How to Become An Olympic Equestrian

Steps to Becoming an Olympic Rider

Olympics Day 3 - Equestrian
Zara Phillips of Great Britain riding High Kingdom negotiates an obstacle in the Eventing Cross Country Equestrian event on Day 3 of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Image Credit:Alex Livesey / Getty Images

Every four years, the world’s top athletes gather to contest their skills and discover who is the best of the best. The Olympic games include three equestrian competitions: dressage, stadium jumping and eventing.  It’s a long road to becoming an Olympic equestrian. It takes 100% dedication, a willingness to seek out sponsors, and is more a lifestyle than simply a sport you sometimes participate in.

Getting to the Grand Prix level requires a commitment that involves hard work and total commitment. It takes an entire team to get one individual to these top competitions including coaches, grooms and veterinarians. It also requires an enormous amount of money. Here's what you need to know to get from your backyard to the Olympic podium. 

Learning the Skills

Many riders start out in horse oriented families, but not all. Riders usually spend their childhoods being involved with Pony Club, 4-H or other local riding organizations. In the early years, as an Olympic hopeful, you may also compete in local schooling shows and open show circuits or be part of a high school or college team. A good coach will be essential to coach you through these competitions. Each state or province will have its official organization that organizes circuits in one or more particular discipline. Because some Olympic equestrian sports are team contests, you must be able to work individually and with a team.

Of course, coaching, practice and having the right horse will be essential. You will probably need a different coach to take you to each new level you are striving for.

Young Riders Programs

Young Riders Programs are offered throughout North America and are open to all youth riders from 14 to 21 years of age.

The governing body for Olympic Equestrian competition is the FEI or FÉDÉRATION EQUESTRE INTERNATIONALE. Young Riders offer progressive levels of competition in all FEI recognized sports and is an introduction to competing under FEI rules. Riders learn the rules, the dress and the expectations of international competitions. Top riders will qualify to compete in The North American Junior and Young Riders Championships (NAJYRC) and are invited to compete by their equestrian federation in Central America, the Caribbean, Bermuda, as well as each province of ​Canada, each USA Equestrian Zone (Show Jumping), USDF Region (Dressage), and USEA Area (Eventing).  There may be travel to  the competition in events like the Pan-Am and Commonwealth Games and other Grand-Prix and high-level events in Europe and other parts of the world.

Young Riders is also a stepping stone to being selected for a national team like the Canadian or United States Equestrian Team. You will have to prove yourself by placing consistently in major competitions such as Rolex and Badminton. From the best of these riders, a national team is chosen. A long list is chosen, and then depending on points and other factors, a shortlist is drawn up.

From this pool riders are chosen that will compete at World Championships, World Equestrian Games and the Olympics.

No Fairytale Path

The dream of taking of backyard horse to the Olympics isn’t likely. Movies and novels might have stories about someone doing that, and there have been some unlikely horses and competitors make it. But, at the level where riders are competing on an international level each will need a pool of horses. The horses are very expensive, often imported from Europe or elsewhere. Most will be leased although there are programs promoting the breeding of international level competition horses in North America. Because the upkeep of horses, the travel, competition fees, memberships and other expenses are so high, good financial planning and maintaining sponsorships is a must.

Not Just For Youngsters

There is no age limit to being on the Olympic Equestrian team. Riders in their seventies have debuted at the Olympics and competed successfully. While it may be beneficial in some sports to be young, experience and intuition is important, and this sometimes favors older riders.

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