Tokyo Olympics Eventing Reflections

Man, the Olympics is a lot. All the dressage, then the eventing, now the beginning of the showjumping… feels like we’ve been doing this for months, yet it’s also flying by. Well, the eventing felt like it flew by anyway. I have A LOT of thoughts about it all and maybe even a for-fun little blog hop tomorrow, but I wanted to jot down my biggest takeaways from the eventing competition.

I came flying out of my seat and ran laps around the coffee table

First and foremost, how can you not be thrilled about Julia winning? No disrespect to Ollie or Tom but I was rooting like hell for Julia. With all she’s been through in the past few years and losing the ride on Chipmunk, then her top horse having to be retired… if a German was gonna win, I definitely was hoping it would be her (sorry Michi, love you 4ever). Plus, like, as a female in 2021, how freakin cool is it to FINALLY have a female gold medalist in eventing? Not to mention – would Julia have even been on the German team if Ingrid hadn’t gotten injured? Probably not. Her win was an awesome moment. She was my “human hero” pick of the games for sure. But how was she not absolutely shitting herself going into that final round of showjumping? I’d have needed a diaper and an oxygen machine. She’s got ice in her veins… well freakin done, Julia.

best XC horse in the world

If I have to pick a “horse hero”, it’d be Vassily de Lassos hands down. What an impeccable career that horse has had, and he continued it with another impeccable performance in Tokyo. He was the only horse to finish on his dressage score even after two rounds of showjumping, which was enough to secure him bronze. Plus how can you not root for Andrew Hoy? Vassily’s XC round was absolutely brilliant, he’s absolutely everything a modern event horse should be. Fast, clever, ridiculously athletic, forward-thinking… his footwork and reaction time are second to none. It was really just a joy to watch. Too bad he’s not a mare.

bonus Vassily

Also, I feel like we need to talk about the French. I got so many messages from people saying they were surprised to see the French do well or surprised to see so many French horses. Guys, we can’t forget that the French won gold in Rio, right? Never ever count out the ever-so-sneaky French. They don’t compete as much outside of France so I think in a lot of ways they stay more “hidden” than the Brits or the Irish or even the Germans, but they’re a powerhouse and have been for a while now. As for their horses, Selle Francais is one of the top-ranked studbooks in the world, year after year, in both eventing and showjumping, and always has been. The performance of the French team in Tokyo was especially impressive I thought, considering this was really their “second string”, having lost their top heavy hitters in the past few months to injury. Their second string still managed to swoop in and secure team bronze. Also what I really love about them: they are just so very thoroughly FRENCH. 99% of the time it’s a French rider on a French-bred horse in all French tack, French equipment, French clothing, etc. VIVE LA FRANCE.

Speaking of French-bred horses, 6 of the top 7 horses were bred in France. That was some serious domination. As for some other quick stats: the average blood percentage of the top 10 was 59%, a bit higher than the field average of 55%. Additionally, 3 of the top 7 horses had a full blood dam – two TB, one AA. The horses under about 45% blood really did not fare well here overall. I was also delighted to see all 3 Jaguar Mails finish – what an accomplishment for a stallion (a French stallion, naturally).

I wish it could have been a tragedy-free games, but alas that was not to be with the loss of Jet Set. My thoughts on that are summed up really well here so I won’t even bother trying to say it any better.

As for the biggest competitive heartbreak, man I was sad for Japan. They’ve worked so hard and looked so good coming into these games, I was sure they’d get a medal. I actually gasped when Yoshi popped off of Calle 44 on cross country. What a shame to come so far and be in your home country. And then Kazuma Tomoto finishing 4th overall, just out of medal contention… soooo close, yet so far. Brilliant performance for Kazuma, but an overall bummer for Japan to go home with no medals.

