California Riding Magazine • October, 2008

California Riding Adventure
The Olympics engage all five senses.

by Katie Ryan


How do I begin to describe my experience at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games? 

I watched the Freestyle Individual Dressage Finals at the equestrian venue in Hong Kong, but it wasn’t just the event that was memorable. It was the anticipation leading up to it that I will never forget. To truly relate to the experience, I would recommend everyone go to the Games and experience it for themselves. Sadly, the closing ceremonies have concluded and the torch has been snuffed. I can only try to relive that day and share the adventure sense by sense.

First and foremost, the venue looked impeccable. Upon arriving at the stadium, you were greeted by cheerful volunteers and an accommodating staff. After proceeding through highly organized security checkpoints, you were ushered into a courtyard housing the snacks and souvenirs. There were splashes of red and orange to be found everywhere, from the colorful banners to the free brochures. The short walk to the arena was shaded by big trees and lined by a reservoir. You entered the stadium to take your seat and stopped for a moment to take in the view: a massive ring, bright lights and Chinese pagodas that served as judging booths.      

What you heard was a medley of classic Olympic theme songs and traditional Chinese melodies. At one point, you heard the marching band perform Eye Of The Tiger and a number of half-hearted re-mixes from the 1980s. Those feeble tunes were short lived and the announcer abruptly cut them off. You listened in anticipation for English, straining through the French and Mandarin translations. There were only 15 minutes to go. 

While waiting, you felt the heat subside and were comforted by a breeze. The air was balmy but not sticky that night and you cooled off as the sun slowly set. You clutched your equivalent of a “golden ticket” from the Wonka Chocolate Factory, disbelieving that that three-by-seven-inch piece of flimsiness got you into such a magnificent place. 

Sitting close to the warm-up arenas, you could pick up the faint scent of horses. The dusty smell of sandy footing was a relief from the sterile smell of the stands. You munched on a crispy almond bar and sipped cold green tea as the clock counted down the final minutes. A few straggling spectators took to their seats as the first horse and rider made their entrance.    

And the rest is history: Anky van Grunsven stole the show as the last ride and won her record third gold medal. Her native flag was flanked by two from Germany as they were raised and the Netherlands’ national anthem belted throughout the stadium. At that moment, it really didn’t matter who had won and who had lost. For that one moment, we all shared in the exhilaration that bonded nations. It was the event of a lifetime. 

Katie Ryan is a high school senior who lives in the Santa Barbara area’s Los Olivos. She is a hunter/jumper rider, based at her family’s barn, and also runs on her school’s cross country team, takes Advanced Placement classes and is applying to colleges. Katie plans to compete next year at Thermal.