Equestrianism at the Olympics or at the World Equestrian Games

THE SAME LEVEL OF EXCELLENCE, ONLY MORE AMBITIOUS ! For the equestrian world, the thirtieth modern-day Olympics Games will begin in London with the eventing competition on 28th July. It will be the occasion to compare the different horse riding competitions at the Olympics and the World Equestrian Games; the two landmark events of the equestrian sports world.

Equestrianism at the Olympics or at the World Equestrian Games

The first real difference between the two is size, as the number of disciplines involved in the competitions is not the same.   At the Olympics, only eventing, jumping and dressage are entitled to be represented. However, para dressage makes an appearance later on at the Paralympics, which are staged 29 August – 3 September.

The World Equestrian Games stage competitions for eight disciplines at the same time (in addition to the four already mentioned above, driving, endurance, reining and vaulting are also included.) The number of horses and athletes participating is also a lot higher. The London Olympics will welcome about 250 riders and just as many horses, but for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy, 1,000 horses are expected… Each driver alone brings five horses along !

The selection criteria for the teams and athletes are also very different. For the Olympics, national teams qualify through world or regional championships according to the rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). For example, in jumping, the first five ranking nations in the World Championships qualify for the next Olympics. Silver-medallist at the WEG in Lexington in 2010, France was able to secure its place at the London Games. It is interesting to note that the country itself is selected and that it isn’t necessary to select the same winning team to represent the country at the following Olympics.

For the different countries, this « passport » to the Olympics is almost as important as winning a medal ! Not being able to participate at the Olympics is seen as an absolute catastrophe by the great horse riding nations such as France. France’s failure to qualify for the jumping competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was an incredible blow to the French equine world.

For the World Equestrian Games, the qualification requirements are determined by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) and the respective national federations. The FEI sets out the minimum performance requirements that an athlete has to reach in order to qualify. It is not unusual for national federations, and in particular the leading equestrian nations, to add further, more stringent selection criteria. The number of participating countries is higher at the World Equestrian Games than at the Olympic Games.

Finally, there are also a number of major differences with regards to how the different sporting events are staged at the Olympics and at the World Equestrian Games. In eventing, a discipline which combines three different tests, dressage, cross country and jumping, individual and team medals used to be awarded after the last jumping test. However the IOC decided that it wasn’t fair to give two sets of medals – individual and team – at the end of the one and the same event. The individual and team events were consequently divided into two at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, which, to some extent, meant that the competition lost a little of its edge.  Since then, the set up has changed at the Olympics: to determine a winner, the highest ranking pair in the individual competition has to complete a second round of jumping. This highly contested rule, for the most part because it demands an additional effort from the horses, is not applicable to the World Equestrian Games.

In fact, riders say that it is easier to become a Jumping Olympic Champion than a World Champion… Even if the two are no mean accomplishment! During the final event of the Olympic jumping competition, the individual final is comprised of two rounds; with the scores of all the riders reset to zero. This means that a rider ranked last before reaching this final, still has the opportunity of gaining a place on the podium.

At the World Equestrian Games, the riders’ points and faults are, on the contrary, added up all along the competition, and during the final. At the end of the last round, the four best riders are invited to the THE most legendary jumping format in the world of equestrian sport: the final four.  This amazing round ultimately ends up with one unlucky rider without a place on the podium !  During the nail-biting final, each rider has four rounds to complete, one on his/her own mount and the other three on their opponents’ horses.

It isn’t only the closeness of the relationship between horse and man that is rewarded, but the talent of the rider, of his/her ability to adapt almost instantly to a new horse. It means the rider has to get on well with the horse more or less immediately.

Undoubtedly, it’s a breathtaking display of bravura and the epitome of the art of equestrian !


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