As for the US – heavy sigh. Yes, it’s the best we’ve done since 2004 in that at least we actually finished a team this time (ouch), but it wasn’t exactly a great performance either. I could be in the minority here because I’ve seen a lot of other people saying they thought we did great, but… we were 41 points off GB and 24 points off the podium in general. That’s quite a lot. I also think we got lucky a few times: Boyd and Phillip both had near-misses on XC (there’s a point where “epic saves” really need to stop being a regular thing) and Vandiver looked pretty tired by time he crossed the finish. We added quite a few rails overall too. I just think that, as a country, we’re better than that. We’re definitely not GB-level good (lord they dominated everyone’s asses, didn’t they?) but we certainly have a plenty deep pool of talent and horses to where we should be showing better than that on the international stage. I would love to go back in time and make a couple substitutions to see how that played out, but alas, it is what it is. Will be interesting to see if anything was learned from it by the time the next WEG rolls around.

Last but not least, I wanna talk about MIMgate. You guys know that I am 100% for anything that increases safety on cross country. Frangible fences in particular. Love them. Add more. And there’s also no arguing that frangible technology prevented more than one nasty wreck at the Olympics. It did it’s job here for sure. However, the rail on the corner at 14 came down A LOT. Like… A LOT A LOT. Eight times, I think it was? We only saw it on the coverage a few of those times, and one was really legit – Ferroleus Lat would have been splat on the turf if not for that log dropping. However, there were also at least two times it came down where it really really shouldn’t have, and those two times had a big impact on the placings. First was Sam Watson and Tullabeg Flamenco – he gave it a decent thwack with a hind foot, but certainly nowhere near enough for it to have needed to come down to prevent an accident. The other time was Michi Jung, who by all accounts (it wasn’t shown on the NBC coverage but some screenshots have been circulating on social media) didn’t have the rail fall until he was several strides clear of the fence.

Now, this jump had the new yellow MIMclips in use, which can be activated with supposedly 70% of the force of the traditional red ones. There was an oxer near the beginning of the course that was using the red ones and that thing got absolutely WHALLOPED all day, yet I never saw it fall.

The bummer comes in the fact that there’s no room for removal of these penalties within the current rules. Back when this first started and the penalties were 21 for dropping a frangible, athletes were allowed to protest to have it reviewed and potentially have the penalties removed if it was deemed that the activated frangible did not prevent an accident. When it was changed to 11 this provision was removed, and now it simply states that if the fence is deformed, you get the 11. Period. Doesn’t matter how or why… rail drops = 11. My issue is that, if we now have a new clip that allows the rail to fall WAY more easily, it doesn’t seem fair to not allow potential removal. Especially with how easily we saw it fall a couple times here at Tokyo. I also think there needs to be some kind of integrity check in between horses if it does take any kind of impact. If it’s taking three (or however many) little hits that weaken it a bit each time but it’s only falling on the third teeny tiny hit, that’s a concern.

side note: Is there any more attractive horse in the world than Flamenco? I think not.

Like I said – I think the technology is greatly needed and 100% should be used, but I also think there needs to be a middle ground if we’re going to have fences that are so “light” to the touch. The last thing we want is people coming out here and picking their way around/showjumping up to every frangible fence… IMO that could be a safety issue in and of itself, not to mention totally outside of the point and purpose of the phase. I hope this is an issue that will get more traction and discussion in the coming months, and possibly some tweaks to the rule. At the end of the day I think rules should have two purposes: 1) safety/well-being 2) fairness of sport. If at all possible we should consider both of those things (which I think absolutely can be done in this case), and we saw some really unfair penalties here in Tokyo that made a big impact.

Thoughts on the eventing? Let me hear them!

24 thoughts on “Tokyo Olympics Eventing Reflections

  1. I’m pretty mad about the pins to be honest. Some horses absolutely smashed into that fence, and from there on it was rocking all day.

    They either need to stop building open corners that clearly horses hit a lot, or make it no penalties or maybe added time for hitting a pin?

    I don’t know what but something definitely needs to come of this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As with anything new, the frangible technology and rules will for sure be a work in progress for a few years. It just sucks that it’s an Olympics that will be part of the trial and error. Onward and upward!

