Team GB are currently resting in second position in the Olympic medals tables, with a total of 41 medals and 16 golds. This year, our team is made up of more women than ever before; the 164 women make up almost 45 per cent of the whole team. It’s strange but true, however, that apart from the mixed tennis doubles, the equestrian events are the only time you will see men and women on the same winners' podium at the Olympics.
Last Wednesday the medal ceremony for the team eventing competition took place. On that podium were the French team, made up of four men, the German team, made up of three women and one man, and the Australian team, made up of four men. Yesterday, Team GB’s Charlotte Dujardin won another Olympic gold in the individual dressage, with the team of two men and two women having won silver in the team competition on Friday.
People will argue that the reason men and women can compete on a level playing field in equestrian events is because ‘the horse does all the work’ – but that’s simply not true. Convincing a half-tonne animal to do what you’d like it to do is no easy feat, and our team certainly have the battlescars to show from their sport; Fiona Bigwood, a GB dressage rider, wears an eyepatch as she suffers from double vision after fracturing her skull in a fall in 2014, and eventer William Fox-Pitt was in a coma for two weeks last October after a serious fall competing at Le Lion-d 'Angers in France. They’re not easy sports.
Of course I completely understand why we don’t have mixed 100m races or shotput events – it’s not possible for every Olympic sport, or even most of them, to have mixed teams. But that’s not the point. I think it’s fantastic that there’s one sport in which a little girl who might never beat the boys on the school cross country running course can, if she focuses and practises hard enough, succeed by getting the fastest clear round showjumping. And where a boy might not be able to compete against the girls in spelling tests, he can in the dressage arena.
Lots of people argue that equestrian sports – particularly ‘horse ballet’, as dressage is frustratingly referred to – shouldn’t be in the Olympics. But what are the Olympics about, after all? Are they simply about being able to run the fastest, throw the furthest, score the most goals? Or about the importance of teamwork (which equestrianism demonstrates in buckets; after all, each rider isn’t just part of their own team and Team GB, but also of a special team of themselves and their horse), perseverance and sheer hard work? The equestrian sports of the Olympics are a beacon of gender equality; they offer proof that dedication and hard work bring results. And for that, they should be lauded.