Male and female riders may now compete as equals, but a few skilled horsewomen paved the way in a historically masculine sport, finds Jennifer Donald
Since a lady first chose to ride astride instead of side-saddle, female riders have been breaking the glass ceiling in the equestrian world. Equestrianism is the only Olympic sport other than sailing in which men and women can compete on equal terms, but the playing field hasn’t always been level and we are still waiting for a female showjumper or eventer to win individual gold at the Games.
In 1984, the all-conquering Ginny Elliot, then Holgate, and Karen Stives of the USA became the first female eventers to win individual medals at the Los Angeles Olympics. Despite it not being recorded in the record books, Torrance Watkins had won an individual bronze four years previously at the alternative Olympics in Fontainebleau, but it would be Ginny and Priceless who made official history when they won bronze in the year Mark Todd took gold on Charisma, with Karen in silver on Ben Arthur.
“I’m not sure a big deal was made of it at the time and I suppose the fact I won a medal, and a team one as well, was so overwhelming that you didn’t really think about being the first woman,” says Ginny. “It wasn’t until someone mentioned it not long after that I realised no woman had won an individual medal until I rocked up. So that was a great thrill.
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