The Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo, Japan has begun, with the first equestrian event underway today, Saturday, July 23.
The team and individual qualifier for Dressage—the Grand Prix—will take place over the course of two days, with riders broken into six groups of 10 (three groups per day) based on World ranking.
The top two athletes from each group, and the six athletes with the next best scores (including ties) will qualify for the individual final, the Grand Prix Freestyle. Meanwhile, the best eight teams (including all teams tied for 8th place) qualify for the final team competition, in which the test will be the Grand Prix Special.
All but one Team USA rider will (collected) canter down centerline on Sunday. Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo kicked things off for the U.S. dressage squad at 9:15 p.m. local time in Japan. Canada also has one combination competing Saturday: Chris von Martels and Eclips are part of “Group B” with a ride time of 6:21 a.m. EDT. (More on both later!)
The First Horse Inspection concluded smoothly, but its lead-up was not without complication. Team USA’s Traveling reserve pair, Nick Wagman and Don John were withdrawn just ahead of the inspection due to a minor injury to Don John. The team released an official statement:
“After arriving safely at the venue in Tokyo, Don John sustained a minor injury. He has continued to show improvement, but after further evaluation with the team veterinarian, the decision was made to withdraw him before the start of competition out of extraordinary precaution, and though it is believed he would have passed the horse inspection if presented, the team felt that he should not be considered to compete to ensure he has the proper time to fully heal.”
Therefore, just three combinations were presented for inspection. Adrienne Lyle and Salvino, Steffen Peters and Suppenkasper, and Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo all passed this critical first step to medal contention.
Of course, the overwhelming favorite for individual gold in Tokyo is Isabell Werth (GER), already equestrian sport’s most successful Olympic athlete with a remarkable six—that is not a typo—gold medals. As the (unsurprisingly) world’s top ranked dressage rider, she will be the last to compete in the Grand Prix on Sunday aboard the 17-year-old Westphalian mare, Bella Rose 2—already an individual World Equestrian Games and European Championships gold medalist.
Adrienne Lyle and Salvino arguably present the best chance for the U.S. following the retirement of Laura Graves’ great Verdades. Lyle and Salvino have won six consecutive FEI events since February 2020, pre-pandemic. Three of those wins have garnered scores above 80 percent—in both Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special. Team USA stalwart Steffen Peters and his mount Suppenskasper are also undoubtedly a combination to watch, particularly should they make the individual final. Their Grand Prix Freestyle routine is one to which you can’t help but dance along.
Canada’s Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu and All In join Peters and Werth in the final Grand Prix group “F” on Sunday.
Eventing competitors have landed in Tokyo and are familiarizing themselves with the venues—plural. With cross-country, they are the only equestrian sport that will take place at two separate locations, the Baji Koen Equestrian Park and Sea Forest Cross Country Course.
Eventing athletes have their First Horse Inspection on Thursday, July 29. Eventing Dressage gets underway Friday, July 30.
Boyd Martin gave Tsetserleg a “light cross country school” Thursday.
Show jumping combinations are just beginning to depart quarantine in Aachen for Tokyo and will be the last equestrian sport to compete at the Olympics. Their First Horse Inspection is Saturday, July 31, with the Individual Qualifier set for Tuesday, August 3. Unlike previous Games, individual competition will precede team competition in show jumping.
McLain Ward shared a most memorable photo of himself and USA Jumping’s first reserve, Brian Moggre: