The history of equestrian sports
Horses are really marvelous animals, thanks to which humans became able to perform an entire series of actions easier and faster, be that during war or peacetime. There is a certain degree of controversy as to the exact date these animals were domesticated and ridden, but the most widely accepted theory places this event around 3500 BC. It is also noteworthy that horses were ridden long before they were driven.
Archaeological research has discovered that about 3000 BC bits were used on horses in the region near the Dnieper and the Don rivers; the remains of a stallion buried in the area showed teeth wear consistent with the use of a bit. Still, the most unequivocal early archaeological evidence that horses were put to working use was of them being driven. The irrefutable proof was provided by the discovery of burial chariots dated around 2500 BC, which showed that horses were used as working animals.
Let’s not forget about the famous chariot warfare, either. This form of waging war with the aid of horses was followed by their use as war horses in the light and heavy cavalry. During peacetime, horses served as the main tool in transportation, trade, and agriculture.
An interesting fact about horses in North America was that they died out at the end of the Ice Age and were eventually brought back by the European explorers, starting with Columbus’ second voyage, in 1493.
Besides their use for practical purposes, horses are also used in competitive sports including, but not limited to, dressage, endurance riding, eventing, reining, show jumping, tent pegging, vaulting, polo, horse racing, driving, and rodeo.
With their other equine counterparts, such as mules and donkeys, horses are employed in non-competitive recreational riding as well, such as fox hunting, hacking or trail riding. They are also driven in harness racing, at horse shows and in other types of exhibitions, historical reenactments or ceremonies, often pulling carriages. In some parts of the world, they are still used for practical purposes such as farming.
They continue to be used in public service, also: traditional ceremonies (parades or funerals), search and rescue patrols, as well as volunteer mounted and police patrols. The horse can be trained by riding halls, and the same practice is beneficial for the rider, too, given that he or she has a chance to perfect their skills no matter the weather.
The history of equestrian sports is inextricably linked to the history of equestrian olympics. The horse first made its appearance at the Ancient Olympic Games in 680 BC, with the introduction of chariot racing, by far the most exciting and spectacular event in the programme. After many centuries, in June 1894, the desire was expressed at the Paris Congress that equestrian sports be included in the Olympic programme.
This way, after six years, the equestrian sport was featured for the first time at the Games of the Second Olympiad in Paris, in 1900. It was not staged at the next two editions of the Games but made its return in 1912. Since then, the sport has always been on the programme. In 1924, another turning point in the history of equestrian riding was the drawing up of a list of obligatory and optional sports by the International Olympic Committee, where the equestrian sport was placed in the first category. Until 1948, only men could compete in the events, as the riders had to be officers.
This restriction was lifted in 1951 when the same International Olympic Committee decided that women could henceforth compete. As a result, since the Games of the fifteenth Olympiad held in Helsinki in 1952, women have competed with men in mixed events. They competed first in dressage, then gradually in the other equestrian events.
One of the most popular competitive equestrian sports is fence jumping. The history of equestrian jumping has its origins in the competition between fox hunters in eighteenth-century Britain, following the introduction of the Enclosures Acts pertaining to fox hunting. Before the coming into force of this law, hunters would gallop freely across open fields in pursuit of foxes; after fences were erected, the image of the jumping horse was born, leading, in turn, to the birth of fence jumping.
The most important contribution, which earned him the moniker of “father of modern riding” by his revolutionizing the jumping seat, was brought by Federico Caprilli. As briefly mentioned above, it was first the military men who dominated jumping; however, with the increasing mechanization process of the army, civilians became more and more prevalent. In 1956, at the Stockholm Olympic games, women also made their debut in jumping.
Another discipline which makes up equestrian sports is eventing. Compared to other equestrian disciplines, eventing does require quite a bit of experience, seeing how it combines all branches of equitation. Previously known as “combined training,” eventing originated in a comprehensive cavalry test requiring a mastery of several types of riding and was first held at the Championnat du Cheval d’Armes in 1902 France, making its Olympic debut in 1912.
The competition was originally open only to male military officers on active duty, mounted only on military charges. In 1924, it was open to male civilians. Women were first allowed to take part in 1964; equestrian sports are one of the few Olympic sports in which men and women compete against one another.
Dressage is also an equestrian sport, a highly skilled form of riding and “the highest expression of horse training,” whose origins can be traced in “Of horsemanship,” writing penned by Xenophon. When “The rules of riding” by Federico Grisone was published in 1550, it quickly became the next best treatise on equitation. In modern dressage competitions, successful training at the various levels is demonstrated through the performance of “tests,” prescribed series of movements ridden within a standard arena, evaluated by judges, who assign scores from zero to ten.