The hate is strong at the Olympics. I’m looking at you, Patrick Redford and Nate Silver.
Silver released a poll last week on his website fivethirtyeight.com in which he declares equestrian sport to be the most hated Olympic sport, and Redford wasted way too much space on Deadspin.com bashing away at the horses in Rio and the people who ride them.
It should be noted that Nate Silver is a polling guru referenced by all major news outlets for his expertise. It should also be noted that Silver used the exact same polling technique to get his hateful results as I used earlier this week when researching a story about sriracha sauce for the Mount Airy News.
Nate and I both hit up our friends and followers on social media and wrote down what they said. I straight up admitted to my readers that my survey was completely unscientific. Mr. Silver’s disclaimer was more of the #SorryNotSorry variety.
But enough bashing of pollsters. I’ll leave that to Donald Trump.
I do propose, however, that equestrian sports are far from the worst Olympic events despite what Nate Silver and Patrick Redford say. I propose equestrian sports are, in fact, the best Olympic sports.
First off, let’s tackle that old chestnut that horsey stuff is an elitist throwback to old world aristocracy. Not as much as sailing, but for some reason, sailing doesn’t catch the hate that horses do.
Yes, horses are expensive. There’s a joke among horse people that having a child who loves horses is a good thing because that child will never have enough money to mess with drugs.
But training at an Olympic level is not cheap for any sport. Why should equestrian sport be any different? Money helps, as it always does, but if you don’t have any, just go hang out at a barn. Grab a shovel and make yourself useful. Shovel enough poop out of enough stalls and sooner or later, somebody’s going to let you brush the mud off a horse and pick the crap out of his hooves.
Ultimately, you’ll get a chance to ride and if you show as much talent as you have shown determination, hard work and persistence, someone will teach you to ride. And once you’ve learned everything that person has to teach you and you show the talent to go further, they’ll point you to someone to help you get there. And so on.
If you’re really good, you’ll get sponsors and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get to compete in the Olympics in a top hat. Which incidentally, could be where the charges of elitism come from. A good outfit always brings on some hate.
But horse sports are very inclusive in their way. They are the only Olympic events that are completely gender neutral. Men and women compete together and against each other. That in itself, is kind of spectacular. Equestrians strike a blow against sexism.
And ageism. The equestrian events have the widest range in competitor’s ages. According to USA Today, this year ranged from 18-year-old Brazilian newcomer Giovana Prado Pass to 61-year-old Julie Brougham. In 2012, Hiroshi Hoketsu competed at 71 against an 18-year-old. He’d have been back this year but his horse got sick. Not him, his horse.
Lest you think the presence of elderly equestrians at the Olympic level means it’s kind of la-de-da and not very challenging, think again because you are wrong. Eventing is arguably the most dangerous sport in the Olympics. (Eventing is the combination of dressage, cross country and show jumping. It has military origins and is the vestigial remains of the training of cavalry horses.)
Let’s compare eventing to football.
Football — the American version, which is not in the Olympics — catches a lot of crap for causing concussions but football causes the kind of concussions that may result in traumatic brain injury over the course of a lifetime. Eventing, on the other hand, causes the kind of concussion that puts you in a coma.
William Fox-Pitt, five-time Olympian and certifiable nutjob, had one of those concussions last year. Fell off his horse in a 2-star competition (Olympic competition is 4-star) and wound up in a coma.
This happens to eventers from time to time. It is considered a better result than death which also happens more often than anyone wants to admit. But Fox-Pitt was back for the Olympics 10 months later even though he trained most of that time with double vision that made jumping especially challenging. He was in first place after the first day of competition in Rio.
This is to say that equestrian sports are plenty exciting. If you don’t agree, watch a good cross country run. It is as exciting as it is beautiful to behold. Eleven solid minutes of pure adrenaline; danger and beauty intertwined with skill. Hollywood westerns use dozens of takes to get results that are far less impressive than eventers get every time they run a course.
And for all the folks who say that these events don’t belong in the Olympics because the horse does all the work, I would suggest that somebody boost these naysayers up onto an Olympic-level eventing horse, point him or her at a river, stream or chain link fence and give the pony a smack on the butt. Let’s see how that goes.
Meanwhile, I need to get back in the saddle and get to work on my skills if I’m going to have any hope of being an Olympian in this lifetime. I’ll be 62 for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and I really need to qualify. I might only have two or three more chances after that.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.