There was a great deal of excitement among many horse people as the IOC boss walked across the dusty terrain at the World Championships in Italy. The equestrian sport lives almost permanently in the fear of losing the Olympics, especially the eventing. Too expensive, too complicated, too dangerous – and since the pentathlon drama in Tokyo, the animal welfare discussion has also picked up speed.
Thomas Bach was accordingly courted and cared for in Rocca di Papa. Followed by an entourage from the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) around President Ingmar de Vos, the head of the IOC looked at what was happening on the 1960 Olympic site. The President of the International Olympic Committee also found time for a few chats, such as with the German Olympic champion Bettina Hoy. And later also words of praise for the FEI.
“What you see here at the eventing is the improvement in the safety and health of the horses with the mechanical devices on the obstacles and with other detailed measures,” said Bach. “It really shows that you take these questions seriously.”
When asked about the fear of losing the Olympics, the IOC boss replied: “What I can say is that we are seeing the progress and are very satisfied that the association has recognized the problem and is working very hard to ensure that the organization of the Eventing becomes cheaper. That is promising and we support that.”
“This is going in the right direction,” said Bach. To put it less diplomatically, there is still a lot to be done. Especially after the pentathlon fiasco in Tokyo, when Annika Schleu fought with the horse assigned to her, the animal welfare discussion is an additional problem for equestrian sport, mainly in Northern Europe.
“Of course we were afraid that it would also hit us,” said the President of the German Riding Association, Hans-Joachim Erbel, who also had a little chat with Bach. “Ultimately we are affected by this, because for the spectators it doesn’t matter whether modern pentathlon belongs to the German Equestrian Federation or not – for them it’s the cavalry.”
2024 in Paris, jumping will be part of the Olympic pentathlon for the last time. Michael Dörr, President of the German Association, even believes that the entire equestrian sport will “perhaps no longer be Olympic at some point”. His prediction: “The first thing that flies out is the cross-country ride in eventing.” And Dörr added: “Rightly so!”
In addition to the costs for the cross-country courses, the equestrian triathlon has a safety problem. This becomes clear after every accident with a dead horse, as was the case recently at the CHIO in Aachen. Four animals have already died in international competitions this year, and according to the FEI, the last dead rider was in 2017. “Eventing has become safer, but of course there is always a residual risk,” said the German equestrian sport president.
Olympic champion Julia Krajewski knows the discussions about her sport: “It is always put to the test.” For the rider, who won team gold and individual silver at the World Championships on Sunday, “the issue of safety is very, very important”. “The training of riders and horses, especially in the younger age groups,” is also crucial. Hoy sees it similarly. “It has to be ridden better,” said the team Olympic champion: “Good riding is very important when it comes to safety.”
Are the various efforts enough? “It’s worth keeping this sport Olympic,” said the head of the German Riding Association: “And I hope that Mr. Bach came to the same conclusion during the visit.”