You'll be able to live-stream 2012 London Olympic Games coverage (in a future post, I'll tell you how). Results and happenings are sure to be posted, tweeted, and Facebooked instantaneously. So why did TheHorse.com want an Olympic equestrian blog?
Simple: because this blog will cover not only the highlights and the fun on-the-scene-in-London stuff; it will also focus on the all-important issues pertaining to equine health and welfare that come into play in a competition of this magnitude.
All well and good, you might be thinking; but why should I care about the care and feeding of the "1%" of the horse world?
For two reasons. First, research efforts conducted for past Olympic Games have directly altered our approach to such important horse-care aspects as post-exercise cooling and reduction of transport stress. Chilled-water baths, misting fans, and the like--all of these cooling mechanisms that we consider standard procedure today are the direct result of heat-stress studies conducted prior to the 1996 Olympics in notoriously hot, sticky Atlanta, Georgia. And horse-trailer mangers today are designed differently after studies before the long journey to Sydney, Australia, in 2000 revealed that horses need to be able to lower their heads and get the inhaled gunk out of their airways.
At the elite ranks in any sport, the difference between a medal and no medal frequently comes down to minutiae. Therefore, no detail is too small. Any (legal) measure that can help make an elite equine athlete sounder, happier, and more comfortable in his work is generally considered worth the investment. Whether it's a better bit design or a more successful shoeing job, it eventually "trickles down" to the mainstream so that your horse and mine can benefit from it.
There's a second reason to care about the welfare of the Olympic dressage, eventing, and jumping horses. Horse sports are beloved by some, despised by others. We horse people may not cotton to animal-rights groups' wanting to ban equestrian activities, but at the same time many of us cringe at stories of crippled racehorses and cross-country crashes.
The International Olympic Committee and the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) take a hard line on the use of drugs and medications to mask horses' pain or to artificially enhance performance. In a nutshell, horses at Olympic Games and other FEI-recognized competitions have to be clean, clean, clean. The subject of drugs and meds in U.S. Thoroughbred racing has received a lot of attention lately, and some of the stories are pretty ugly. I for one am glad that the FEI and the IOC are determined not to let its equestrian disciplines go down that tarnished route. Because you know what? Doping horses is not only repugnant but also fodder for those who would seek to find reasons to eliminate horse sports. Because of the animals involved, we need to be better and cleaner than the other sports.
To that end, the FEI Veterinary Department has a super-sensitive drug-testing protocol (the current list of prohibited substances is 29 pages long!). And if you don't think they're serious about it, allow me to remind you that two teams--one being the American dressage team--lost their medals in Hong Kong 2008 because horses tested positive for banned substances. It doesn't matter whether the substance was adminstered accidentally or on purpose; the rider, or "person responsible" in FEI-rules-speak, is in fact responsible and will be eliminated.
Finally, there's the matter of those cross-country crashes, or any other injury or illness that may befall an Olympic horse. The Olympic spotlight is a ruthless one, and any equine-welfare issue that may arise is going to get more airplay than at other competitions. We've also moved beyond the era when a certain amount of collateral damage, so to speak, was tolerated. Particularly in eventing, the sport of yesteryear was a rough-and-tumble one as compared to the modern version. You can debate the loss of the "long format" (with roads-and-tracks and steeplechase phases) all you want, but the bottom line is that today we want our horses to finish in one piece.
As we gear up for the London Games, I'll be explaining some of the measures taken to keep the Olympic horses safe and sound. If you're like me, you enjoy taking care of horses and you like to learn how to do a better job of it. I can't think of a more interesting learning opportunity than the Olympics, where the horses are treated as well as--if not better than--the human athletes!