Today's major equestrian sports have developed principally from the 17th and 18th-century activities of academic horsemanship, the fox hunt and the steeplechase, although the use of horses in competitions dates back at least to the ancient Olympic Games.

History

Equestrian activities have been part of Canada's sporting scene since the early 1800s. The Montreal Fox Hunt was established in the late 1820s, and the first steeplechase race in British North America was held in Montréal in 1840. By 1873 women were active participants in hunts. A hunters' and jumpers' stake was part of a Toronto hunt meeting in 1875, and by the late 1880s competitions in hunting and jumping classes were included in the programs of agricultural fairs across Canada. The first Dominion equestrian championships took place in Toronto in 1895, with several events for both men and women. The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, held in Toronto every November since 1922, signalled the emergence of the Royal Horse Show, Canada's premier international equestrian event.

Equestrian sport in Canada is controlled by Equine Canada, formed in 1977 from the National Equestrian Federation of Canada (sport) and the Canadian Horse Council (industry), and formerly called the Canadian Equestrian Federation until 2002. Equine Canada membership includes all 10 provincial associations and many affiliated ones. Horse shows in Canada are licensed by Equine Canada; there are now more than 500 recognized shows. The Canadian Equestrian Team, a committee of Equine Canada, is responsible for fielding Canada's international teams in dressage, show jumping and the 3-day event, endurance and driving.

International Competition

The first modern Olympic equestrian events, held in Paris in 1900, consisted of show jumping, the long jump and the high jump. Dressage and the 3-day event were included with show jumping in Stockholm in 1912.

Women have long been active in equestrian competition, but were not admitted to the Olympics until 1952 in dressage, until 1956 in jumping and until 1964 in the 3-day event; equestrian sports is one of the few Olympic activities where women and men compete in the same events. They are also included in the Pan-American Games. The international governing body, Fédération equestre internationale, was founded in 1921.

Dressage

Dressage (from the French term for the training of horses) consists of a series of movements of varying difficulty that test the harmonious development of the physique and ability of a horse. (Individual and team competitions at the Olympics feature the Grand Prix test, the most accomplished form of dressage.)

International competition in dressage has attracted Canadians since the early 1950s. Christilot Hanson (now Hanson-Boylen) earned the distinction of membership on 4 consecutive Olympic teams. In 1972, she became the first Canadian to place in the top 12 international individual dressage riders, when she was 9th in the Olympics; in 1976, she was 7th. In Pan American Games competition, she won gold medals in 1971 and 1975. In team dressage, Hanson, Cynthia Neale and Zoltan Sztehlo won the gold medal at the 1971 Pan American Games; in 1975, Hanson-Boylen teamed with Barbara Stracey and Lorraine Stubbs to place 2nd at the Games; and the Canadian team was 5th at the 1976 Montréal Olympics. In 1984, Hansen-Boylen finished 10th individually and the team placed 7th. At the 1986 world championships (held at Cedar Valley, Ontario, the first time outside of Europe), Cynthia Ishoy [Neale] finished 7th individually and the team placed 5th. At the Seoul Olympics in 1988, Ishoy teamed with Ashley Nicoll, Eva-Marie Pracht and Gina Smith to win the bronze medal. Ishoy helped another team to a 10th-place finish at Sydney in 2000 but did not advance to the finals at Athens in 2004 in either the team or the individual events.

Eventing (3-Day Event)

The 3-day event, or "eventing," tests the all-round ability of horse and rider, and consists of dressage, endurance tests and show jumping, each on a separate day. These 3 disciplines have been an integral part of the summer Olympics since that time. Though they enjoy national success, Canadian eventers have not placed in the top-10 internationally.

Show Jumping

In show jumping, horse and rider jump a set course of obstacles. Nation's Cups, which include the Olympics, are premier invitational international competitions for jumpers.

Canadian equestrians have garnered their highest honours in show jumping. They began making international appearances as early as 1909, when a team of jumpers entered the Military Tournament in the International Horse Show at Olympia, London. Canadian Army teams continued to compete abroad after WWI; Major R.S. Timmis became the first Canadian to win an international contest, at the Toronto Coliseum (1923).

In 1926, the first official Canadian jumping team entered the Royal Winter Fair and competed in Boston and London. The military monopoly of Canadian teams continued until the early 1950s, when reduced cavalry units and a broadened equestrian base resulted in an increase in civilian participants.

Canada's first Olympic equestrian team (3-day event, Helsinki, 1952) had a majority of civilian members. At the 1956 Olympic equestrian events held in Stockholm, the Canadian 3-day team captured the bronze medal. Canadian 3-day eventers have also performed well at the Pan American Games, winning the team gold and individual bronze medals (Norman Elder) in 1959; the individual silver (Elder) in 1967; the team gold and individual silver (Clint Banbury) in 1971; and the team silver in 1975. The 1978 world championship 3-day event was won by Canada in Lexington, Kentucky.

In 1953, Dorinda Fuller [Hall-Holland] won the first FEI international jumping class event held at the Royal Horse Show. In 1967, James Day became the first Canadian to win an individual equestrian gold in the Pan American Games and the jumping team placed 3rd. On the final day of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, James Day, James Elder and Thomas Gayford thrilled Canada by winning the team gold medal. This same team won the North American Grand Prix and Royal Horse Show events in 1969, and the World Championship at La Baule, France, in 1970. In 1971 Canadian jumpers won the gold at the Pan American Games (Terrance Millar, individual bronze), the New York National Horse Show and the Royal Horse Show. The 1972 Olympic team placed 6th; James Day was 4th in the individual event, losing the bronze by one-quarter of a time fault. Barbara Simpson Kerr placed 3rd in the Ladies World Show Jumping Championships in 1974, and the Canadian team won the Pan American bronze medal in 1975. A highlight of the 1976 Olympics was Michel Vaillancourt's silver-medal performance in individual jumping.

With the equestrian boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the designated alternative competition was the Nation's Cup in Rotterdam, where the Canadians won the team gold medal. Canadians were also successful in the 1980 Washington International Horse Show pair relay test; the New York National Horse Show Cavcotte Challenge (1980) and speed class (1981); and the Nation's Cup in Sydney, Australia (1982). Mario Deslauriers won the jumping World Cup in Sweden in 1984. At Aachen, West Germany, in 1986, Gail Greenough won the world show-jumping championship with a no-fault performance.

At the Pan-Am Games in August 1987, show-jumper Ian Millar became the second Canadian to win an individual gold; Canada's 3-day team took the silver behind the US. Millar, riding Big Ben, won the World Cup in show jumping in both 1988 and 1989, the first horse and rider to win the competition in successive years. Millar has won the Volvo World Cup Canadian League Final 10 times, the only rider in the world to do so. In 1992, Millar became the first North American to register 100 Grand Prix victories. Millar and Big Ben were inducted into the Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. Big Ben is only the second horse (after Northern Dancer) to be inducted into the Hall. Millar currently holds the record for competing in more Olympics than any other Canadian athlete.

Canada's equestrian athletes became the surprise winners at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where Millar and his team of Eric Lamaze, Mac Cone and Jill Henselwood won silver, Canada's first medal in the sport since 1976. Later, Lamaze won the country's first individual equestrian medal (gold) and the second individual show jumping medal in Olympic history.

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.