The REAL Olympic Feud

Move over, Michael Phelps and Chad le Clos… the best Olympic feud so far has been between a Deadspin blogger and the equestrian community.

Most of you might have seen this on facebook. In one day something like 8 of my friends shared it in some version, all basically flipping Patrick the blogger a big middle finger. Basically he said that equestrian sports were dumb, the horse does all the work, it’s abusive to animals, super aristocratic, etc etc. The same things we’ve all heard a million times by now. When I first read it, I had the same reaction that most people did. What an ignorant ass, I said, huffing and puffing and muttering all kinds of profanities as I slammed my way around the kitchen, making dinner. But once my defensiveness and pride settled down (and I burned the shit out of my finger), I starting thinking about it. And thinking about it. And thinking about it. Then I found myself replying to Patrick’s follow-up post. I know, shocking…

This might be one of the dumbest “feuds” I’ve seen, and I spend a lot of time on the internet, so that’s saying a lot. If you don’t like a sport, don’t watch it. Pretty simple. Change the channel. Click on a different live feed. Perhaps table tennis or golf would be more up your alley? Writing an entire blog post bashing one particular sport in such spectacularly inelegant fashion is an obvious attempt for attention, and congratulations, it worked.

To the horse people (of which I am one): I understand the knee jerk reaction to this guy. His original blog post was full of a lot of ignorance and came off quite rude. I get it, riding is my passion too, and it’s natural to want to defend something that you love so much. But once you get all those expletives out of your system (and they’re therapeutic, I know), we owe it to ourselves and our sport to step back and look at what this guy is really saying. It’s not really about whether he’s right or wrong (obviously he’s wrong).

Peel back a few layers of pure prickishness, dumbassery, pompousness, and blatant ignorance, and his opinion is not that different from the public majority. It’s a fact that our sport is always one of the lowest rated, and it’s no secret that the IOC is considering dropping the Equestrian events altogether. They’re expensive to put on, they garner a lot of criticism, and they don’t bring much back to the table. So what our new friend Patrick has to say, infuriating as it may be, is actually REALLY IMPORTANT if we as a community want to keep our sport in the Olympics.

Our sport is very intricate – it’s one of skill, not one of brawn. It’s easy for anyone to turn on swimming or running or gymnastics and be entertained by it. It takes zero brain power or education to understand it. Their events are pretty short and the objective is obvious. Ours isn’t that obvious at all to the layman (except for maybe showjumping), and really the only people that are going to understand what the hell is going on are fellow equestrians. 

When equestrian events were originally included in the modern Olympic games it was by way of polo, “grand prix jumping”, high jump, and long jump. Almost like a horse version of track and field. Dressage came in a little bit later (originally the dressage horses had to jump a few fences, too!), along with eventing (long format, anyone?), and a more recognizable version of showjumping. Almost everything then was military-based, which made sense in those days and fit in with the overall vision of the games. It was truly a sporting competition. But now the Olympics has morphed into a ratings show; an advertising push painted with a stroke of patriotism. The IOC doesn’t care all that much about the sports themselves, their big job is to increase ratings and sponsorship.

So if we really want to stay in the Games, instead of getting pissed at Patrick we should listen to what he has to say and ask ourselves: what can we do – presentation wise, broadcasting wise, scheduling wise, education wise, etc – to make our sport easier for the layman to understand (because obviously most of them are clueless as hell, just like him) and more interesting to watch? Or, if we actually care more about the bigger issues of the sport itself (rider safety, horse welfare, etc) rather than the ratings war that the Olympics has become, why do we want to stay in anyway? Are the Olympic Games really the pinnacle of our sport anymore? Do we want the desires of the IOC to dictate the choices we make and the direction that our sport takes? Maybe so… but maybe not. Either way, Patrick’s incredibly ignorant blog post provides plenty of food for thought. 

