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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Teammates!

I'm currently snuggled in on my couch, with a cat curled up next to me, watching USA battle Canada for the Olympic Gold Medal in hockey. I had a thought about the Olympics, albeit the summer ones (which I prefer). The events in both the summer and winter games include individual and team sports, but only ONE includes a teammate with four legs. I think it speaks volumes to the human/equine connection that equestrian events have been in every summer olympic games since 1912. They aren't the most-watched events, to be sure, but they're my favorite. For the uninitiated, I will provide a brief description of the three equestrian events at the sumer Olympics.

The most intricate of the three events is dressage; a precise, complicated style of riding where seemingly invisible aids from the rider cause the horse to exhibit highly athletic movements. One of the most important things a dressage judge looks for is the appearance of effortless movement and the horse's willingness to perform. So while the rider is the wizard behind the curtain, the horse's performance is what is heavily judged.

My favorite event, show jumping, consists of riders guiding their horses through courses with 10 - 16 jumps, measuring up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) in height and width. The horse must clear the obstacles without any penalties (knocked down rails or refusals) within the allotted time to win. The horses are magnificent athletes, and the riders are absolutely fearless.

The third event is a combination of the other two events, with an added element of cross-country, a jumping course set on a natural surface over a long distance (2 3/4 - 4 miles) with 24 - 36 intricate, natural-looking obstacles. One rider competes in all three elements on the same horse, so the animal must be an incredible athlete with all-around knowledge.

Generally speaking, the order of events is dressage, cross-country, and finally show jumping. Don't worry, the horses are thoroughly examined by a veterinarian before the final event to ensure that he or she is fit to continue. It's a grueling competition that takes place over the course of several days, and it's a thrill to watch the relationship between horse and rider as they compete for their country.

There are some pretty bizarre and obscure competitions in the Olympics (hello, curling, anyone?) but they all seem to involve humans and their high-tech tools. I love that my favorite animal, the horse, is the only four-legged creature to compete in the great battle of nations. Maybe someday they'll include Canine Freestyle, or Frisbee Dog competitions. Not sure what you could do with a cat... power nap competitions? If that ever happens, Fiona and I will be competing for sure.

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