Eventing Is Early Focus of 2008 Equestrian Olympic Competition

Rain, more rain, and some tense moments in the trot-up

The number eight is considered lucky by the Chinese--that's why the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Games were held on 8-08-08--but Aug. 8 proved a bit of a roller coaster for eventer Gina Miles.

In the first horse inspection, held in the afternoon, Miles, 34, of Creston, Calif., was asked to jog her mount, the fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding McKinlaigh, a second time. McKinlaigh passed and will go on to the dressage phase, which began Aug. 9 at the main equestrian venue at Sha Tin.

Gina Miles Jog

After being asked to jog a second time, U.S. Olympic first-timer Gina Miles's mount, McKinlaigh, passed the first horse inspection at the 2008 Games in Hong Kong.

Photo: Jennifer Bryant

Perhaps the moments of anxiety were forgotten when, the same day, about an hour before the opening ceremonies commenced in Beijing, Miles entered the parade ring at the Hong Kong Jockey Club bearing the American flag. The Jockey Club was the site of an equestrian opening ceremony that featured a traditional Chinese lion dance, fireworks, dancers in an equine-themed routine, and a parade of nations, with a handful of riders from each country representing their respective disciplines.

Gina Miles Carrying the U.S. Flag

U.S. Olympians Gina Miles (front, holding flag), Courtney King-Dye (dressage), and Anne Kursinski (jumping) march in the 2008 Games equestrian opening ceremony.

Photo: Jennifer Bryant

Miles wasn't the only one to get a few butterflies during the jog. Phillip Dutton, West Grove, Penn., had to jog Connaught—the 2008 Rolex Kentucky CCI**** winners—a second time before getting the OK. But the biggest buzz came when officials went so far as to hold British entry Parkmore Ed, ridden by 2004 U.K. Olympic eventing team silver medalist William Fox-Pitt. When they called Parkmore Ed back into the trot-up area, the officials conferred ... and conferred. When Fox-Pitt turned and led Parkmore Ed away without a repeat jog, the spectators murmured in shock; but then it was announced that the horse was accepted. "He was not trotted again because it had nothing to do with the horse's movement," according to the announcer.

William Fox-Pitt

Great Britain's William Fox-Pitt confers with officials after his horse Parkmore Ed was held during the first horse inspection. The horse passed.

Cross Country Course

A worker uses a roller to smooth and firm the ground in front of a water jump on the 2008 Olympic cross-country course.

Etherington-Smith Michael course designer

With one of his Olympic cross-country fences in the background, course designer Michael Etherington-Smith meets the press.

Photos: Jennifer Bryant

What did that mean? No one was quite sure, unless it had something to do with the fact that Parkmore Ed looked like more of an English-pleasure entry than a world-class event horse, judging by his slow-as-molasses trot.

Cross-Country: Please Don't Let a River Run Through It

The eventing competition gets under way August 9 with the dressage phase, but everyone here in Hong Kong is clearly focused on cross-country, which takes place Monday, Aug. 11 at the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Beas River Country Club, about 30 minutes by car from the main venue at the Sha Tin Racecourse, where all other equestrian competition will be held. Those who walked the course with U.K.-based designer Michael Etherington-Smith agreed that the lushly designed fences are not only beautiful but a challenging technical test of a horse's athletic ability—and that the general wish is for the rain to stop. The footing on course had held up pretty well following the August 6 typhoon in Hong Kong, but downpours the morning of Aug. 8 were putting the ground drainage to the test.

It's hot here, but the precipitation is what's getting all of the attention. "Heat won't stop us," Etherington-Smith said confidently to a group of journalists on a media course walk; but torrential rains could. He added that weather services in Hong Kong are monitoring conditions so precisely that they can predict accurately, "down to the minute," when the rain will start, when it will stop, and how much will fall.

The overarching sentiment for the eventing competition at these Games is that, come Monday, rain is the only thing any horse enthusiast wants to see falling.

Don't miss award-winning equestrian journalist Jennifer Bryant Olympic Equestrian blog. She will be giving us behind-the-scenes looks and glimpses of what's happening at the Olympic equestrian events.

About the Author

Jennifer O. Bryant

Jennifer O. Bryant is editor-at-large of the U.S. Dressage Federation's magazine, USDF Connection. An independent writer and editor, Bryant contributes to many equestrian publications, has edited numerous books, and authored Olympic Equestrian. More information about Jennifer can be found on her site, www.jenniferbryant.net.

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