David O'Connor - Eventing's New Star
Eventing's New Star
As an adult O'Connor rose through the ranks of international eventing's CCI trials, graduating to the elite CCI*** ("three-star") and Olympic-qualifying CCI**** events such as the Fair Hill and Rolex trials in America, and the esteemed Badminton trials in England. Along the way he met and married Karen Lende, a world-class rider like her husband and a fellow member of the U.S. Equestrian Team. O'Connor also had the fortune to be paired with gifted eventing horses, including Wilton Fair, On a Mission, Rattle & Hum, and his two Olympic mounts, Giltedge and Custom Made.
After being named an alternate to the 1988 eventing team at the Olympic summer games in Seoul, Korea, O'Connor rode for the U.S. at the 1996 games in Atlanta,
where he partnered Giltedge to a team silver. High placements in the World Equestrian Games and the Pan Am Games led to another Olympic berth, in Sydney, Australia, September, 2000.
Olympic equestrian competition dates back to 1900, when military officers entered jumping classes. Dressage and the three-day event were added for the 1912 summer games in Stockholm, but it would be another forty years before civilians, and then women, were encouraged to participate. Today, equestrian competition is one of just two Olympic sports in which men and women compete as equals (the other being sailing, which features open competition as well as men-only and women-only races). Team and individual events are offered to qualified riders; O'Connor chose Giltedge as his team partner, and Custom Made as his individual mount.
In a three-day event, each rider must stay with the same horse for all three days. Day one belongs to dressage. A discipline derived from a horse's training for military purposes, modern dressage is often compared to ballet on horseback. Following a set pattern, horse and rider execute intricate changes of direction, gait, and tempo. Judges score the pair on fluidity of performance, correctness and obedience of the horse, and the pair's ability to meet each portion of the test.
On day two, horse and rider tackle the cross-country portion. The pair will cover as much as twenty miles in that one day, divided into four different classes of varying difficulty. The day culminates in the cross-country jump, considered the ultimate challenge of horse and rider. It can span several miles and contain as many as thirty-six jumping efforts. Because the obstacles are as solid as they are imposing, this phase is considered the most dangerous of all Olympic sports; a misjudged approach, imperfect takeoff, or awkward landing can send horse and rider sprawling. Day three of competition involves show-jumping, a test of timing and endurance after the rigors of the cross-country.