If Three Day Eventing at the World Equestrian Games is any indication, the future looks great for horses in sport. To see them televised is fantastic. The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington is hosting them and it is good business that looks to benefit everyone. The ‘hard boots’, Kentucky thoroughbred breeders, give entree to legendary equine power players experienced in big horses and big business. Being able to watch top international riders and hear a preeminent coach’s analysis, the incomparable Jimmy Wofford, it doesn’t get any better; unless you happen to be a rider he referred to as one who really knows how to “horseback”. That says it all. Unless you ride like the spectacular Andrew Nicholson from New Zealand or one of the many other older, gifted champions, you can only know how to ‘horseback’ in your dreams.
Watching the younger, under 30 riders who could really horseback, left me gasping for lessons. The take your breath away performances of Michael Jung on his horse, Sam, and Karin Donkers from Belgium are the two outstanding ones I saw. One of the beauties of riding sports is that men and women compete together. Boy, does it look like their leadership is going to keep horses in good hands. The first thrilling thing I noticed was how happy Sam looked running the cross country course. The camera picked up his expression. The course was clearly hard for him, I thought he looked tired at the end and why not, but guided by Michael Jung from Germany I thought him the best because he was happy. Later, to discover he was leading the field, and had held first place from the beginning with the lowest dressage score I thought, yikes, what a happy coincidence, a happy horse with tremendous ability and a rider to tell him where to go and what to do without disrupting him. By the time he competed in show jumping where he was the last to go, his flawless round was stunning, a treat to watch. A few rides before him Karin Donkers from Belgium, with her wrist and lower arm in a cast from a three week old injury (not very old), rode the most beautiful showing jumping course of all the eventers. Can this be, I wondered. The balance and the skill she had to have to ride the course impeccably with one unwieldy arm was fabulous.