Karen O'Connor and Mr. Medicott of the U.S. during the first eventing horse inspection. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 

The opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games isn't until tonight, but the eventing competition officially got under way at Greenwich Park this morning with the first horse inspection (aka the jog or the trot-up).

Seventy-four horses representing 22 nations were presented to the Olympic veterinary commission, which includes foreign veterinary delegate Kent Allen, DVM, of the U.S. (Read my interview with Dr. Allen here.)

Dr. Kent Allen, FEI foreign veterinary delegate (left), and fellow members of the Olympic veterinary commission watch Boyd Martin of the U.S. jog Otis Barbotiere. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 

A happy-looking Mary King of Great Britain jogs an equally happy-looking Imperial Cavalier. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 

Of the field, 71 horses were accepted as fit to compete at first presentation. Four horses were sent to the holding box for reinspection: Cadiz/Aurelien Kahn (France), Asih/Alexander Peternell (South Africa), Kilrodan Abbott/Peter Barry (Canada), and Barbara/Serguei Fofanoff (Brazil). All were accepted upon reinspection.

About three hours after the conclusion of the veterinary inspection, the Brazilian eventing team announced that its horse Kenny, ridden by Renan Santos Guerreiro, had been withdrawn, in a statement calling the horse "not 100% fit."

Course Walk

About an hour after the jog ended, we readied our cameras and our walking shoes for a thankfully rain-free tour of the Olympic eventing cross-country course, led by course designer Sue Benson. She led us around the 5,760-meter course (about 3.6 miles), which consists of 28 obstacles with a total of 39 jumping efforts. The optimum time is ten minutes, three seconds--although Benson said she doubts too many riders will make the optimum time.

Olympic cross-country course designer Sue Benson poses on fence 7, The Moon. 

"The terrain did a lot of the work for me," said Benson of Greenwich Park's hilly locale (it is, after all, the site of a world-famous observatory). This is not rolling terrain; these hills are steep. Let's just say that I don't think I need to get on an elliptical trainer or an inclined treadmill tonight. 

Yes, it's hilly: Germany's Michael Jung, the 2010 WEG eventing gold medalist, inspects the drop at fence 20ab, the Royal Greenwich Borough, with a Japanese competitor. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 

The cross-country obstacles are some of the most decorative and fanciful I've ever seen. Many are tips of the hat to the gardens, leisure pastimes, and other entertainment enjoyed by park-goers for generations. Several were inspired by the observatory and its role in stargazing. The first fence, the Diamond Jubilee Hedge, honors the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the British throne.

The Diamond Jubilee Hedge, designed in honor of Queen Elizabeth II, is the first fence on course. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 

The course makes use of the Olympic stadium itself. Horses and riders will enter the stadium to jump fences 15 and 16, both of which are hedges outfitted as the Tower of London.

"Wind in the Willows" characters seem to be watching U.S. competitor Tiana Coudray as she familiarizes herself with the water at fence 8abc, the River Bank. 

Karen O'Connor studies an element of fence 5abc, the (very real) Chestnut Logs. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 

One of the most technical questions on course is fence 24ab, the Rose Garden. Set next to an actual huge rose garden in the park, this hedge-and-faux-roses jump is a right-hand corner jump that just begs for a runout. 

That's one skinny, tricky corner at fence 24ab, the Rose Garden. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 

"I think it's a big question for the back end of the course," Benson said.

One more observatory-themed fence: The Planet. It's really just a table, but what a table! Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 

The course concludes with fence 28, the stunning Olympic Horses obstacle: a huge horseshoe flanked by two equally impressive horse statues made entirely from recycled horseshoes. All are stunning pieces of art in their own right. If LOCOG wants to raise some extra money, I'll bet an art collector would pay top dollar for these gorgeous pieces.

 Final fence: the Olympic Horses. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

The course turf itself is in top shape--lush and green, with excellent drainage. Benson's team has been mowing, fertilizing, aerating, and watering the course path for more than a year in order to transform the usually wild grassland into a luxurious green carpet. All of Greenwich Park is situated on a natural bed of gravel, which affords excellent drainage, Benson said. Officials have had to be so protective of the turf that we journalists were instructed to stay to the sides of the galloping lanes as much as possible. 

Cross-country day is Monday, July 30. But first: two days of eventing dressage, which commence tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. London time. Boyd Martin and Barbotiere of the U.S. are the first to go. Karen O'Connor and Mr. Medicott ride at 12:08 p.m. Tiana Coudray and Ringwood Magister go at 3:18. 

Continuing on Sunday, Will Coleman and Twizzel ride their dressage test at 11:20 a.m. Last to go for the U.S. will be Phillip Dutton on Mystery Whisper at 2:38 p.m.