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June 26, 2012

A Tough Act To Follow

Aug. 24, 1990

The first World Equestrian Games were held in Stockholm, and Chronicle President Peter Winants was there to document it.

Sweden has been involved in hosting international horse sports for nearly eight decades. When the Olympics were held in Stockholm in 1912, equestrian sports disciplines were included for the first time. In 1956, the Olympics were in Australia, but an extended quarantine prevented shipping horses Down Under. Authorities in Sweden stepped forth to host the equestrian sports in the same stadium that was built for the 1912 Olympics.

On July 24-Aug. 5, the venerable Stockholm Olympic Stadium was the focal point for the 700 entrants in the first World Equestrian Games, a bigger-than-Olympics equestrian undertaking—because six disciplines of the Federation Equestrian International were held. In addition to the Olympic disciplines of show jumping, dressage and three-day eventing, Stockholm had championships in endurance riding, vaulting and combined driving.

Princess Anne, the president of the FEI and European Three-Day Event Champion in 1971, summed up the challenges faced by the World Equestrian Games organizers, the FEI and the Swedish Equestrian Federation: “The organization of World Championships within the span of two weeks in a small country like Sweden is more than a major undertaking. It is an unprecedented endeavor.”

In 1985, the Swedish Equestrian Federation initiated strategy planning. A year later, a 30-person staff was formed. By game time, 2,500-plus volunteers pulled off the administrative challenge under the direction of the professional staff.

Save for portions of the endurance race, the games were held within Stockholm’s lovely city limits. Dressage and show jumping were at the stadium. The vaulting arena and the dressage ring for three-day and driving were at Gardet Sportsfields, a 15-minute walk from the stadium. The cross-country course for the three-day and the marathon for driving were mostly in Royal Park, situated on a small island connected to Gardet by bridges.

The involvement of children was one of the most attractive aspects of the games. At least 500 Pony Club-age children were in the elaborate opening ceremonies. The younger ones hopped into the stadium on broom-stick horses; older children were mounted on ponies. Many of the ponies resembled miniature Swedish Warmbloods, with lovely head carriage and movement.

Families were out in force for the endurance phase of the three-day part of a crowd of 150,000. Many picnicked at spots where several fences were visible; others moved, or attempted to move, around the course.

The audiences at the vaulting arena included a high percentage of children, who rooted enthusiastically for the mostly teenage athletes.

Perhaps some of the children at the 1990 WEG will one day assume the awesome responsibility of putting on another six-discipline championship in Stockholm. For now, though, our congratulations go to the Swedish Equestrian Federation and the FEI for a job well done at the World Equestrian Games 1990. It will be a tough act to follow.

This article was first published on Aug. 24, 1990, in The Chronicle of the Horse. It's part of a series celebrating 75 years of Chronicle history.

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