The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) are now history. Conducted at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, it was the first time that WEG has been held in the United States. In Europe, WEG is considered a major sporting event.
If you're not a horse person, this is probably news to you.
Like other "orphan sports," television coverage of equestrian competitions outside of racing is rare and difficult to locate. If you don't have cable or satellite TV, or even if you do but haven't paid extra for the horse-related channels, you get to view equestrian sports every four years during the Summer Olympics. It's not unlike being an avid fencer, yet a little less humiliating than being a curler (the butt of Winter Olympic jokes).
NBC squeezed in coverage of WEG between golf and football, and the Universal Sports Station offered additional free coverage plus more hours of live feed for those who subscribed to the service. Better broadcast coverage than the networks generally provide, but very scant for some of the events that might have interested the general viewership.
Reining, the cross country phase of eventing, and show jumping garnered the most coverage. NBC/Universal deigned to broadcast the top three dressage freestyle rides. Universal Sports did a live broadcast of the Top Four show jumpers -- a nail biter and display of the type of sportsmanship horse folks take for granted. But vaulting, combined driving, and para-dressage received cursory coverage at best.
I can appreciate that cross country as the same appeal to the general audience as grand prix and NASCAR racing. Viewers watch primarily for the inevitable crash. And reining is an American sport conducted in recognizable western wear with exciting spins, slides, and rollbacks. Show jumping is easy to understand -- jump higher and faster without knocking down anything.
However, I think the para-dressage riders would have offered inspiring human-interest stories as well as an appreciation for their phenomenal equestrian accomplishments.
NBC really dropped the ball on vaulting. It combines horses, Olympic-style gymnastics, and glittery apparel. Pretty girls and handsome guys demonstrating grace and athleticism. Think it's tough vaulting off a stationary horse in the Summer Olympics? Try a large warmblood at a canter!
If you find the cross country phase of eventing thrilling -- consider the excitement of driving four horses around and through obstacles! The spit and polish turnout of the dressage phase, the challenge of cross country, and the precision of the arena obstacle course -- combined driving has the potential to absorb the general viewer.
Sadly, it wasn't to be.
During WEG, I flipped through the sports section of the morning paper seeking any reference to WEG. As expected -- nothing. Not even a mention of the local rider who was long-listed to compete.
Yeah, yeah. I know. It's all about money. Beer, cola, snack food, and Viagra ads. Rolex, Ariat, and Cosequin can't compete against Old Spice.
So we equestrian-sports enthusiasts commiserate with curlers, badminton aficionados, fencers, and all the other followers of "orphan sports" while we grumble about the coverage (or lack thereof for the women) afforded beach volleyball.
Hey! Equestrians wear Spandex, too!