Just as quick as they seemed to arrive, the equestrian events at the 2012 Olympic Games are in the history books. Before the Games, I took a quick look
at a few of the aged competitors who'd battle for the gold. Now, let's take a closer look at how our superstars fared in all three disciplines.
Greenwhich Park saw records shattered during the equestrian events at the 2012 Olympic Games.
The first equestrian medals awarded in London were in three-day eventing. Germany edged out Great Britain for the team gold, and New Zealand quietly worked its way up the ranks to capture the bronze. In the individual standings, Michael Jung (GER) and Sam added no jumping or time faults to their dressage score to win the gold, Sara Algotsson Ostholt (SWE) and Wega took the silver, and Sandra Auffarth (GER) and Opgun Louvo rounded out the top three.
On a quick side note, with his Olympic victory, Jung became the first rider ever to hold individual world, European, and Olympic titles simultaneously. Pretty neat if you ask me!
But back on track. Aged horses were very successful in this year's eventing competition:
- Of the 74 horses that started in the eventing competition, 17 (nearly 23%) are currently 15 years of age or older;
- Two of the five horses on Germany's gold-medal winning team are 15 or older: Butts Abraxxas (15) and King Artus (18);
- The highest place aged horse in the individual rankings was Imperial Cavalier (age 15), ridden by Mary King (GBR);
- The oldest horse in the competition (and the oldest horse competing in the equestrian events this year), 20-year-old Lenamore ridden by Carolyn Powell (NZL), completed his weekend with a team bronze medal and in 29th place individually out of 53 finishers; and
- Of the 17 older horses that started the competition, 15 completed.
One interesting story surfaced during the Games about an aged mare and her offspring both competing. La Fair, a 15-year-old mare ridden by Linda Algotsson for Sweden is the dam of individual silver medal winner Wega, who is now 11-years-old. The Fédération Equestre Internationale posted this photo
on their Facebook page of the pair on at home shortly after La Fair foaled her now-famous filly.
In an equally exciting end to the jumping team competition, Great Britain edged out the Netherlands in a jump-off to claim team gold. Saudi Arabia finished in the bronze-medal position. In the individual competition, Steve Guerdat (SUI) and Nino des Buissonnets jumped fast and clean to take home the gold. Close behind, Gerco Schroder (NED) and the aptly named London took the silver and Cian O'Connor (IRE) and Blue Loyd 12 grabbed the bronze.
Fewer aged equine athletes competed in jumping than in eventing, but let's take a look at how the older competitors fared:
- Of the 75 horses that started the jumping competition, five were aged 15 and over;
- The oldest horses to start the jumping competition were Flexible and Itot du Chateau; both horses at 16 years old;
- The highest placed older horse in the team and individual standings was Flexible, who finished in 6th and 8th place, respectively, with rider Rich Fellers (USA);and
- All the aged horses that started the competition, and two finished in the top 20 (Flexible and Itot de Chateau).
Another super senior story from the jumping discipline involved not a horse, but a rider. Ian Miller, fondly known as Captain Canada, completed his 10th Olympic Games this year at the age of 65, finishing tied for ninth individually and in fifth in the team competition with his 11-year-old mount Star Power. Interestingly, the Chronicle Herald reported
that Millar believes the Canadian team's young horses contributed to their fifth-place team finish, as older horses would likely have had more miles and more experience. Score one for equine senior citizens?
Another quick side note, Millar was asked after the final jumping competition if he was aiming to compete in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. His reply? "Star Power wants to go and he cannot go without me." Score one for senior Olympic equestrians.
The equestrian competition concluded with dressage, where records were broken starting on the first day of competition. In the end, Great Britain earned their first team gold medal, finishing more than a point ahead of the second placed team from Germany, and more than two points ahead of the bronze medal team from the Netherlands. In a thrilling final, Charlotte Dujardin (GBR) took home the gold on Valegro in a record breaking performance. She was closely followed by Adelinde Cornelissen (NED) and Parzival in silver and teammate Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris in bronze.
Older horses found much success in the dressage arena throughout the course of the games; here are some highlights:
- Of the 50 horses that started the dressage competition, 12 (24%) were aged 15 or older;
- Of those 12, four made it through to the final Grand Prix Freestyle competition, and all four finished in the top 15;
- Two of the top three finishers in the individual competition were 15 years or older: Mistral Hojris (17) and Parzival (15, who was also the highest placed aged horse in dressage);
- One-third of the gold-medal British team and two-thirds of the bronze-medal Dutch team were aging horses (Mistral Hojris for Great Britain, and Salinero  and Parzival for the Dutch); and
- The oldest horse to compete the competition was Salinero, ridden by Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands. As it were, Anky confirmed on her website that Thursday's freestyle ride in the individual finals would be the big black horse's final kür, as he has officially been retired from competition. Thanks for the memories, Salinero!
Also this year, aboard her long-time partner, van Grunsvan became the most decorated equine athlete of all time, winning her ninth Olympic medal. Five of those medals came aboard her famous partner Bonfire, who won his final medals--an individual Gold and a team Silver--in Sydney at the 2000 Olympics at the ripe old age of 17. Bonfire still lives at home with Anky at the (really) ripe old age of 29, is her self-proclaimed favorite horse, and is an "ambassador for several foundations of retired horses," according to her website
I was going to come up with a witty ending for this entry to plug our aging equine Olympians, but I think French three-day eventer Nicolas Touzaint said it all when asked why he chose to bring his 17-year-old long-time partner Hildago de L'Ile to London rather than a younger mount: "For the Olympics, experience counts."
What was your favorite event to watch? Did your favorite horses and riders bring home a medal? Share your thoughts below!