Equestrian sport, the Olympic Games and the French connection

Media updates
05 July 2024 Author: Louise Parkes

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same)….

French aristocrat, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was founder of the Modern Olympic Games and co-founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and this year, from 26 July to 11 August, the capital of his home country, Paris, will become only the second city in the world to host the Summer Olympics on three occasions.

The story of Olympic equestrian competition began at the second Games of the modern Olympiad which were staged in Paris in 1900, but the IOC didn’t officially recognise the equestrian results of that rather muddled edition for more than 50 years. The organisation of the 1912 Games in Stockholm, Sweden, was much improved with the hosts taking team gold in Jumping while the individual Jumping title went to Capt. Jean Carlou from France riding Mignon. However it wasn’t until the Games returned to Paris in 1924 that equestrian sport was firmly established.

The newly-created FEI, at the time with only 14 member National Federations, had spent the previous two years formulating a new Olympic programme. And that has essentially remained the same ever since, embracing the disciplines of Dressage, Eventing and Jumping.

To the fore

With military men to the fore, Switzerland’s Lt. Alphonse Gemuseus claimed individual Jumping gold in 1924 partnering Lucette. A total of 43 athletes from 11 nations - Belgium, the former Czechoslovakia, France, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and USA - competed and Sweden claimed the team title.

Dressage champion was Sweden’s General Ernst von Linder riding Piccolomini, and individual bronze went to Frenchman Xavier Lesage riding Plumarol. There was no team competition in Dressage in which 24 riders from nine nations - Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the former Yugoslavia - took part.

In Eventing the top step of the podium went to Dutchman Lt Adolphe van der Voort van Zijp who also helped his country claim the team title.

A total of 44 riders from 13 countries - Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and USA - battled it out for the Eventing medals.

A century later as Paris 2024 looms large son the horizon, the flags of all of these countries, some of which have undergone significant change, continue to fly high across equestrian sport, demonstrating the enduring legacy of those early days and the resilience, and appeal, of horses and horse sport during ever-changing times.


French riders have been consistently on the medal podium down the years with individual silver in Jumping for Pierre Bertran de Balanda and Papillon XIV and for Major Pierre Marion and Linon in Dressage at Amsterdam in 1928.

In Los Angeles in 1932 Major Marion, Xavier Lesage and André Jousseaume took the team title while Lesage claimed individual gold with Taine and Marion and Linon finished in individual silver medal position once again.

Jousseaume joined Daniel Gillois and Gerard de Ballore to take Dressage team silver in Berlin in 1936, and French Dressage was in really great shape when taking team gold again in London in 1948 where Jousseaume claimed individual silver. It was another strong year for the French with Bernard Chevallier and Aiglonne winning individual gold in Eventing and the Jumping partnership of Jean d’Orgeix and Sucre de Pomme taking individual bronze.

Pierre Jonquères d’Oriola claimed individual Jumping gold with Ali Baba in Helsinki in 1952 where Guy Lefrant took individual silver in Eventing and the ever-consistent André Jousseaume was individual bronze medallist in Dressage.

And d’Oriola was gold medallist again in Tokyo in 1964, this time with Lutteur B, while the French also claimed Jumping team silver.

In between those two spectacular wins was the Eventing team bronze secured by Guy Lefrant, Jehan Le Roy, Jack Le Goff and Pierre Durand in Rome in 1960 - the latter two names becoming more than legendary over subsequent years.

In Mexico in 1968 D’Oriola was joined by Jenou Lefèbvre and Marcel Rozier to take Jumping team silver while Jean-Jacques Guyon and Pitou were individual Eventing champions. And in Montreal in 1976 the Jumping team of Rozier, Hubert Parot, Michel Roche and Marc Roguet stood top of the podium.

In 1980 on home soil at the alternative Olympics in Fontainebleau it was the Eventers who would clinch shiny gold thanks to Joel Pons, Jean-Yves and Thierry Touzaint and Armand Bigot.


Perhaps one of the most memorable podium moments however was at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 where the reigning European champions Pierre Durand and his mighty little horse Jappeloup pinned the glorious Gem Twist ridden by America’s Greg Best into silver medal spot while Germany’s Karsten Huck and Nepomuck claimed the bronze. It was an unforgettable Olympic triumph that won its way into the hearts of the public worldwide and eventually onto the silver screen.

French horse-breeding has long been the envy of the world, but Jappeloup, who stood at just 15.2hh, was not classically bred for his discipline. By a French Trotter, Tyrol ll, out of a thoroughbred by Ourai he was tiny compared to many of the horses he competed against at the time. But what he lacked in stature he more than made up for in strength of character and self-belief. When the unlikely ones come out on top it is even more heart-warming, and he carried Durand to also take team bronze at that edition alongside Michel Robert, Frederic Cottier and Hubert Bourdy.

In Dressage Margit Otto-Crépin and Corlandus claimed individual silver in Seoul.

It was Jumping bronze again for the team of Robert, Bourdy, Eric Navet and Hervé Godignon in Barcelona in 1992, and then at Atlanta in 1996 Alexandra Ledermann and Rochet M landed individual Jumping bronze.

There were huge celebrations in Athens in 2004 when Nicolas Touzaint, Jean Teulère, Didier Courrèges, Cédric Lyard and Arnaud Boiteau claimed the Eventing team title, and then at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games the French equestrian teams were really on fire.

Eventers Karim Laghouag, Mathieu Lemoine, Astier Nicolas and Thibaut Vallette took team gold, and Nicolas also claimed individual silver with Piaf de B’Neville who he described as “the horse of my life, a good friend and a very, very nice person!”

And in Jumping, despite a series of setbacks in the lead-up to the final day, Roger-Yves Bost, Pénélope Leprevost, Philippe Rozier and Kevin Staut did exactly the same.

At the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games three years ago it was Eventing team bronze for Laghouag, Christopher Six and Nicolas Touzaint, and in just a few short weeks’ time the French can be expected to give it everything they’ve got once again in all three disciplines.


The fabulous Palace of Versailles will be the most extraordinary backdrop to the equestrian events at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games during which other sports will also be located at iconic venues including archery at Esplanade des Invalides, fencing at the Grand Palais, skateboarding at La Concorde and beach volleyball in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

Equestrian athletes and their horses from all around the globe will soon be gathering in the French capital as the final preparations are put in place. In a world where so much has changed over the last 100 years the unique bond between horse and rider continues to fascinate the public, and the stories of courage, determination and pure brilliance as man and horse face the Olympic challenge together will soon begin to unfold once more.

After clinching that very special individual gold in Seoul in 1988, Pierre Durand described his delight at sharing that special moment with his equine partner. “Few men have been as fortunate as I am today because I have touched my dream. I wish I could cut the medal in half and share it with Jappeloup!”, he said.

The French connection with Olympic equestrian events has been long and distinguished, and at Paris 2024 the host-nation competitors will be as determined as ever to do their country proud.

The City of Light awaits, with the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad getting underway in only just over three weeks’ time and with equestrian sport still very much at the heart of it all…..so don’t miss a hoofbeat….