Sentiment counts for a lot in the horse world. Horses' fan bases skyrocket when they break records--or hearts, in the case of the ill-fated Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro or 2008 Olympic gold medalist Hickstead.
Lately, there's an "x" factor in horse sports that adds to horses' fan bases; we are seeing fans adopt loyalties and the media give attention to horses based on their origins--cheering for the Irish-breds, the Dutch-bred, or the ex-racehorses, for example. The Dutch might be consoled if their riders lose a championship but one of their homebred horses wins. It can be a confusing game of shifting loyalties at times.
It's an international horse world, and you can find all kinds of threads to relate to what appears to be a lineup of look-alike sport horses in a show class.
For some people, the tie that binds ignores international lines altogether. Everyone seems to be cheering on the older veterans, who make a great case for non-disposable horses and are testimony to the great care taken with sport horses and the advances of sportsmedicine in repairing tendons and ligaments. They're survivors, they tend to have character after all those races/cross-countries/grand prixs, and they're fun to follow.
And we know them. We remember them the same way we remember old friends. We see their faces often better than we see the faces of the riders. These horses' personalities are part of the fabric of sport. But will we see them in the arena at Greenwich Park in London this summer for the Olympics?
The answer is a definite maybe.
Right now, we have the glorious "pinch-me!" afterglow of an American victory in the Rolex FEI World Cup of show jumping in the Netherlands last month. At 16, Rich Fellers' Flexible was the oldest horse in the finals. The Americans hadn't won the World Cup in 25 years, but the veteran Irish-bred from Oregon brought home the cup. Last weekend, he won an Olympic team review jumping event in California, as well.
But will Flexible make the team?
In the dressage world, yesterday was a symbolic birthday. Anky van Grunsven's two-time Olympic gold medal mount--and three-time World Cup champion--turned 18. Salinero and Anky have been a team for the past ten years and, until injury sidelined him, they were virtually unbeatable. Salinero left competition as Totilas appeared, so it is hard to judge the two world-beaters side by side.
But what if they compete against each other in London? On April 14, Anky announced her plans to try for a place on the Dutch dressage team in London, with her golden oldie. According to Anky's web site, the black gelding is still in top shape and we will see him at the Dutch National Championships in June.
"Salinero is still fit and several media this week mentioned a comeback, but he has been competing since last Summer at international level, where he did great and got very high scores. For example in Salzburg, where he won both tests," Anky said on her site.
And last night, the news came from New Zealand that Caroline Powell's Lenamore would be considered for that nation's Olympic eventing squad. Yes, Lenamore is now 19. He won the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in Great Britain in 2010 (a 4-star event) and would have had his eighth consecutive start at Badminton last weekend, but the event was cancelled by horrendous weather in England.
Could Lenamore be New Zealand's secret weapon, if he and Powell makes the team?
"He will be a very good athlete for London if he is selected," said the 39-year-old."He's small and nippy enough to cope with the undulations on the cross country course, and I think he would do well," Powell said over the weekend.
According to Equestrian Sport New Zealand, Powell and Lenamore were New Zealand's best performed individuals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with their 14th place performance. Powell was also part of the bronze-medal-winning team at the 2010 World Championships aboard MacMacdonald and has another horse, Boston Two Tip, who has also qualified for London. Powell lost one of her top horses, Mrs Tilly, in March 2012 when the horse suddenly became seriously ill and was put to sleep, according to the British newsmagazine Horse and Hound.
Powell and Lenamore will compete at the CIC 3* World Cup Qualifier at Chatsworth in England next week. The New Zealand eventing team will be announced in July.
At age 70, Japan's Hiroshi Hoketsu is set to ride in the dressage at London. Mark Todd will attempt to make the New Zealand team for his seventh Olympics. Between horses and riders, we may see lots of familiar faces in London, and have plenty of reasons to cheer them all on.