|A final salute to the 2012 Olympics: Adrienne Lyle and Wizard of Team USA. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
If an Olympic Games and a Paralympic Games are as wonderful as the ones in London 2012, their conclusion brings a bit of wistful sadness. It's hard to see something so special come to an end.
As joyous as the performances and as thrilling as Great Britain's hard-earned victories were, many US dressage fans are feeling more down in the dumps than usual. After having won team bronze from 1992 to 2004, we'd become accustomed to our status as dressage medalists. But London was the second Olympics in a row to leave the American dressage team off the podium.
Depending on whom you ask, the medal-less status is anything from a nonissue to a crisis. Some argue, reasonably, that any horse and rider can have an off day, and that failure to medal in such exalted company is no reason to hang one's head in shame. After all, those in London had made it to the Olympics -- no easy feat!
Others perceive that, at the high-performance level, as it's called, competition is a big-stakes affair. Medals, and the promise of more medals to come, help lure donors and sponsors. Or to put it more bluntly, people tend to back a winning team but few want to back a loser. To further complicate matters, by not medaling, a nation must qualify to participate in a future Olympics, meaning that we need to fight to get in the game for Rio 2016.
The question that many are asking is: Why did the US not medal, and what can we do about it?
The consensus seems to be that, although American riders are top-notch, our crop of horses, at least at the time of the London Games, was outclassed, eclipsed by a new breed of superhorses (Exhibit A: Valegro). So the solution to the problem would seem to be: Buy Valegro or horses of his quality, or breed a Valegro or horses of that quality.
In the months and years to come, we shall see whether our rising stars -- Wizard, Paragon, Legolas, Pikko del Cerro HU, and others -- are of that caliber. And I have a feeling that sales of top dressage horses will engender even more scrutiny than in the past, now that we see how assembling a dressage dream team of horseflesh vaulted Team GB from pretty much nowhere to Olympic gold in a short four years or so.
Great Britain's lottery helped to fund its equestrian teams. In the US, we depend largely on the largesse of private sponsor/owners. But presumably even wealthy patrons don't have unlimited resources. Can American dressage find the necessary funding? Should doing so be the priority of those who govern our sport? These are not easy questions to answer. The only thing I'm willing to bank on at this point is that these issues will receive a lot of attention and debate over the next four years.