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  3. Vassily was my fave when I saw him come in the dressage ring, I was like Dad watch this horse! Brilliant horse and rider, so well done! I watched most of the dressage and quite a bit of cross country (and even saw the frangible with Michael Jung I get it, but dont like it at all). I didn’t watch any show jumping but i would not been able to as my nerves would have been shot. HA!

    Also it is great a woman spanked all the men’s butts in this 🙂

    This is the most i have ever watched eventing!! That cross country course looked like it belonged in an amusement park but can’t argue it was gorgeous. and the dressage was amazing!

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  4. I watched the cross country live, and I’ll say my heart was in my throat with that very first Thai rider. The NBCS coverage skipped it completely, but she jumped that first water, and the horse just rolled onto its neck and her. I also saw the riders who fell, their vests clearly were inflated, which I think is a good sign! The one commenter said the original walk through of the course had the left pin of the 14 being red, but they switched it to yellow on competition day. I wonder what would have happened if it had remained red?

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  5. I was absolutely delighted that Julia won! It was frustrating to see the 11 penalties for Sam and MJ but they both handled it well despite it being a very disappointing result for both riders. Hopefully this will lead to some rule changing and improvements for the future. I thought it was interesting that MJ was told he couldn’t share the video (according to his Instagram story).

    As far as the US goes, I was surprised everyone stayed on which says a lot about what I think of the team.

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    1. I think once the Olympics are over people will be able to share footage. I believe it has to do with NBC and not actually anything nefarious.

      I too was surprised all the US riders stayed on. 😂

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  6. I really wish we could have seen Tamie and Mai Baum compete (in all 3 phases). Don’t get me wrong, Boyd and Phillip are amazing riders, but team USA needs to stop putting all of their eggs in that basket(s) and develop other emerging talents.

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      1. This will likely be unpopular, but I was CLENCHED watching Boyd. It just looked…reckless? And it wasn’t the speed, others looked fast but balanced and in control. I don’t love Z’s jumping style, but Phillip doesn’t make me nervous the same way. I can’t quite put my finger on it…
        Huge props to Julia. And I’m in love with Vassily–the picture of competence in all 3 phases.

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          1. I’m not an eventer, but I have always thought Boyd looks kind of sloppy for lack of a better term. Especially after you watch the likes of Ingrid or Michael J or others at the top.

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  7. Jet Set makes me so sad. I feel even worse for Robin & the rest of Jet Sets people. These horrible people are probably the same ones telling Simone Biles to suck it up. I’ve stood next to a horse desperate to save him, but knowing a shattered leg is not salvageable. It’s a situation I wouldn’t wish on anyone.. I saw the commentator on NBC make the announcement & he tried to explain it simply which I thought was nice.

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  8. I was counting on you sharing your thoughts and you have not disappointed! I am thrilled for Julia and delighted to see a woman atop the podium. What an achievement! Horrified about poor Jet Set and heartbroken for his rider, who I did not realize was so young. Whenever I talk about horse sports and the XC phase of eventing in particular, I always tell “laypeople” that you could not force a horse to do it – they absolutely LOVE it. They are pulling towards the course from the moment the rig arrives at the venue, the way you tell it, and I’ve seen their faces during the run.

    I also think the USA did not make a particularly good showing. The comments about Boyd have me rethinking what I saw on XC, and back to when we were watching WFP, another very tall man. It’s practically impossible to make everything look as effortless as Michael Jung does – and WFP was insanely good at the top of HIS game – but yes, I agree that Boyd made me nervous. Perhaps in some part due to Thomas being a smaller, zippier, spookier type of horse?

    There is no question in my mind that Michi would have had his third gold medal around his neck if not for that stupid and EXTREMELY unfair pin. I’m confused about something, though: in his Instagram post he said he DID protest the 11 pts. to the ground jury, there was review, and the call stood. So I thought protest was allowed and was appalled that the jury could be so blind, when the photo (which I expect is a still taken from the video he’s not allowed to share) shows the horse 10″ above the fence!

