The greatest Olympic injustice

No, it’s not the 1972 U.S. basketball team being robbed of the gold medal by an agenda-driven officiating crew.

It’s not Jim Thorpe being stripped of his two gold medals from the 1912 games.

It’s not even the fact that half the Winter Olympics sports are simply about letting gravity do the work (really, if bobsledding is an event, why aren’t we running the soapbox derby during the summer games?).

No, the greatest Olympic injustice is even worse than calling gravity’s work your own. The greatest Olympic injustice occurs in the equestrian events. The horse does 99.9% of the work and the rider wins the medal. WTF? Sure, the record books indicate “{rider name} on {horse name}” as the medal winner…but is that really any consolation? It doesn’t even list the horse first. At the very least, it should be “{horse name} exploited by {rider name}”.

Now, I’ve never ridden a horse before and I’m sure it takes a fair amount of effort to choke a horse with the reins and kick it in the ribs with your heels. But I’m damn sure that’s far, far less work than the horse is doing running and jumping around the course while carrying your sorry imperialist ass. I’ll grant you the use of a machine to amplify human power (cycling) or even tossing a giant stone down a runway and using a broom (curling) — at least those events predominantly harness human energy. Equestrian events not only make the horse do practically all the work (some celebration of the human spirit that is), but offhandedly dismiss that work by relegating the horse’s contribution to “on {horse name}”, like the horse is a prop. Thank you, sir, may I have another?

Give the horse the medal and top billing or eliminate the events and force the riders to run the 3000m steeplechase.



Filed under Olympics, Social/Cultural/Political, Sports

4 responses to “The greatest Olympic injustice

  1. Jim M

    You are right – horse events are just plain dumb and don’t belong in the Olympics. Why does the horse get preferential treatment? Why not include other animal events: dog sledding, elephant riding, carrier pidgeon races, dolphin high jump, etc.? Totally dumb.

    However the greatest Olympic injustice to me are ‘sports’ that are subjectively judged. If it can’t be measured, scored or timed – get rid of it. Human beings being what they are, there is too much risk of bias (the infamous ‘Russian Judge’ effect). Get rid of figure skating, ice dancing, gymnastics, diving, synchronized swimming, ballroom dancing and all similar events. The Olympics would be far more entertaining.

    If you want to keep gymnastics, fine – let’s just change the criteria. Whoever can hold themselves up on the rings the longest wins. Highest vault. Most cartwheels inside of a minute. Now THIS I would pay to see.

    Same thing for synchronized swimming. Whoever can hold their breath underwater longest wins. That’s entertaining (and a contest we can all relate to on some level).

    Figure Skating – most triple jumps inside two minutes without falling. You get the idea.

    The ancient Greek founders would surely approve.

  2. pnguyen74

    I’m going to split hairs with you, Jim. Subjectively judged “sports” are misguided and out-of-place at the Olympics, but they are not an injustice. I suppose you could argue that such events are an injustice to the participants of the “real sports” who are objectively judged by the clock and the measuring tape, but that’s not nearly the injustice heaped upon our hooved friends.

    I also find it curious that you refer to this travesty as “preferential treatment” for horses, rather than the thankless exploitation it really is.

    I like your suggestion of underwater breath-holding…I’d like it even more if the participants did so in the pool during a water polo match.

  3. lizgoldsmith

    So, what makes you think that all of us equestrians don’t value the horse’s accomplishments over the rider’s? You’ve got to spend more time on the horse forums and the blogs of some of the olympic riders to see how much these horses are treasured.

    As to why the equine events are included? Y’all need to check your history and see that equestrian events were the foundation of the ancient Olympics! Try reading these posts:

    As for whether the horses are exploited. Methinks none of you are riders. Do you actually imagine that you can compete at this level (or most competitions) on a horse that does not enjoy the “job”? Just try to convince a 1200 pound horse to jump a XC fence that it doesn’t want to jump! Hell, try to get a 1200 pound horse to cross a puddle it doesn’t want to step into! It will give you an entirely new respect for the partnership that exists between horse and rider at the Olympics.

    • san mateo pete


      Thank you very much for taking the time to comment! A few thoughts about the points you made…

      I didn’t say that equestrians don’t value the horses’ accomplishments, I’m saying that (1) the Olympic Games don’t honor the horses enough because it’s the riders who receive the primary acclaim and (2) equestrian events shouldn’t even be in the Olympics because it’s the horses who do the bulk of the work — and the Olympics are about people.

      In my opinion, the fact that equestrian events existed in the ancient games doesn’t really justify their inclusion now — I think the games should be primarily about human skill and accomplishment, and equestrian events are clearly more about the horses. Furthermore, the ancient equestrian events were races, which don’t exist in the modern games.

      I was being somewhat facetious by claiming that the horses are exploited…I was really trying to point out that the horses do the vast majority of the work and the riders receive most of the Olympic acclaim. However, the fact that riders are trying to get horses to do something they wouldn’t normally do themselves is, in a sense, exploitation, isn’t it? Horses have no business running and jumping on a timed, precise course unless the rider gets glory out of it. Horses would rather just wander around and run and jump whenever and wherever they feel like it, right?

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