Is Equestrian Gender Equality Upset by Female Domination in Only Olympic Head-to-Head Sports?

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World individual champion Isabell Werth on Bella Rose. © 2018 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Sept. 2, 2019

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

As many sports still struggle with gender equality, equestrian as the only Olympic event of men and women competing directly head-to-head has become so dominated by females some questions are being asked about the future of men in horse sports.

Two thirds of the 29,731 athletes in the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) database of competitors in the Olympics disciplines of dressage, eventing and jumping were females, with 83.10% in dressage, 73.175% in eventing and 61.311% in jumping, according to calculations by dressage-news.com as of Sept. 1.

France, Germany, United States, Great Britain and Italy, the five nations with the largest number of participants in Olympic sports, have significantly more females than males in all three disciplines.

Of the major equestrian nations, perhaps the greatest dominance of females is the U.S., 91.15% of a total of 780 in dressage, 91.12% of 834 in eventing and 84.56% of 972 in jumping.

Of the 14 nations so far qualified for a dressage team start at the Tokyo Games next July, only three countries–host Japan, Brazil and Portugal–have more men than women in all three disciplines, Spain has more males than females in dressage and eventing while men dominate jumping in Ireland.

The issue of gender balance was raised earlier this year by Dr. Dennis Peiler, managing director of the German Federation Sports Department, a nation regarded as pre-eminent in horse sports whose riders are individual world champions in both dressage, Isabell Werth on Bella Rose, and jumping, Simone Blum on DSP Alice. Great Britain’s Rosalind Canter on Allstar B is individual eventing world champion.

A continuing decline in the number of males participating in horse sports in Germany, he said in reporting on equestrian pursuits covered by the federation, was almost completely offset by an increase in the number of women.

“Our goal must be to have the best possible gender balance, and I urge everyone to start projects to empower the boys–we’ve been better off in this area,” he said.

The preponderance of women competitors has also brought with it more female trainers.

“We currently have around 85 percent licensed trainers and 90 percent of the first-time exhibitors,” he said of the growing female force, “so we have to be careful that the male role models are not lost here.”

Monica Theodorescu, a three-time Olympic team gold medalist, in 2012 became Germany’s first female national coach. Debbie McDonald is the current U.S. coach and Nathalie zu Sayn Wittgenstein for Denmark. Kyra Kyrklund, Finland’s six-time Olympian, was coach of the Swedish team.

The 2016 Olympic dressage team medals podium of Gerany (gold), Great Britain (silver), USA (bronze) where the the women outnumbered the men eight to four. © 2018 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

In Sweden, according to an article in Conversation, increased participation by women in equestrian sport there has been perceived as an “undesirable feminization” of the sport rather than a symbol of gender equality. Equestrian reporters in Sweden describe the situation as more nuanced.

Whatever the number of riders in horse sports, both the FEI and the national federations of most of the powerful equestrian countries are run by men.

The president, both vice presidents, and 10 of the other 14 members of the FEI Board–including chairs of the dressage, eventing and jumping committees–are men.

Of 22 national federations with significant dressage participation including those of the 14 teams qualified for Tokyo, only Austria, Canada and Russia are headed by women.

Women have participated in Olympic equestrian sport going back to 1900 and in 1952 teams were mixed for the first time.

However, the 1972 Olympics in Munich saw a breakthrough when Germany’s Liselott Linsenhoff on Piaff won the first individual dressage gold medal in direct competition with men. Since then, women have won every individual gold except when Reiner Klimke on Ahlerich took the title in 1984, the same year that an all-male squad, German, was the last to win team gold.

At the 2018 World Equestrian Games, with starting lineups substantially larger than at the Olympics, of the 77 rider and horse combinations in dressage 46 were women and 31 men. The German gold medal team was made up of three females and one male, USA’s silver medal squad was the same while Great Britain’s bronze medal unit was the opposite with three men and one woman. All three individual medalists were women.

Men way outnumbered women in jumping with 97 males to 27 females. But the USA gold medal team was made up of two women and two men, Sweden’s silver medal squad was three men and one woman and Germany’s bronze medal team two females and two males. Individual gold went to a female, the silver and bronze medals going to males.

A breakdown of Olympic sport numbers for selected countries:

