Equine Flu Forces Australians to Make Tough Decision for Olympics

2004 German Olympic event team rider Bettina Hoy (left) is married to Australian event Olympian Andrew Hoy (right), but they live in England. Here they are shown at 2007 Equitana in Essen, Germany. Australia may soon send more of its potential Olympians to Europe to circumvent biosecurity issues at home that might jeopardize their Olympic chances on health issues.

While the rest of the equestrian world prepares for a holiday break, the Australians are gearing up for a major decision that belongs under the heading of “**** if you do, **** if you don’t.”

On December 19, the Equestrian Federation of Australia (EFA) High Performance Program will announce the difficult decision whether to send prospective team members overseas for the six months prior to the Olympic Games to finalize Olympic preparation and qualification or whether to keep them in Australia.

The answer will depend mainly on whether already overdue biosecurity protocols will enable the movement of horses and the holding of events in Australia during the first half of next year. The Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales have been shut down since October by an outbreak of highly-contagious equine flu that has curtailed all movement of horses and forced cancellation of clinics and competitions.

A decision to move overseas would put further pressure on Australia-based riders, whose businesses and families have already been hard hit by the EI crisis since August. Sadly, it would also reduce the pool of horses and riders from which a team can be selected.

The High Performance Program has been supporting local riders to stay in Australia as long as possible to prepare and qualify for the Olympic Games. This is now looking less likely due to the uncertainty and the expected severity of the restrictions that may be imposed on riders and event organizers by government authorities.

The Program has been in limbo since the outbreak of EI, which forced the cancellation of all International and National Equestrian events in Australia at least until early 2008. The outbreak has severely restricted training and qualification opportunities for many of the leading contenders for the Olympic Games.

The 2007 Bates Sydney International Three-Day Event will now be held from 17-20 April 2008 at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre at Horsley Park, but it’s still unclear if it will be possible to hold that event. Uncertainty in Australia makes four-star events like Badminton, held in May in England, and Rolex Kentucky, held in April in the USA, critical qualifiers for more than just the home teams.

Several of Australia’s perennial eventing champions, including Clayton and Lucinda Fredericks and Andrew Hoy, ride for their country but are based in England. Another veteran Aussie Olympian, Philip Dutton, recently decided to try to qualify for the US eventing team and is currently at the top of the USEA’s leaderboard. Last week he was named USEA Rider of the Year…for the eighth year in a row.

Australia won three successive team gold medals in eventing from 1992 to 2000.




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