What does it take to become an Olympic Equestrian?

Did you watch the Olympic Equestrian events last year and wonder how you could become involved? It looks like a wonderful experience, but it’s a long, challenging and expensive road to get close to becoming an Olympic rider. You need to put in 100% dedication, commitment and a lot of hard work. But even after all that time, effort and investment, there’s still no guarantee you will take home any silverware. Ireland qualified for seven Equestrian places for Rio 2016 and took a very strong team out to the Games. But while they may not have brought home any Olympic medals, Ireland does have nine showjumpers, eight eventers and one dressage rider in the Top 100 world rankings.

Olympic Equestrian Disciplines

The Olympic Games has three equestrian disciplines. These are eventing, dressage and showjumping and the Paralympic Games includes para-equestrian dressage. Most riders will try out each discipline when they first start out, then specialise. This is not just about the rider though, it’s a partnership with the horse, so they will also have to excel at the chosen discipline.


If you’ve not ridden a horse before, then riding lessons are of course essential. Mastering the basics will make riding safer and more enjoyable. Finding the right riding school is an important step in your journey to becoming a better rider. But even for accomplished riders, to get anywhere near the Olympic standard takes practice, practice and yet more practice. It’s no longer simply a hobby, it has to become your lifestyle. You have to find the best trainers and ride the finest horses. But you also need a good team behind you too: Sponsorship, grooms, experience of horse shows and above all the backing of your family.

An Expensive Investment

When riders compete at an international level, they may require a number of horses, which is a very expensive investment. Add in the costs of keeping and feeding the horses, travel, competition fees, memberships and other expenses, you need to be good at financial planning and budgeting where you can. But in reality, the costs greatly depend on how seriously you are going to take the sport. And of course, if you decide you want to buy your own horse then the costs can go through the roof. The horse itself could cost anything up to several thousand euros, depending on its age and experience.

Loaning versus buying a horse

Loaning a horse, can seem the perfect solution to having a horse. You get a horse to ride, but don’t have to worry about finding the money to buy one. Also, if your situation changes, you can hand the horse back to its owner. But, before you decide to head out and get a horse on loan, you need to give some serious consideration as to why you are loaning rather than buying the horse. It may be because you don’t have the funds to pay for the horse outright. But some people assume that having a horse on loan is much cheaper than owning a horse. In actual fact, keeping the horse will still cost you the same, but an increasing number of owners now add in extra conditions to the loan agreement that could mean the horse must remain in its current livery yard, but you have to pay the costs. So before you decide to get a horse, you need to work out all your costings to see how much a loan horse will really cost you in the long run.

A Sport for All Ages

But don’t worry if you think you may be a bit too old to get started. There is no age limit to being on the Olympic Equestrian team. Australian Mary Hanna competed in her fifth Olympic Games in Rio last year at the age of 61. But Hanna isn’t actually the oldest Equestrian to compete in the Olympics. Japan’s Hiroshi Hoketsu was 71 when he competed in the Olympic Games in London in 2012.

Enjoy Being in the Saddle

Anyone, regardless of their age or ability, can try horse riding. It’s a fantastic and fun way to exercise. Whether you prefer something relaxing, or something more involved and competitive, there is an equestrian sport for you. But if you are aiming higher, and one day hope to be on that Olympic podium, then be prepared for a lot of hard work ahead of you.

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