44 thoughts on “The REAL Olympic Feud

  1. Your response was infinitely more intelligent than some of the ones he received 😑 it’s a valid point though — the average person DOESN’T understand what’s going on. So either make changes to stay “relevant” to the average Joe, or leave the Olympics and just focus on things like WEG. Tough call.

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  2. I have to admit I would be ok with taking equine sports out of the Olympics, as long as WEG sticks around. SJ is my sport, and that’s easy enough to explain and of any of them, the one I would like to stick around. It is pretty cool to showcase our sport (and the fact that it’s co-ed) to the rest of the world, and try to overcome such biases. But I wouldn’t be heartbroken if it gets pulled.

    Really, with this year’s xc notwithstanding, they either aren’t run at the top level of the sport, or if they are, they exclude practically whole continents due to the expense. I’m just not sure that, as they are now, equestrian sports are really a good fit for the Olympics.

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          1. It always makes me wish I had a horse to throw people on. Like I would volunteer to let everyone who ever says ‘all you do is sit there’ get on the lunge and then I would make them immediately post the trot with their arms out to the side. Especially guys. Bonus points if they nail themselves in the junk in within the first 5 strides.

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  3. i got annoyed after i shared it. because like 12 other people shared my share. and before i knew it i had GIVEN him readers!!! i wish i had just clicked past it.

    did you see his response? hes such a prick. i bet i could out deadlift him anyway.

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  4. I wouldn’t mind leaving the Olympics and all of its dumb sponsorship (like, you can’t have any, except that many of the athletes do) rules and often, depending on the host city, wretched conditions (Gunfire goes with dressage, right?). Among other things. Other sporting events and venues have problems, too, but the Olympics is so high profile that the issues are under a magnifying glass for everyone, including me, to deride. I’d prefer to keep the horse sports separate from all of that.

    The Deadspin blogger comes off as a dick generally, and I am sure he has a complaint about everything from small plate restaurants to people who can afford to drive Teslas, and yet he calls rodeo and horse racing “fine.” Does he actually know anything about those horse sports, either? Or that “rodeo” isn’t just one horse-related event? Or how old the horses that race are and what that means for their physical development? Or that many racehorses end their racing careers early and find other jobs in the sports he is so disgusted with?

    Perhaps he would like to come ride Eli after Eli has been on stall rest for a few days to see just how much work the horse does? That would be flagrantly irresponsible of me, though. Talk about horse abuse. Ha.

    You are far more articulate than most people on a controversial topic, as always!

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    1. Oh totally, Patrick doesn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground on the subject of horses. Then again, most people don’t. All we do is sit there, right? Rich people sitting on horses. Go Equestrian! But yeah, I wouldn’t be sad to bid adieu to the Olympics either.

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    2. Ha! I guffawed when he said the Olympic horse sports are all about abuse, and yet rodeo and racing are totally cool because really, that’s where I see the most abuse. Not that our sports are entirely without by any means, but it still hurt his credibility even further.

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  5. I’m entertained that he says the horse events at the Olympics are abusive to the horse, but he’s OK with horse racing. Because the average racehorses are generally much better cared for than the average dressage, show jumping or eventing horses. Oh, wait, they aren’t……. I’d be very sad to see the equestrian events removed from the Olympics, however I can see how it would benefit the sport overall. I love the WEG, but those also seem to not be without their struggles (Bromont to …. Tryon?).

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  6. I honestly think the general public will never give a flip about equestrian sports, so I would not be heartbroken if it gets removed. Focusing on WEG and other large events/competitions might be the best route for our sport and others. Karen M makes some solid points and I have to agree.

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  7. Well thought out and composed as always, my friend. I think if we tried to be more exciting and interesting to keep up with ratings, as we saw with events this year in a smaller scale, we put our people and horses in more danger than is typical of the Olympics. Our sport is not alone. I know SA is a cyclist? Did he have as many concerns as my dad about this year’s cycling course with a 57% DNF rate??? When the sports that are “boring” to the layman try to be challenging and interesting, we end up being dangerous in an unhealthy way. We have WEG. Cycling has the Tour… I think the Olympics is an exciting show of team and patriotism, but was never the pinnacle of our sports. And if they don’t want us, we don’t need them.

