So although a number of the horses' asses in Eventing are not attached to the horses, the sport still provides a magnificent spectacle.
In Seoul, the first and third days' competition took place at the new $83 million Equestrian Park, while the cross-country was set at a ranch north of the city near the DMZ. The Three-Day deserves special interest because it is far and away the most demanding (and dangerous) sport in which men and women compete equally against one another. Coming into the Seoul Games, the world champion was Ginny Leng of Great Britain, who got the title in 1986 in Australia after Charisma unseated Todd in a rare fall.
This cross-genderization is particularly ironic because Three-Day Eventing began as the most male of all sports—the Militaire it was called, a test in which a cavalry officer could show off his mount's full range of abilities. Thus the first day is for dressage, the equine ballet designed to exhibit a horse's precision and obedience. The second day, called the endurance test, measures speed and stamina. At Seoul this test opened up with "roads and tracks," a trot or canter of 3.7 miles, and was followed by a stint of almost two miles around an oval with nine jumps. The contestants then went back on the road for another trot of some 6� miles and concluded (after a mere 10-minute breather) with a timed gallop over a 4.7-mile course that included 32 obstacles to be jumped. That all takes about two hours and the animal, almost spent, is asked to return a third day and cleverly maneuver rails.
Not until 1924 were civilians allowed to compete, and women couldn't enter for another 40 years. Today, though, most particularly in the U.S. and to some extent in other English-speaking countries, females are the mainstay of Three-Day Eventing.
The cross-country counts for roughly 60% of the total score, and the battle for team honors, between Great Britain and West Germany, would be settled by this segment. The teams knew each other well: Two years ago the British and the Germans shared a quarantine before their horses were shipped to Australia for the world championship.
The Brits won that team championship, so afterward the Germans bought a couple of British mounts and copied British ways so carefully that they even started talking like the British. The favored English word in Eventing is "super." Just super. Super ride. Super super. Suddenly everything with the Germans was "zuper," and they played these Olympics zuper zafe, eschewing individual honors to go for team gold.
The British countered with two of the four best riders in the sport—Ian Stark, and Leng, who is the top woman in the world and the measure of any man save Todd. Leng, 33, grew up in a colonial world fast fading—Cyprus, Singapore, that lot—as the daughter of a Royal Marines officer. In the cloying first week of the Olympics, when we must endure a raft of cutesy-poo adolescent girls, Leng was that most welcome treasure: beautiful and a woman. She is also, by turns, determined, flirtatious, mischievous and brave. In 1976 she fell and broke her left arm in 23 places, almost losing it to amputation.
On Sept. 21 she and Stark both took the 32 jumps safely. With Phillips's horse disqualified for medical reasons—he pulled up lame—the remaining British rider was a team rookie, Karen Straker. She was astride an 8-year-old named Get Smart, who as a young colt had been saved from the worst at a horsemeat sale. Now he carried Straker safely over the first 21 jumps.
The next three composed the course's showpiece, the Royal Pond: over a stone wall, then over a low railing into the water, then up onto a platform and over another railing, then back down into the drink and out and up a steep incline. Princess Anne was standing by the water as Straker drove Get Smart down toward it. Her Highness turned to her companions, and, very softly, she spoke. "She's going too fast," the Princess said.
And so Straker was. She got Get Smart in the water safely, but took off too early getting out, couldn't purchase clean footing on the platform and tumbled into the drink. That cost 60 penalty points, and the gold medal was lost to the Germans.