Aug 4, 2012; Greenwich, United Kingdom; Rich Fellers (USA) on Flexible (386) competes during the jumping individual first qualifier in the London 2012 Olympic Games at Greenwich Park.Mandatory Credit: Ford McClave-USA TODAY Sports
If the media is to expect more American Olympic medals, they need to stop deriding equestrian sports
The show jumping ended on Wednesday, with the U.S. absent from the podium. But there has been no absence of calling this great sport 'sissy' and 'elite.'
Rich Fellers and Flexible were the only U.S. entry to reach the final round, but a rail down and a time fault ended their quest for the individual medal. Fellers and his talented Irish-bred horse finished eighth, disappointing but still impressive since this is the first Olympics for both of them.
Switzerland took jumping gold for the first time in 84 years, so the Swiss folks in the stands were mighty happy. Goodlooking young Steve Guerdat and his horse Nino des Buissonetts did brilliantly. When it was over, Steve gave his horse a big hug around the neck, and the horse gave him a big nuzzle back.
On Thursday, the dressage freestyle is our last chance for any equestrian medal at all in the London Games - a situation not faced by our nation since 1956. I can only imagine the pressure that U.S. dressage rider Steffen Peters must be feeling. He and his wonderful but aging horse Ravel are our only qualifier for the Freestyle.
Post-mortem soul-searching has already started in the U.S. equestrian world. In her latest dispatch from London, jumper rider Beezie Madden wrote that it was time to "go home and figure out how to do it better so that the US can come out in Rio de Janeiro with a Gold Medal in 2016."
I don't doubt the will to win, talent and dedication of the U.S. riders, horse-owners, patrons and coaches who are presently involved. But the U.S. media need to be first in line on "doing better" for Olympic horse sport. They should start by deleting the words "elitist" and "sissy" from their vocabulary when they talk about horses.
Back in May, dressage was attacked by none other than the New York Times, who used Ann Romney's debut in that sport as an excuse to haul out the tired stereotype that dressage is "elite." Unspoken by the Times writer, but clearly hanging in the air, was the rest of the short list of epithets -- "effete," "sissy," "effeminate," etc. These words are all commonly launched at dressage, and other horse sports too, by Americans who are either social morons or don't know any better because they've never been around horses. But the Times knows better, since their commentary had a political barb.
For weeks now, I've watched the attacks on dressage spread everywhere, from big-name bloggers to Stephen Colbert in his shows spoofing the sport. Colbert nailed the "effete" image when he took off the traditional top hat worn by riders, and revealed a rhinestone tiara underneath it.
Sadly, Democrats have used the media to attack the "elite" horse sport, as they believed it was a good way to damage Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
"Elitist," and "sissy" implies "gay," "homosexual," which translates as "unworthy of admiration by rugged American sports fans." Europeans appear to be less burdened by this kind of naked prejudice. When I see the wild enthusiasm, and the large public following, that Europeans always have for their horse sports, and I look at the way Europeans have dominated the equestrian podium for long decades, I have to conclude that this unbiased public support helps boost the European riders' performance at the Games.
U.S. media often expect our medal count to be bigger, and complain bitterly when our athletes fall behind... which means that our media are asking the equine sportspeople to be among the medalists. How dare they demand these achievements from our horse people when some of them insist on the schoolboy name-calling.
If our media can "do better" on how they position horse sport, maybe the TV-watching American sports public can learn to "do better" as well. The Olympics-loving public can surely learn to appreciate what those riders are doing out there on a thousand-pound horse, whether it's in the air over a big fence or executing a demanding move on the ground.
How do I know the public is capable of "doing better?" Because in the last ten years, I've watched soccer go from a sport that was derided as "sissy" to a sport that is becoming a national American passion. Horse sport, and horses, helped to build the America that we are supposedly so proud of. Isn't it time for them to get equal respect?