The best part? Absolutely no one is shocked.
Over the last century and a half, we’ve had the rare opportunity to witness standout achievements by women in gender-blind athletic contests.
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon as an officially registered competitor, despite continued assaults by a race manger. In 1973, Billie Jean King finally made self-proclaimed chauvinist Bobby Riggs shut his pie hole when she crushed him in straight sets during the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis exhibition match.
And now, some 50 years later, women are once again having a moment in the most audacious of equestrian disciplines: Five currently sit in the top-10 in the FEI Eventing World Athlete Rankings.
As the only Olympic sport where men and women compete against one another, women in the modern equestrian era have always trickled in and out of the top-10. But large-scale representation is very much a matter of discipline.
The FEI Dressage World Rankings, for example, currently boasts six women in the top-10—seven if you count double for Denmark’s Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour, who ranks on two different horses. Show jumping, on the other hand, contains exactly zero women in its top-10, and hasn’t for some time. The world’s highest-ranked lady rider is the USA’s Laura Kraut at no. 17.
In recent decades, eventing has boasted solid representation by women at the world-class level. But it’s also blazed its own path, at least in terms of gender-neutral extreme sports.
Following in the footsteps of greats such as Nina Gardner and Karen O’Connor, British eventer Mary King reshaped the notion that women at the five-star level had to choose between a competitive career and—if they so chose—a family. That’s now become the norm in the sport in the generations that followed, and no time is more reflective of that idea than the present.
Of the best 10 eventers in the world at the moment, half of them are women. Of those, four out of five are also mothers.
The top-ranked riders include no. 3 (and likely rising) Rosalind Canter (GBR), no. 5 Jonelle Price (NZL), no. 6 Tamra Smith (USA), no. 7 Yasmin Ingham (GBR), and no. 9 Piggy March (GBR). That’s a big deal! And not only because of what it takes to master the “triathlon” of equestrian, or because the thought of even a novice run around a cross-country course is enough to make most amateur riders of all disciplines call up their mammas on speed-dial.
No. The reason that female domination in the FEI World Eventing Rankings is such a big deal right now is that it isn’t a big deal. Said differently, the sport of eventing has managed to accomplish something that show jumping, at present, couldn’t dream of. They’ve made the news unremarkable. Ho-hum even.
Because when it comes to this beyond-bonkers sport where riders gallop at break-neck speed over massive trenches and at mostly solid fences—some of them half-submerged in water—the women of modern eventing have been BOSSES for years. So much so that we hardly expect them to do otherwise.
Look no further than the all-female squad from Great Britain that just took the 2023 European Championship by storm—among them Kitty King, Laura Collett, Ingham, and Canter—the last of whom also rode away with the individual gold medal. What’s more: the ladies from England literally crushed the competition, winning by a margin of 27 points, and leading the entire time in all three events.
This marked the second major championship title for 26-year-old Ingham, who is also the reigning World Champion thanks to her victory aboard Banzai Du Loir in 2022. A major achievement, to be sure. But hardly a novel one, of late, for young female eventers.
In 2020, Germany’s Julia Krajewski became the first woman ever to win the individual gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Two years before that, Canter earned individual World Championship gold in 2018 aboard Allstar B. In fact, with Canter’s individual gold medal at the 2023 European Championship, she joins an exclusive list of just six riders in history, according to Equiratings, to hold both titles.
Guess who four of the other five were? BRITISH WOMEN.
So shout it from the rooftops, ladies—or better yet, to all those football-loving dad-bros at your PTA. When it comes to actual bad-ass sports, there are few more daring than eventing. And when it comes to eventing, the future is decidedly female.