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    1. Just to give some perspective on heights. WFP is 6’5”, Mark Todd is 6’3”, Doug Payne is 6’3”, and Boyd Martin is 6’1”. So while if you are tall and on a smaller horse you do have to be more careful with your upper body and balance, there are many examples that show a round can look smooth even with a taller rider. In my opinion there is more going on than just a tall rider on a smaller horse.

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  9. To be honest this Olympics left a very bad taste in mouth. So much so that I didn’t have any desire to watch the stadium rounds after xc.

    The absolute lack of information re Jet Set (at least on the live stream in the US) was so clearly a desire for good optics around eventing and to prevent the “regular watcher” from being uncomfortable that it was gross. They never stated the reason for the hold on course, never followed up, no update on the results website, only listed as an elimination.

    Not to mention the MANY riders/horses that were clearly not up to the level of the course. I know it is very difficult to design an “inclusive” course that also tests the top riders, but IMO this was not the answer. So much cringing, gasping, closing my eyes as certain pairs flailed around the course – it was not enjoyable to watch horses in distress. The poor horse who pulled up 3 fences from home while literally shitting itself was absolutely heartbreaking.

    There needs to be some hard discussions around Olympic (and other top level eventing). I know I’m not the only one left feeling this way after watching

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    1. I’m not agreeing with how the Jet Set situation was handled, however that’s very standard anytime there’s a horse injury on a live stream or televised event (racing, eventing, etc). Partly because real time speculation/guessing isn’t the best thing to do, and partly because of, as you said, optics.

      Some of the horses and riders not being up to the level is part of my issue with the Olympics too. First, it’s not a 5* so it’s not the pinnacle of our sport… it has to be knocked down a level (or more) in order for more countries to (barely) be able to qualify teams. And then yeah… you get a lot of overfaced horses and riders because of it. I do think that DdG did a good job of offering smart alternate routes for the less experienced pairs to utilize, although some (ahem, specifically thinking of the Russians) did NOT do so. Watching the showjumping this morning you got a lot of the same “a lot of these people really shouldn’t be here” feeling, but sj is of course less risky than cross country is.

      I do think there were some issues with the officiating here. The exhausted horse you mention should have been pulled up before it got to that point, and they also let a couple riders with TE’s go WAY FAR AROUND before pulling them up – not great.

      I’ve never been a fan of eventing in the Olympics because I just don’t think our sport lends itself well to the format, but… what do I know. I did find the finish to be exciting and I do think there were absolutely some standout horses, but the Olympics is certainly never my favorite showcase of the sport.

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    2. I rewatched the live replay today, and the commenter actually said at one point that Jet Set was up and about and okay. They did show the ambulance and said he was the horse in it, before that. Maybe the “good news” was before they made the decision to euthanize?

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  10. I don’t really know or follow eventing enough to really comment on any of the controversial aspects… but I was obsessed with Vassilly. It was a true dream to watch him on XC and show jumping… such an amazingly talented and lovely horse!! If I had to pick a bucket list big name eventer to get to ride, it would be him!

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  11. Well said, all the way around! 🙂

    I thought the U.S. did great with what they had. Celebrating their performance. Y’all dun good.

    Julia is one of my short list of Very Favorite Riders. Was ecstatic at her finish. And the way she did it. Julia, you are clutch and you are class!

    I think that France, Sweden, NZ, and now China and Japan are always a possibility to come through with a medal, individual or team, bumping off one of the usual suspects GB, Aus and Germany. EV is a competitive landscape where no one, not even Michi, owns the top spot, and I love that about it. For once I’m a bit more positive that the U.S. is on the right track for the future. 🙂

    Dam I was impressed with Team China. We gotta get Alex a better horse – I mean that’s a good horse, but the horse didn’t really want to be jumping for an Olympic medal, it would seem. That looked like a moment of ‘just too much of everything’ to me.

    I’ve been impressed with the Japanese individual and/or team since London. They didn’t have a happy outcome there, but they truly rode well and scored well in dressage — all good until they met drop landings on XC. But the Chinese and Japanese teams look better all the time, and I look forward to seeing them returning to top competitions.

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