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  8. I agree with you — while it makes me really upset that such a popular website like DeadSpin posts an article that is so ignorant, the point is that Patrick is writing for the majority… which don’t understand equestrian sports. I certainly don’t have THE answer, but doing something to make it more palatable and understandable to the average person is desperately needed.

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  9. I didn’t even finish reading his article because I was SO ANGRY. But, I do think we can do a lot better on TV programs and live streams in explaining the current score/what’s going on. I wrote about it already. I think some team uniform type thing might be in order, so randomly tuning in viewers would at least know who they’re looking at. Horses are nice to look at, I think most people can agree on that. Maybe the future of Olympic sport is the eventing showcase that happens in FL every winter. I think I’d be ok with that, given WEG and all the other 4* events stay the same. Olympics is about keeping viewer attention (ie shortened rounds of everything since they compete for a little less than 20 min total, which is too long and too spread out for the average viewer), and making sure they know who’s riding now. Seeing it as the eventing showcase would be better than seeing it eliminated, but I wouldn’t cry over it being eliminated (more focus on WEG right?). I would not want to see WEG or Rolex go that route, so I don’t know if that’s a feasible option.

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    1. I’m kind of the opposite, I’d much rather see eventing dropped completely than have it presented as a showcase. But I don’t really give a flip about the Olympics anyway, and I don’t want a dumbed down version of my sport taking an even greater hold than it already has.

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  10. Hmm. You bring up a really valid point. But I think, in order for our sport to continue to thrive, we need the publicity that the Olympics provide. Most people will not accidentally stumble onto a live broadcast (and stick around) of WEG or the Longines Tour, but they may watch the Olympic Show Jumping or Eventing or Dressage, if only because Phelps is also slated to swim during the same broadcast time. And while many people will scoff and find it inaccessible, it may also be the first exposure a little horse crazy kid gets to the upper levels of the sport, which leads to lessons and a lease and so on. So even though it would be a bummer to see the sport modified to meet a modern audience, I’d rather see that than the decline of the sport because no one knew is ever drawn in. All I foresee should that happen is a further trend toward the sport being accessible only for the elite.

    Perhaps taking a page from the Longines Tour and implementing more jersey like uniforms could be a start, as much as it would sadden me to see the sport step away from its traditional routes. I’m sure there are other steps that could be taken as well, such as including interviews about the training and preparation involved, much like they do with other athletes, and asking about their Olympic journey. Whether or not we hate the press coverage and sponsorship involved in the Olympics, I think we need it.

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    1. I don’t really think we do. I never saw any equestrian Olympics as a kid… that’s a pretty recent thing to have more TV coverage and live streaming. I saw the odd GP here and there on ESPN, racing, movies, etc. I’d watch anything that had a horse in it. If the main reason to continue fanning the Olympic flame is to draw more kids to the sport, I think we can do that LOTS of other ways, without compromising what the sport is really intended to be (and possibly the welfare of the horses and riders in the process). Most equestrian sports have actually grown in popularity as of late, so it’s not like we’re fading into oblivion by any means.

      My fear is that if we continue to allow the IOC to dictate the direction that we take, we will soon find ourselves to be pretty unrecognizable. Trickledown is inevitable, we’ve already seen it in eventing. I personally don’t want that for my sport.

      Equestrian sports will never be popular here… they just won’t. Doesn’t matter how much we rebrand it, most Americans just don’t want to watch it, and I don’t really blame them. Turn it back into a long jump and high jump competition, and maybe… maybe then they’d watch it more. But is that what we want? Anything for the sake of popularity?

