Dave Barry: I came to see the classiest Olympic competition

08/08/2012 12:01 AM

09/08/2014 5:59 PM

I came out here to watch the Olympic equestrian competition, which is being held in a lovely park next to the Thames.

The word “equestrian” comes from two Greek words: “eques,” meaning “horses,” and “trian,” meaning “being ridden by people with large inheritances and names like Edwina Ponce-Twickendale.” There was indeed a time when the only people who could participate in horse-related sports were wealthy members of the nobility. But times have changed; in the 21st century, equestrian sports, even at the Olympic level, are wide open to anybody, regardless of birth or background, who has billions of dollars.

This is definitely the classiest Olympic competition. The crowd is well-dressed and politely applauds all the competitors; nobody ever boos or shouts “YOU SUCK, EDWINA!” This is the competition where members of the royal family sometimes show up to sit in their special box and root for their relatives, as well as the relatives of their horses.

There weren’t any royals here the day I came. So far the closest I’ve come to seeing royalty was at Hamleys, a large toy store on Regent Street in London, where relentlessly playful staff members assault you with bubble-blowing guns on your way in. On the fifth floor of Hamleys you can see the royal family — the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince Harry, Prince William and Prince’s William’s lovely new wife the Duchess of Something — all made, life-size, out of Legos. They’re standing at a railing and waving to the shoppers, except, of course, the Queen, because that would be undignified. The Queen, as befits a Lego figure of her stature, is seated with one of her little Lego royal dogs in a separate area, near a display rack of “Toy Story 3” merchandise.

The Lego royals are a big hit; people line up to get their photos taken with them. The Brits are crazy for the royal family, and for a very good reason, which is: I have no idea. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure the royals are fine people. I just don’t get why the Brits get so excited about them. Granted, in the United States we get excited about our own celebrities, such as George Clooney and Lady Gaga. But these are people who have, in their professional lives, accomplished something concrete, such as being handsome or attending an awards ceremony wearing a dress made entirely out of meat. Whereas the royals, as far as I can tell, mainly sit in their special boxes and watch events with expressions ranging from mild interest to gastrointestinal distress.

But getting back to the Olympic equestrian competition: I watched the jumping event, in which a horse carrying a live human on its back must run around a course and jump over a series of obstacles. When the horse finishes, everybody applauds politely, and then another horse goes. That may not sound riveting to you, but take it from me: When you’re right there, watching these expensive and highly trained animals perform in person, it really isn’t that riveting. At least it didn’t rivet me. I have a suggestion that I think would vastly increase the excitement level of the equestrian jumping competition, a suggestion I can summarize in one word: Defense.

Picture this: A horse is racing toward an obstacle. It launches itself into the air. Everything is looking good for this horse, but suddenly UH-oh! There’s another airborne horse, coming over the obstacle from the opposite direction, sending the unspoken but clear message: “Out of the way! This is MY obstacle!”

Of course, for safety, the horses would be required to wear helmets, which for the record — and I think this is outrageous — they do not do now. Also I think the riders should wear protective suits made of a sturdy material such as metal. Maybe they could also carry lances. Then you’d have yourself a truly modern Olympic sport.

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