Preview of the Olympic Equestrian Events for Sydney 2000

As you would expect from the Ozzies, the Sydney International Three-Day Event proved to be a great competition and an excellent dress rehearsal for the Olympics next year. This CCI** was staged from Sept. 23-26 at the new Sydney International Equestrian Centre (SIEC). The event formed part of SOCOG’s (Sydney Olympic Committee for the Olympic Games) preparations for the 2000 Games, which also included archery, canoeing, hockey, modern pentathlon, and sailing competitions. As you might expect from their reputation in Olympic eventing, the Australians took the first three places and the team competition!

Competition Venue

The SIEC (or ‘psych,’ as it is referred to by the locals!) is a most impressive facility at Horsley Park, which cost some $37 million (Australian) to build, about 30 miles from the center of Sydney. This was the first competition to be staged there, and the Competition Manager, Franz Venhaus, and his team must have been proud of the outcome. Although there still is work to be done on the venue, all the facilities available functioned well during the event. The core area of SIEC occupies 90 hec-tares and in-cludes a combined dressage and show jumping main arena with permanent seats for 2,000, a number that will be increased to 20,000 next year. There are five lunging rings, 10 sand arenas, five grass arenas for hacking, and an 800-seat indoor arena. The stable area complex is exceptionally well designed and will stable a total of 340 horses. There will be a maximum of 266 horses (i.e., 225 competing horses and 41 reserves) housed in the complex for next year’s olympics. A veterinary clinic with boxes for medication control are in the works and will be built shortly.

Finally, there are more than 25 kilometers of cross country tracks winding through 300 hectares of parkland. The surfaces in the arenas have been specially prepared by Herman Duckek, internationally renowned for his work in this area. He prepared all the surfaces for the Atlanta Games and was appropriately nicknamed ‘Dr. Dirt.’

An Exciting Competition

The event attracted 72 horses from Australia, New Zea-land, Spain, and the United States, al-though the majority were from the home country. There were a few well-known riders, including such luminaries as Bruce Davidson of the States, Tinks Pottinger (NZ), and a host of Olympic medalists from Australia—Matt Ryan, Gill Rolton, Wendy Schaeffer, and Nikki Bishop. Many other nations had observers on hand to see the facilities, the course, and the competition. There was a particularly strong contingent from USET lead by Mark Phillips, the Chef d’Equipe.

The efficiency of the Technical Delegate, Jennifer Millar from New Zealand, ensured the smooth running of the event. A spectacular course had been designed for the Endurance Test by Mike Etherington-Smith (GBR), the course designer for next year. This included 26 fences in the five km cross country in a time allowed of nine minutes 14 seconds. The show jumping course built by Leopoldo Palacio from Venezuela proved to be an excellent test and made for considerable excitement toward the end of the competition.

The horses all appeared fit and well before the dressage, with only one horse being sent to the holding box at the First Horse Inspection. The judges generally were satisfied with the standard of the dressage. At the end of the second day, racing stable manager Christine McLeod on Masterprint had a clear lead with 64 penalty points. The Endurance Test was managed well by most riders, and 60 horses completed the undulating cross country (Phase D); 45 jumped clear with 31 inside the time. The going and the footing were excellent, despite some rain in the middle of the day. A storm was forecast in the early afternoon, but it never materialized. There were only four falls and 24 refusals, with no riders or horses seriously hurt. The fences that caused the most problems were the Southdown Bullfinch (No. 6) and the Second Water (No. 19).

At the Third Horse Inspection, 55 horses were presented, four were sent to the holding box, and two of these did not pass the inspection. Fifty-three horses went into an exciting show jumping phase on Sunday. Christine McLeod and Masterprint did not put a foot wrong until the last three fences, when she rattled several poles in the treble, knocked down a rail, then demolished the very last obstacle, but still won with a score of 74 penalty points. Nikki Bishop on Wishful Thinking and Sam Lyle on Royal Venture were second and third with 79 and 83 points, respectively.

Veterinary Matters

The veterinary side of the event went off extremely smoothly under the careful management of Nigel Nichols, the SOCOG Veterinary Services Manager. The Veterinary Commission had Kent Allen, DVM, as Foreign Veterinary Delegate, with Australian veterinarians Brett Jones and Grant Poolman as Associate Members. On the Speed and Endurance day, there were more than 50 veterinarians on course. This, of course, was considerable overkill for a two star event, but it provided an excellent opportunity to put vets into their positions at fences, in central control, covering the different sectors and phases, managing the 10 minute box, recovery with Phase D, and dealing with any injuries or problems in the stables. The vets were supported by 16 senior veterinary students from the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne.

An FEI course for event veterinarians, directed by the author, was run in conjunction with the CCI**. Some 53 vets from nine countries attended. The course consisted of two days of lectures during the dressage test and two days of practical instruction during the Endurance and Jumping tests.

Next Year

The equestrian events should go off well next year as so many of those involved, including judges, officials, stewards, veterinarians, and volunteers, now have met and worked together at a successful competition. The organizers appear to have taken care of most things, but promise to iron out any outstanding problems well in advance of September 2000.

One of the worries in staging the Olympics in Australia was the complications of quarantine. However, the Australian Quarantine and Immigration Service (AQIS) seems to have things well under control. Most horses will spend two weeks in their own country before being flown out on special shuttles, with 60 horses on each flight to Sydney in late August. All horses will spend a minimum of 14 days in Post-Arrival Quarantine at the site under close supervision. The horses from Australia will arrive after this on Sept. 11, and the day after that the horses will be under FEI competition rules.

With all this organization already completed, it is not surprising that the allocation of tickets to the Australian public is already sold out for the equestrian events a year in advance of the games. SOCOG seems to have thought of everything. From what I saw this September, it looks as if the equestrian Olympic events will be even better than Atlanta—if that’s possible.

About the Author

Leo Jeffcott, BVetMed, PhD, FRCVS, DVSc, MA, DSc

Professor Leo Jeffcott, BVetMed, PhD, FRCVS, DVSc, MA, VetMedDr (h.c.) has been an official FEI Event Veterinarian since 1977, and has officiated at many elite championships including 4 World Equestrian Games. He has been an official veterinarian at the last 6 Olympic Games (1988-2008). He was President of the Veterinary Commission at Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004), and has been Veterinary Technical Delegate at Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008). Professor Jeffcott was elected Chairman of the FEI Veterinary Committee and member of the Bureau in 1998, and served until 2006. He was then made an Honorary Member of the Bureau, and was the first veterinarian to receive that honour. He held the post of Dean at the Veterinary School in the University of Cambridge (1991-2004) and then at the University of Sydney (2004-2009).

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