“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” it was possible to have an event horse with at least a trace of a missing link where one of its strengths should have been, and still have a potential winner. This was partly because the overall quality of the horses was lower than in 2012, and partly because, in the long format, the overall test was tilted more heavily toward what happened on the second day, known as “the speed and endurance day”
If you had to go 18 miles on Saturday, and part of that was a five and a half minute steeplechase at 690 meters per minute, then you`d better have a galloping machine. It didn`t matter if your dressage was all sevens and eights if you ran out of gas three quarters of the way around the cross country course.
In the short format, the level of the dressage is higher, Rather than the 20 meter counter canter half circles in the old days, they`re now 15 meters. Rather than no flying changes (that you actually asked for!) there are now several. A hot horse these days won`t be submissive enough to deliver the goods. “Back in the day” some of the great, old fashioned eventers were cross country “attack machines”, horses that would jump through flaming hoops, even when they should have been tired, but that attack mentality didn`t always mesh with calm, obedient dressage.
It used tp be rare to see truly beautiful movers in eventing dressage, even at the four star level, and this was partly an economic reality of 30-40 years ago, when event horses were decidedly “poor cousins” of hunters, jumpers and dressage horses. Eventers made do, so often, with “nice” horses, rather than with spectacular ones. Sponsorship, so necessary today, was something you hoped you might have rather than something you have to have, absent a rich grandparent!
Another difference between then and now is the size and technicality of the show jumping. When cross country was so very demanding, not just the course itself, but the sheer magnitude of effort, the stadium jumping played less of a deciding role. Nothing was higher than 3`11, and the related distances were more forgiving, generally. A rail might hurt you, but it wouldn`t necessarily knock you right off the podium.
But all that has changed. We are in a different galaxy today where the three left standing on those wooden boxes listening to some national anthem will not have had ANY missing links. They will have been in, at the very least, the top 15 in dressage, and for individual medals, in the top five or six. They`ll have obviously jumped clear on cross country, and within the time, and they will have had a clear show juping round, probably two, again, without time faults.
To state the obvious, part of this is rider skill and partnership, but all of those riders can ride, at least the ones from the five, six, or seven most competitive countries. The edge is the great horse, the one with all the right pieces, sound, sane, brave, fast agile, clever, scopey, slinky, buoyant, the true equine Jedi Knight of the eventing world.
It will be the breeder`s challenge over the coming years to create that elusive genetic package. As I`ve stated before, my main hope is that those successful breeders won`t all speak German.