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The unsung four-legged heroes of the Olympics

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 25 July 2012

I’ve decided that I shall officially get excited about the Olympics. There is, of course, a huge amount to grumble about. The car lanes stuffed with sponsors and bogus VIPs, the ghastly creaking corporate bandwagon, the idiocy of having a great sporting event sponsored by crappy hamburgers and sugary drinks, the security fiasco: all make one’s heart sink into one’s boots. But it would be sad to allow all that to obscure the human side.

This morning, Alice Plunkett, whom I watch all winter as she presents Channel Four Racing, tweeted that the lovely Lionheart had set off for Greenwich. He is the horse of her husband, the great eventer William Fox-Pitt. As all the noise is of the famous sprinters, the swimming hopes and the cycling heroes, the horse side of the British contingent is often overlooked. Eventing is the most minority of sports, after all. I always love the Olympic three day event, but now that I have a horse of my own, I feel it even more keenly.

It is one of the most challenging disciplines of any sport. It is, essentially, a triathlon with horses. First, they must do the delicate, controlled, precise test that is dressage. Then, they must go flat out across country, over terrifying fixed obstacles, with huge drops, shining water features, and any other kinds of novelty that the course builders may dream up. This requires strength, stamina, courage and accuracy. It’s about as far away from dressage as you can imagine. Then, they must go into the show-jumping ring, and tackle a completely different kind of fence, with fragile poles that can fall at the flick of a hoof.

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