By Kelsey McMahan
The Summer Olympic Games in Rio are coming up, which means viewers around the globe are tuning in to the biggest sports competition on Earth. As equestrians, we are particularly biased towards the eventing, dressage, and show jumping. As a little girl, I watched the beautiful horses and riders glide over jumps, perform incredible tasks, and leap over ponds of water. I don’t know about you, but I wanted to join those prestigious riders. Being on the United States Equestrian Olympic team is the one of the biggest honors an equestrian can receive. So how do you become a competitor? I researched this question and found that, unsurprisingly, it is extremely difficult. Most of us have loved horses since we were young: some of us riding before we could walk and some of us begging our parents for just one lesson - both leading to an endless love affair with horses. Just like us, the equestrian Olympians have loved horses for most of their lives. So how do you become an Olympic hopeful? Starting young. Being involved with your local 4-H is a good place to start. As you grow older, joining a show barn and starting to show in small schooling shows or open show circuits in order to start gaining experience is key. A dedicated, talented, and supportive trainer could make the difference between you getting a chance to be an option for the Olympic team or not. If your high school or college offers an equestrian team, join it! These opportunities will give you more exposure, thus more of a chance of being picked up by a recruiter. After having a sufficiently successful show career, riders move on to the Young Riders Programs, offered throughout North America and are open to all youth riders from ages 14 to 21. The Federation Equestre Internationale, or FEI, is the governing body for the Olympic Equestrian team. Young Riders offers different levels of competition in all FEI recognized sports and is an introduction to what riding under FEI will look like. The riders learn how to abide to their rules, how to dress, and the expectations of riding in international competitions. The best of the best qualify to compete in The North American Junior and Young Riders Championships and are invited to compete by their equestrian federation including the USA Equestrian Zone for show jumping, the USDF Region for dressage, and the USEA Area for eventing. Some top competitions are the Pan-Am and Commonwealth Games and other Grand-Prix and high level events in Europe and other parts of the world. Young Riders is an essential and critical point to becoming a part of the United States Equestrian Team. From here, you will have to prove your worth by placing consistently and high in the most difficult competitions such as Rolex and Badminton. After proving yourself, the best riders are chosen to be on the national team. First, they create a long list and then depending on points and other factors, a short list is created. From this pool of riders, the elite are chosen to compete at the World Championships and the Olympics. So how can you achieve this with your Arabian horse? The possibilities of a purebred Arabian going to the Olympics is slim, but the chance of an Anglo-Arabian or Half-Arabian competing is quite possible. Due to them being mixed with warmbloods, their chances of going to the Olympics are greater. The breeds that usually attend the show jumping portion are the Belgian Warmblood, Dutch Warmblood, Hanovarian, Holsteiner, Oldenburg, Selle Francais, Swedish Warmblood, and Westphalian. Popular eventing horses are the Anglo-Arabian, Belgian Warmblood, Dutch Warmblood, Hanovarian, Holsteiner, Irish Sport Horse, Selle Francais, Swiss Warmblood, and Thoroughbred. In the dressage arena, you may find the Andalusian, Danish Warmblood, Hanovarian, Lusitano, Oldenburg, and Westphalian. Anglo-Arabians and Half-Arabians are used for their endurance in the eventing division over the long courses. If you work hard enough and climb the ranks of all the riders in the country, the Olympics could be in your future.
About the Author Kelsey McMahan is a current youth member in Region 7