Right now, the whole world is gearing up to watch Equestrian events taking place in Greenwich Park for the 2012 London Olympics. The superstar of this year are the horse and human athlete team of Whisper and 71-year old Hiroshi Hoketsu. Filmed in one of the breathtaking Royal Parks of London, is there a reason that the Equestrian gold medals are limited to dressage, eventing, and jumping? After all, with events like the Breeders’ Cup and the Kentucky Derby, doesn’t it seem like horse racing at the Olympics would make sense?
Despite being a part of Olympic history, there are several reasons that show the likelihood of horse racing becoming an Olympic event are slim.
When horse racing was Olympic
Although it is restricted today, during the first Olympic Games, there was always participation from racing horses. When the Greek Olympics of 648 BC took place, there were chariot drivers and mounted horse races. Like today, horse racing at that time was closely connected to gambling. Sadly, horse racing was canceled from the ancient Olympics due to fierce gambling.
This situation boiled up over what is now known as the Nika Riots. An estimated 40,000 people may have been killed in the 531 BC uproar that burned half of Constantinople. Since this riot began over a chariot race, Rome and Greece subsequently decided horse racing related Olympic events could result in catastrophe.
The recent Olympics that did have horse racing
The modern Olympics started in Greece in the late 1800s, but it was not the first attempt since ancient times to re-start the games. Instead, there was ‘Mr. Robert Dover’s Olimpick Games Upon the Cotswald Hills.” This sports festival started in 1604 and is still held today. Among the activities in this Olympic history trajectory were poetry, shin-kicking, dwile flonking, handball, dances, gymnastics, and horse races. Unfortunately, horse racing and other Cotswald Olimpick sports were not annexed by the modern Olympic Committee for the 2012 London Olympics.
Equestrian events history in the modern Olympics
When the Olympics started up in modern times in 1896 the only competitors allowed for Equestrian events were military-related troops. At one time, horses were extremely important to the military because cars and trucks were not yet invented. It was not until World War 2 that the Olympics Equestrian events were expanded to non-military personnel. In addition to the military career-making jumping events, eventing and dressage were added.
Amateurs only rule for the Olympics
When it comes to participating in the Olympics, the rules are as tough as they are for NCAA basketball players. Just like college basketball stars that cannot accept sponsorship while they wait for the NBA draft to begin, the same goes for Olympic athletes. Olympians are not allowed to play the sport for money (professionally or otherwise) before they compete or they will be banned from Olympic competition. Clearly, this excludes Thoroughbred horse racing.
Equestrian events embrace Arab women
In the Middle East, some countries are more modern while others still operate on tribal systems. For the oil-rich regions of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, women follow rules of society that Westerners simply cannot understand. Within those communities, women participating in sports outside of the home is non-traditional. However, for those Arab women that are seeking athletic opportunities that are more Westernized, there is hope in Olympic Equestrian events.
So far, the one Olympic event that most of the top tribal-based governments can agree on for women is Equestrian competition. For this reason, the London 2012 Games has had headlines detailing the lives of Saudi Arabia’s Dalma Malhas, Bahrain’s Roqaya Al-Gassra, and UAE’s Latifa Al Maktoum (the Sheikh of Dubai’s daughter). Of course, allowing women to participate in Olympic Equestrian events makes sense considering the rise of the Dubai World Cup horse race and the fact that horses were first bred in Arabia.
On the other hand, the Equestrian events are the only ones at the Olympics that are not divided by gender and this definitely breaks Arab society taboos. All of this is interesting to note, but it does not necessarily mean we will be seeing a push from the Arabs for horse racing at the Olympics any time soon. Alternatively, there are still a few near-horse racing relating sports that might appear.
Weird horse-related sports that could be Olympic
Each year the Olympic Committee allows the host country to submit a regional sport to be an official gold medal event. Obviously, this is a tool that the Olympics uses that makes things interesting each time the games are played. For this reason, there could be some odd horse-related events (that look like horse racing) in the future. In the end, these possibilities give some hope to the Olympic bettor that is looking for a chance to use their horse racing skills on something besides dancing horses (dressage).
Buzkashi – Central Asian sport similar to polo that involves a headless goat.
Rodeo – If the Olympics were held in Texas, there is no chance that cowboy rodeo horse riding would not be included.
Pato – A combination basketball, soccer, and polo event popular in Argentina.
Man versus Horse – Since 1980, Gordon Green has hosted this competition in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales. This is not an easy race to bet on since, sometimes, the person does beat the racing horse.