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    2. Survive in what sense? The olympic platform or in general? Honestly just asking for clarification on what you meant

      When I think about it, for the most part, it’s not the non equestrians that will watch the sport on TV and suddenly want to event or show dressage. I literally know zero people who see it on TV and say yes, this is what I want to spend thousands of dollars and hours on. Generally, it’s those who already event or show that are watching, so I don’t see how staying in the Olympics would help our sports in reality. I think the development should be within

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      1. I just mean the sport in general. I don’t assume they many adults will watch the Olympics and want to ride horses (although, it could happen to a small minority) but more that it will help the sport to stay relevant. My concern is that if only those who participate and are huge enthusiasts are the ones who pay any attention to the sport, that could negatively impact equestrian sports as a whole. We need the layman to be at least marginally interested in the sport, and making it an interesting sport at the Olympics is one way to garner that attention. Obviously not the only way, but it seems like something to take advantage of while it’s an option.

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        1. “Relevant” to what? We’ve always been a niche sport and always will be. A lot of sports succeed with very high popularity despite exclusion from the Olympics. I think it has a lot more to do with how the sport is presented and how relatable it is.

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          1. I agree completely; presentation and relateability is the main issue. What I’m trying to get at is that the Olympics are a good platform for making equestrian sports more relateable, since they provide more exposure than many of our other events. There may be better long term solutions that take our sports out of the hands of the IOC, but I think there’s also a happy medium somewhere that keeps equestrian sports in the Olympics but doesn’t hurt the sport.

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            1. I think I’ve lost all sense of optimism about the Olympics being a good PR opportunity after reading all the comments on both Deadspin posts, Facebook, NBCSports, and the Wired post. They really seem to think we’re a bunch of super snobby horse abusers lol. Obviously we aren’t translating well to the non-horsey masses!

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              1. Def agreeing with everything Amanda has said on this thread. I get what you’re saying Heather, but to reiterate, our sports have ALWAYS been a niche group. I think they’re doing pretty great despite a massive lack of public interest and will continue to do so regardless

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  11. UUUUUUUUUUUGH. That assclown’s article made me SO MAD. 😦 I love the Olympics and I love watching the Equestrian events especially (streaming online, of course, because the TV never f*cking shows any of it) and I’ve totally always dreamed of riding at the Olympics some day. I think for children especially those kinds of dreams and aspirations are so important…I see it all the time as a riding instructor of (mostly) little children–it’s really important to them to see where hard work and determination and dedication gets you. It’s important for all of us to see what the TOP of our sport looks like. And it’s just fun plain to watch. I would be extremely sad if our sport was ever ousted from the Games, and it’s just downright hurtful to hear statements like “horses aren’t Olympians”, etc. I’m just left with a sad heart after reading his stupid article. I don’t want to let it bother me but it does.

    Thanks for your thoughtful response to douchecanoe.

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    1. I’d probably like Olympic eventing more if it really was the top 4* combinations, but usually it’s not. This XC course was the toughest in a very long time (hence why we really did not sent a team that was fully packed with reliable 4* XC horses). So for our sport, it’s not really even the top. We look to Rolex, Badminton, WEG, etc for that. The Olympics just seems like mostly ceremony and name more than top level sport. It’s a bit different for dressage and showjumping though, it seems.

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  12. As someone who loves horse sports and loves the Olympics, I seriously question if they belong. They ARE prohibitively expensive and that inherently does exclude many smaller/less developed nations and imo, the cool thing about the Olympics is watching everyone get a fair shake to play together.

    Now, obviously those are VERY tinted rose colored glasses I’m looking through because the people at the top of any sport have $$$$$$ to drop on trainers and doctors and coaches and gear and what-have-you. I’m also not clear on why men’s basketball is an olympic sport?

    But yeah. While what’s-his-butt is an ass for sure, he’s not wrong.

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  13. I think that guy’s an idiot, but the equestrian sports are really very poorly presented on TV. For example, sailing was on last night (I was at a restaurant and captive audience) and they had graphics on the screen explaining the course and the competitors. I felt like I could better understand sailing having never seen it before even with no sound on than I could eventing with commentary on even though I do eventing and have watched it many times before. Why does’t XC get shown with a course graphic in the corner showing the rider as they progress around the course. Why doesn’t every jump have a description beneath on the TV saying height, width, etc. It’s like the TV coverage for equestrian is done without any equestrian input and NBC just guesses what people might like to know.

