I was privileged to be part of a global group of stewards working at the Olympics in Rio this summer. Kate Horgan, Maria Henrek, Eric Straus, and myself were appointed deputy chief stewards for jumping – quite an unexpected honour for me. Unlike in London, I was at the Deodora venue for the entire span of the equestrian competitions and saw our sport showcased in a positive and genuine manner.
Although it was August and supposed to be ‘winter’ in Brazil, we had some super-hot and humid days. Our living facilities were army-like and barren, but they were clean and it seemed to me that every effort was made on behalf of our comfort. There was a bar in the army compound, all good!
The Brazilians produced excellent stabling and four very large exercise and warm-up areas with superior footing. These areas did not include the indoor facility or the very large grass and grazing area which doubled as the cross-country warm-up and schooling area. There was also a one-kilometre gallop track that was appreciated and well-used.
Shortly before the Olympics, a protocol was circulated to all officials that dealt specifically with “blood” found on horses at competitions. I should also add that the officials representing the FEI spoke to equestrian officials and chefs d’equipe, stating that several sports were under the microscope in view of continuing to have a presence at the Olympic Games. This is not a new idea for us, but to hear it put bluntly was a bit of a shock!
For me, what came from the Games was a real transparency. Horses were monitored constantly and consistently. All stewards had the opportunity to work during the night with veterinarians and other night staff in the barns. Horses that came to boot-and-bandage check were carefully checked and if blood was present a member of the ground jury came immediately and assessed. We did have four disqualifications/eliminations (DQ/E) for blood. All were accidental and therefore nothing further than the DQ/E was implemented. On a positive note, by the third jumping day officials noted spurs had been changed to reduce the chance of “cutting” or “marking” the horses. With the high temperatures and humidity, many horses were very closely clipped and their coats were short [thus offering less protection against spurs and crops].
The icing on the cake for my Brazil adventure was the news that no equestrian riders or horses produced positive drug tests.