London marks the 100th anniversary of equestrian events at the Olympics. Germany is a favorite, but with a record 41 nations and 200 riders qualifying, the competition will be tougher than ever. DW previews the field.
The Dutch have long been Germany's equestrian arch-rivals, and return with a strong team.
At the 2008 Olympics, Anky van Grunsven and her Hanoverian gelding Salinero captured gold in individual dressage for a record third time in a row, edging longtime German nemesis Isabell Werth. In team dressage, the Dutch came in second behind Germany in one of the closest finishes ever.
This year they should be even stronger with the addition of Edward Gal, dubbed the 'rock star of the horse world' for his electrifying performances. Gal will compete atop Glock's Undercover, bought for him by arms manufacturer Gaston Glock. Meanwhile, world No. 1 Adelinde Cornelissen will bring European champion Parzival with her to London to try for individual dressage gold.
"Like many countries, we have good chances, especially in dressage," said Jacques Verkerk, Dutch Equestrian Federation (KNHS) Media Relations Officer. "Adelinde Cornelissen, particularly, is very strong. We have a strong team with very capable riders."
Much discussion has been devoted to Zara Phillips, a granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II and fourteenth in line to the throne, and her participation in eventing. But the royal isn't the only Brit at Greenwich Park who'll be representing a medal threat to Germany.
Perhaps the strongest member is dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin, who set a new British freestyle record atop Valegro earlier this summer. Overall, Britain's dressage team features three of the top five riders in the world.
But a ghost haunts Britain: While they're also the reigning European team champions, the hosts have never won an Olympic dressage medal.
The Aussies' greatest strength will be their experience. Three-time gold medalist Andrew Hoy will make his seventh Olympic appearance in eventing, a national record. He'll be joined by husband and wife Clayton and Lucinda Fredricks, who were silver medalists in Beijing. Hopes are high.
"With our eventing team, we're going to win a gold medal," said Australian team manager, Brett Mace.
Edwina Tops-Alexander, the highest-ranked female jumper in the world, will be a favorite in show jumping. The dressage team, featuring four-time Olympian Mary Hanna, should be much improved from the 2008 squad that placed seventh.
With so many Olympics appearances under the belts, Germany will be firmly in the Aussies' sights, according to Mace.
"We won't be taking Germany lightly," Mace said. "If we do well, we should give them a run for their money."
Like Australia, New Zealand is fairly new to the Olympic equestrian stage, as both countries have only been competing since the late fifties. But the six-member team's most famous riders are no newcomers: both Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson have been Olympic fixtures since the 1980s. This year will be the seventh time they have represented New Zealand.
At 56 years and 149 days, Todd will become New Zealand's second-oldest Olympian. He won Olympic gold medals in team eventing in the eighties while Nicholson, 50, won silver and bronze in team eventing in the nineties.
Nicholson, especially, may shine in London. "There is a sense that somehow the time is right for this popular and gifted horseman to get his chance to stand directly under the spotlight," wrote the Fédération Equestre Internationale, the worldwide governing body for equestrian sports.
The Americans are one of the greenest teams competing, with only 17 Olympic appearances among 14 riders. Beezie Madden is back after capturing two medals in 2008, while newcomer Adrienne Lyle will look to make a splash in individual dressage with Wizard, a protégé of trainer Debbie McDonald. Also in individual dressage, Steffen Peters and horse Ravel will be looking to medal after being edged out in 2008 for a fourth-place finish.
America's best shot at gold might rest with jumper Rich Fellers. In April, Fellers became the first American in 25 years to win the show jumping World Cup. Fellers, 52, will be competing in his first Olympics, though he has been riding horses for more than 40 years.
A source of distraction, however, could come in the form of Rafalca, a 15-year-old Oldenburg mare who will be ridden by German-born rider/trainer Jan Ebeling. One of Rafalca's owners is Ann Romney, wife of US presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The expensive care for the horse - which according to the Romney family's 2010 tax returns resulted in a $77,000 loss - has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Rafalca also has a reputation for being erratic: in 2009, she flat-out refused a command at the Dressage World Cup.
Other potential issues for the Americans include inexperience on the Olympic stage and a perceived lack of depth despite the large team.
Dressage: August 2 - August 9
Eventing: July 28 - July 31
Jumping: August 4 - August 8
Author: Benjamin Mack
Editor: Rina Goldenberg