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  14. I love your article and all the interesting comments it inspired! I also admire that you took the time to put together a well-reasoned argument instead of just calling this guy an idiot. And although I agree with you that their is an optics problem with this sport, I think the Olympics has to remain the pinnacle of competition. Otherwise, the rest of our sport stands to suffer, and the bar will be lowered throughout. I also think it would be a real shame to lose the only Olympic sport where men and women compete head to head for the same medals. I wrote a similar article on the issue you might like here: http://backoffcourse.blogspot.com/2016/08/twohearts-twosexes-lucky-to-be.html

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    1. If the Olympics actually WAS the pinnacle of eventing, I would agree. But this is the first year in a very long time that it’s had a true 4* XC… the XC is usually quite dumbed down, hence why teams are rarely composed of solid 4* XC horses. WEG though, that’s much closer to the pinnacle, historically.

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  15. I don’t understand the vitriol the equestrian sports produce every Olympic year. Are people upset that rich white people are competing in sports that are inaccessible to many? Are they upset because the scoring is confusing? Are they angry because the outfits are silly? The IOC might as well get rid of sailing, gymnastics, and synchronized swimming, then.

    I wouldn’t be sad to see eventing pulled from the Olympics. As you said, the IOC has done much to dictate the direction of the sport, and not in a good way. Dressage could stay or go- the scoring and silly outfits are enough to put off the average viewer, but it’s much more of a ‘pinnacle’ competition than eventing. I think show jumping is appealing, and I’d love to see polo return.

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  16. There was a very interesting discussion on the most recent Evening Radio Show (from the Horse Radio Network podcasts…if you haven’t gotten into any of their shows yet, trust me: Your life is about to change). They had the founder of Equiratings on to discuss the sport and how incorporating more statistics, a la literally any other sport, and working with broadcasters to make it more accessible to the layperson, could make equestrian sport much more popular during the Olympics. Google Trends show that searches for horseback riding lessons and eventing spike every single Olympic cycle. It is encouraging to know that there is interest there from the general public – now how can we better market the sport(s) and encourage broadcasters to treat them just like other sports in their coverage?

    Even before I listened to the podcast, I had been mulling over a possible new blog post about how to infuse more excitement into the commentary. The announcers are just so…calm. They state what is happening as if the viewers know what’s happening. (Which might be true.) But what if, rather than simply stating that Jung was going to win gold as he finished his final fence, the announcers got so excited that such a historic moment was happening in front of their eyes, like they do for Katie Ladecky or Michael Phelps or Simone Biles? I just want the commentary to be more emotional, I guess. I’m already excited. Make me jump out of my seat and cheer. If the announcers can do that for sports that I don’t know anything about (swimming, gymnastics, any of the other “primetime” sports) then it should be easy for equestrian sports that I’m so invested in, you know? And that could get the general public interested, too! I convinced a friend of mine to watch some equestrian sports and she happened to start with Dressage. Her words? “Not very engaging.” We need to figure out how to make those sports engaging – to show what is going into that moment, to up the stakes, to make the viewers care. I think it’s 100% possible.

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  17. Its disappointing the approach most people take towards equestrian sports. I was mad at first and got even more upset after reading the comments but then I took a step back. Yeah this sucks and your post is what equestrians need to hear. I just take a deep breath and remember why I do the sport I love and not let anyone else’s opinions get in the way of that

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  18. I didn’t see that post, but I have been frustrated by people’s reactions to pictures posted by NBC on Facebook. One post was of pictures of how the horses get to Rio via air transport, and the amount of ignorance was mind boggling. But then I also have to remind myself that unless you know the sport, you likely don’t understand what is going on. I don’t understand tennis at all, but I don’t comment on it either. And I certainly don’t post long rants about how it is a dumb sport that shouldn’t be in the Olympics.

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