ARG
Dressage 8 F: 6 M: 2
Jumping 162 F: 68 M: 94
Eventing 21 F: 1 M: 20
AUS
Dressage 197 F: 173 M: 24 – 87.8%
Jumping 155 F: 92 M: 63
Eventing 398 F: 318 M: 80
AUT
Dressage 81 F: 62 M: 19 – 76.5%
Jumping 312 F: 223 M: 89
Eventing 59 F: 35 M: 24
BEL
Dressage 117 F: 94 M: 23 – 80.3%
Jumping 920 F: 477 M: 443
Eventing 142 F: 76 M: 66
BLR
Dressage 36 F: 35 M: 1
Jumping 20 F: 5 M: 15
Eventing 18 F: 13 M: 5
BRA
Dressage 39 F: 9 M: 30 – 23%
Jumping 284 F: 96 M: 188
Eventing 48 F: 1 M: 47
CAN
Dressage 182 F: 169 M: 13 – 92.8%
Jumping 298 F: 224 M: 74
Eventing 162 F: 145 M: 17
CHI
Dressage 17 F: 6 M: 11
Jumping 49 F: 20 M: 29
Eventing 21 F: 1 M: 20
COL
Dressage 23 F: 16 M: 7
Jumping 106 F: 45 M: 61
Eventing 4 F: 0 M: 4
CZE
Dressage 41 F: 35 M: 6
Jumping 172 F: 121 M: 51
Eventing 39 F: 25 M: 14
DEN
Dressage 128 F: 113 M: 15 – 88.28%
Jumping 362 F: 295 M: 67
Eventing 69 F: 60 M: 9
ESP
Dressage 176 F: 84 M: 92 – 47.72%
Jumping 590 F: 300 M: 290
Eventing 76 F: 34 M: 42
EST
Dressage 21 F: 20 M: 1
Jumping 95 F: 71 M: 24
Eventing 12 F: 8 M: 4
FIN
Dressage 64 F: 62 M: 2 – 96.87
Jumping 167 F: 149 M: 18
Eventing 42 F: 35 M: 7
FRA
Dressage 147 F: 108 M: 39 – 73.46%
Jumping 3,517 F: 2,199 M: 1,318 – 62.52%
Eventing 574 F: 334 M: 240 – 58.188%
GBR
Dressage 137 F: 114 M: 23 – 83.21%
Jumping 916 F: 664 M: 252 – 72.48
Eventing 1,115 F: 918 M: 197 – 82.33%
GER
Dressage 434 F: 368 M: 66 – 84.79%
Jumping 1,865 F: 1,148 M: 717 – 61.55%
Eventing 539 F: 413 M: 126 – 76.62%
HUN
Dressage 35 F: 28 M: 7 – 80%
Jumping 207 F: 109 M: 98
Eventing 35 F: 24 M: 11
IRL
Dressage 28 F: 22 M: 6 – 78.57%
Jumping 401 F: 164 M: 237
Eventing 254 F: 175 M: 79
ITA
Dressage 103 F: 79 M: 24 – 76.69%
Jumping 1,880 F: 1,155 M: 725 – 61.43%
Eventing 232 F: 158 M: 74 – 68.10%
JPN
Dressage 15 F: 5 M: 10 – 33.33%
Jumping 72 F: 22 M: 50
Eventing 22 F: 2 M: 20
MEX
Dressage 24 F: 10 M: 14 – 41.66%
Jumping 240 F: 67 M: 173
Eventing 13 F: 2 M: 11
NED
Dressage 191 F: 168 M: 23 – 87.95%
Jumping 647 F: 376 M: 271
Eventing 110 F: 79 M: 31
NOR
Dressage 52 F: 50 M: 2 – 96.15%
Jumping 660 F: 619 M: 41
Eventing 25 F: 24 M: 1
NZL
Dressage 28 F: 26 M: 2 – 92.85%
Jumping 76 F: 48 M: 48
Eventing 147 F: 116 M: 31
POL
Dressage 71 F: 62 M: 9 – 87.32%
Jumping 522 F: 356 M: 166
Eventing 84 F: 52 M: 32
POR
Dressage 60 F: 26 M: 34 – 43.33%
Jumping 279 F: 114 M: 185
Eventing 11 F: 1 M: 10
RSA
Dressage 35 F: 25 M: 10
Jumping 80 F: 49 M: 31
Eventing 19 F: 14 M: 5
RUS
Dressage 219 F: 208 M: 11 – 94.97%
Jumping 337 F: 252 M: 85
Eventing 74 F: 51 M: 23
SLO
Dressage 16 F: 16 M: 0
Jumping 48 F: 30 M: 18
Eventing 2 F: 1 M: 1
SUI
Dressage 40 F: 36 M: 4 – 90%
Jumping 680 F: 495 M: 185
Eventing 70 F: 52 M: 18
SVK
Dressage 12 F: 9 M: 3
Jumping 132 F: 88 M: 44
Eventing  0 F:  M:
SWE
Dressage 155 F: 144 M: 11 – 92.90%
Jumping 411 F: 343 M: 68 – 83.45%
Eventing 138 F: 118 M: 20 – 85.50%
UKR
Dressage 61 F: 51 M: 10 – 83.60%
Jumping 78 F: 38 M: 40
Eventing 6 F: 4 M: 2
USA
Dressage 780 F: 711 M: 69 – 91.15%
Jumping 972 F: 822 M: 150 – 84.56%
Eventing 834 F: 760 M: 74 – 91.12%

Among nations with the smallest participation in Olympic horse sports are the world’s two most populous nations, China and India.

In China, a total of 20, 12 females and eight males, are registered as dressage participants by the FEI, with 303, 102 females and 201 males, in jumping with 22, 1 female and 21 males, in eventing. In India the numbers are six females and four males for a total of 10 in dressage, three females and 14 males in jumping and one female and 51 males in eventing. India is the birthplace of modern polo with about 35 clubs.