July 1-7 is Canada History Week, and this year’s theme is Sport throughout History
Today’s the last official day of History Week 2015, so we thought it would be the perfect time to share a story filled with a bunch of firsts, including the first horse named Mr. T to show jump in West Germany (probably).
Considering how long humans and horses have been working together, show jumping, as a sport, is relatively new; the first major show jumping competition was held in England in 1907, though a form of show jumping did appear at the Olympic Games in 1900. At the time, there were no formal scoring metrics in place for the event; judges basically decided what score a jumper got based on their own opinions.
Canada’s first jumping team was formed in 1926, though it was primarily made up of military men, a practice which would continue on into the 50’s. By the late 70’s, the Canadian Equestrian team had become a force to be reckoned with, including winning the North American Grand Prix and Royal Horse Show events in 1969, claiming gold at the ’71 Pan-American Games, and Michel Vaillancourt’s silver-medal performance in individual jumping at the 1976 Olympic Games (Canada would not medal in equestrian events at the Olympics again until 2008).
For Alberta’s part, the Canadian Encyclopedia’s entry on equestrian sports notes that “An important development in Canadian equestrian sports was the construction in 1975 of the show-jumping and international competition complex at Spruce Meadows, south of Calgary, Alberta. The finest outdoor competition site in North America, it currently offers the richest show-jumping event in the world, attracting the best international riders.”
That legacy was on display on July 13, 1986. Gail Greenough was only 26 years old when she won gold at the World Show Jumping Championship in Aachen, West Germany. At the time, the Edmonton-born rider had been on the Canadian Equestrian team for only three years, and had little experience at championship events. Equestrian sports are one of the few sports where men and women compete together in the same event, but many of Canada’s victories had come from male riders. So having Greenough represent Canada at the five-day jumping event in West Germany was impressive on its own.
And then came her performance.
You may not have noticed it in the video because Greenough makes it look so easy, so fluid, but she and her horse, Mr. T, didn’t touch any of the beams and finished her run with no time penalty (meaning she came in under the allotted time for the run). It was a perfect run.
In the final, Greenough then went on to do it three more times. Except these three other times were with the other competitor’s horses. That’s right: they all swapped horses and Greenough put out three more clean runs. No penalties, no knockdowns.
Here’s her final run on a French horse Jappeloup de Luze:
At the end of the video, Greenough rides out of the stadium to a thunderous standing ovation from the West German crowd. She made history that day, becoming not only the youngest and first non-European winner of a World Show Jumping Championship, but the first Canadian and the first woman ever to do so. Today, she still holds three of the four distinctions (Brazilian Rodrigo Pessoa won in Rome in 1988).
After a career full of highlights – including gold medals at the National Cup, National Horse Show, International Grand Prix, National Grand Prix and the DuMaurier Grand Prix – Greenough was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1988, and the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 1994. She now operates Greenough Equestrian, and works out of Creekside Farm near Calgary, where she trains and teaches the next generation of Canadian show jumpers.
Thanks to the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame for their files