in sync with the music and appeared to enjoy a test tailored to his strengths.
The dressage individual freestyle allows for horse and rider to express not only their own identity but showcase a course that delivers your horse's full potential. Many of the riders exit the ring delighted after executing such precise movement with grace and power.
Want to watch (or re-watch) the action? Head over to NBC to see the replays and highlights. The eventing competition gets underway next with the dressage phase!
Photos by Arnd Bronkhorst
Written by Troy Anna Smith
Troy Anna Smith is a Nashville-based writer with a BA in Journalism from Penn State University. Troy finds her passion through her daughter, her love of horses, and her two rescue pups. Some of her writing can be found in The Plaid Horse Magazine, Sidelines Magazine, and The Spark by Heels Down.