Equestrian

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FEI Cites an 83% Increase in International Competition as Youth Participation in Equestrian Sport Sees an Unprecedented Swell

27 Jul, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Its numbers may not be replacing those of soccer any time soon, but if the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) is correct, the big wave in youth sports will be conducted on horseback.

According to an article in Inside The Games, more young people are being drawn to equestrian sport than ever before ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics, the sport's governing body has claimed.

Sabrina Ibáñez, FEI’s secretary general, mentioned a boost among youth as the horse and rider combinations for next month's Olympics were confirmed.

“Since 2007 there has been an 83 percent increase in the number of international competitions, and young people are being drawn into equestrian sport in greater numbers than ever before,” said Ibáñez. “Our sport really appeals to the youth culture. The Brazilian dressage team is a good example, with all four members below the age of 25, and one of them holding the distinction of being the youngest equestrian athlete at these Games.”

The youngest competitor, age 18, is Brazil's dressage athlete Giovana Prada Pass. One of her rivals will be New Zealand's 62-year-old Julie Brougham, which the FEI says highlights the appeal of the sport across the age-groups.

In all, 200 horse and rider combinations will be represented in Rio, from 43 countries. They will compete across the disciplines of jumping, dressage and eventing.

Closer to home, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) has remarked that youth participation is the key to growing horse sports. In an article published online in NJ.com/True New Jersey, it was noted that in a meeting in 2015, the USEF’s CEO Chris Welton drew applause during a presentation when he said one objective of the national governing body was to “reduce the number of rule book changes by 40 percent.”

In a sport that thrives on tradition, that was a paradigm shift, and spoke to the wish to bring in a younger demographic. Making the sport more accessible and understandable is of the utmost importance.

In an interview with Sports Destination Management, Colby Connell, USEF’s chief marketing officer, noted, “We are working to be very media- and spectator-friendly; in fact, that’s something that comes up a lot for us. In some ways, (equestrian) seems like a secret society. We want to help people understand it better and be able to enjoy it, the way they enjoy so many other sports.”

The USEF’s president, Christine Tauber, noted that it was essential for equestrian to change with the times in order to keep itself relevant.  Tauber mentioned the changes planned that will affect “future Olympic formats, to include more mixed events for men and women -- now, we have a leg up on that -- as well as sports that appeal to youth and competitions made for TV.”

Already, we have seen three-day eventing retitled “equestrian triathlon,” and more changes are afoot, according to USEF.

 Even at the NCAA level, equestrian is an emerging sport for women, although it faces some formidable hurdles at the moment as it struggles to maintain that status.

Leah Fiorentino, executive director of the National College Equestrian Association, has noted that more than 800 women now compete in varsity equestrian programs sponsored by 23 NCAA schools. In addition, 11 other Division I schools have expressed interest in starting an NCAA team.

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