August 9, 2008

There was disappointment for Chile's Ricardo Stangher and Brazil's Fabricio Salgado when their horses - Literal and Butterfly - failed to pass the first veterinary inspection for eventing horses at the Olympic core venue at Sha Tin in Hong Kong yesterday.


Hot medal favourites Lucinda Fredericks and Headley Britannia (Australia). © Franz Venhaus/EFA
There was also a nervous moment for British fans when William Fox-Pitt's ride, Parkmore Ed, was dispatched to the holding area for closer examination. A noticeable girth gall had attracted the Ground Jury's attention but, after some deliberation, Technical Delegate Giuseppe Della Chiesa, Ground Jury President Martin Plewa and Jury Members Marilyn Payne and Christian Landolt declared the 15-year old Irish-bred gelding fit for action along with the other 69 horses from 24 nations.

There was a real buzz of excitement in the air as the riders turned out smartly, many in specially designed national uniforms, for this critical stage of the Eventing discipline but a hush descended when Fox-Pitt was asked to take his horse to the veterinary surgeon in the holding box. Parkmore Ed did not appear lame so there was great interest as onlookers debated what might be amiss. However the veterinary officials and Ground Jury were simply attending to the most important element of equestrian sport - the welfare of the horse - and having noted the wound were keen to ensure that it would not be a cause of discomfort to the equestrian athlete over the next few crucial days of Olympic competition.

Fox-Pitt explained afterwards that the gall had occurred following training a few days ago and that he had avoided riding Parkmore Ed more than was absolutely necessary over the past few days in order to allow the skin condition to heal.

There was an emotional moment for American rider Karen O'Connor also as she trotted-up the nine year old gelding Mandiba who earned a place on the US squad following the late withdrawal of Heidi White's team contender Northern Spy. Karen's hugely popular little pony, Theodore O'Connor, died tragically recently and was thus denied the opportunity to display his undeniable brilliance at Olympic level. But, as fate would have it, his rider has found her way to Hong Kong by other means and she will be sure to honour Theodore's memory with a good result despite Mandiba's relative inexperience.

Many of the horses were in "look at me!" mode as they pricked their ears and extended their stride before the officials and spectators, and the riders will be hoping that this same magical quality will be on display when they ride into the arena to execute their dressage tests over the next two days.

Dressage begins in the state-of-the-art sand arena in Sha Tin today and continues on Sunday before the eventing action moves to Beas River in the New Territories area, about 30 minutes away, for the cross-country phase on Monday. The medals will then be decided by the two final rounds of Jumping - one for team medals and one for the individual honours - on Tuesday night.