The eighth edition of the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) is being held at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina, USA. The games, which are held every four years, halfway between the Summer Olympic Games, are organised by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) and are scheduled to run between September 11 to September 23.
The WEG in its current single-venue format has been held since 1990 and usually lasts about two weeks. The host venue is selected by FEI through a bidding process and is awarded to different venues around the world. The 2018 event is the second time that the WEG is being held in the USA, after the 2010 event in Kentucky. The 1990 event was held in Stockholm followed by The Hague, Rome, Jerez, Aachen, while the 2014 event was held in Normandy, France. The current WEG format of a single-venue hosting the multi-discipline event was preceded by the ten FEI individual disciplines being held at separate championships, quite often in different countries.
Taking both formats together, Germany is undoubtedly the most successful nation in the competition having won 36 gold, 25 silver and 25 bronze medals for a total tally of 87. Second on the list is Great Britain with a tally of 49 medals, and the Netherlands third with 46. The UAE is by far the most successful Asian nation with three golds, and one each of silver and bronze. Saudi Arabia is second with a silver.
All the events held at the WEG fall under eight disciplines. Dressage is an Olympic discipline that may be described as equestrian ballet as it is the ultimate expression of equestrian elegance. Para-Equestrian Dressage has the same basic rules as conventional Dressage, but the riders are divided into different categories based on disabilities. Show Jumping, another Olympic discipline, requires a mix of courage, control and technical ability. Driving involves a carriage being pulled by four horses and consists of three phases: Dressage, Marathon and Cones.
Endurance is the marathon equivalent of the equestrian world which tests the speed and stamina of both, the horse and the rider. Reining is designed to show the athletic ability of ranch-type horses in an arena setting by emulating their working movements. Vaulting may simply be described as gymnastics on horseback and whose origins stretch back at least two thousand years. Eventing, the third Olympic equestrian discipline represented at WEG, is the triathlon of the games as it combines dressage, cross-country, and jumping, all done by the same horse. Show Jumping, Dressage, Eventing, Driving, Endurance and Vaulting were part of the first five editions of the WEG, while Reining was added in 2002 and Para-Dressage in 2010.
For Riders and Horses hoping to compete at the WEG, the national equestrian federations have to put forward the candidates’ names in each discipline within a stipulated time, and participants have to meet certain minimum qualification and technical criteria as outlined in the official ‘Qualification Procedures’ of FEI.
According to fei.org, at the inaugural event in 1990, a total of 37 countries were represented by 421 participants. By 2014, the number of countries represented had doubled to 74, and the number of participants and horses had increased to 1,000 each; it represents an increase of over 400 per cent. Over half a million spectators had attended the events. It was covered by 1,900 accredited media entities from 52 countries resulting in a 670 per cent increase in TV coverage compared to 2010. The Games Village saw a footfall of 200,000 visitors with 300 exhibitors.
The UAE made its debut at the WEG at the 2002 event in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. It was also the year that the UAE team won its first WEG Gold in the Endurance event; and that too in some style.
In 2002, Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, then the 16-year-old son of the team captain Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, made history when he became the youngest rider in the Endurance event to win the Gold. Sheikh Ahmed rode the 13-year-old Australian bred Anglo-Arab Bowman.
After failing to win any medals in a gruelling 2006 edition where just 40 per cent of the participants managed to finish the course, the UAE team returned in 2010 determined to make amends and won its first team Gold. In the individual event, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum took the silver medal with Ciel Oriental, and his son, His Excellency Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum took bronze. In 2014, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum won the individual gold on Yamamah.
In this year’s event, the UAE team is being led by the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum where 68 nations are reported to be participating represented by 702 participants in 29 events.