The Floating City: Greenwich Park’s Olympic Equestrian Venue

After Olympic Games of the past, equestrian has left behind a “legacy” for its host city; a facility that can continue to be used for horse events for years to come. But London will mark for first time that when the Games are over, everything will disappear.

But why? Here at Greenwich Park, competitors are riding on sacred ground that has been protected and largely untouched since 1433, when it first became a park. The Royal Family used to hunt here, and citizens of Great Britain have been coming here to relax and play since the 1800s. The park is a World Heritage Site and a beloved feature amongst the vast urban landscape of London. Best of all for horse lovers, holding the equestrian events here means that for the first time in a long time, equestrian sport is truly being held in the heart of a city, and is a true part of the Games.

When the idea was broached to host the equestrian events here, locals opposed to the plan organized themselves into protest groups, so concerned were they that allowing such an event would permanently damage the sacred park grounds. 

Greenwich Park Olympic Equestrian Stadium

Even amongst the height of Olympic fever, peaceful green space can be found in Greenwich Park.

They did have a point, and long story short, this is how the entire event came to be held several inches to several feet off the ground.

It’s a difficult thing to imagine without seeing, that everywhere a horse walks (except roads that were already existing), he is walking on a platform at varying heights above the ground. Of course, the horses don’t know, or don’t mind the phenomenon, and during the first five days of these games, both horses and riders have seamlessly taken to the network of arenas and connecting aisleways that go from their stables to the main stadium.

Every surface where horses pass is covered with high tech footing. The main warmup ring is to the left here, and a schooling ring is to the right. 

Greenwich Park Olympic Equestrian Stadium

This Olympic horse doesn't mind at all that he's living in a high rise for the week.

The steel and wood platform rises up to four feet above the ground in some areas that hold the stabling, but the equine accommodations have already been called some of the best ever, if perhaps not as large as some Olympic stabling venues from the past.

Greenwich Park’s 180 acres have been closed to the public for most of this year in order for construction to take place. There are not enough stables to host all horses from all three disciplines on the grounds at once, so as the eventing competition ended, those horses left and the jumpers moved in with the dressage horses. Of course, the cross country course that the eventers competed on was not elevated, but rather constructed with every effort towards resoration in mind. Once the eventing competition was over, the course was dismantled, with some jumps being repurposed in the park's childrens playground.

Both the show jumping and dressage disciplines are now at the venue en masse, and just this morning the jumpers could be seen schooling together in the lowermost ring, while the dressage horses were all piaffing together in a higher one. I think they self segregated themselves, probably a wise decision.

But for an Olympic venue that is so “limited” in space, there is not one part of it that allows spectators or competitors to forget that they are in a beautiful park. At the end of these Games, all we’ll have to remember the stadium of these Games will be in photographs. But what memorable photographs they’ll be:

A rider pauses on the way from the stables to the schooling ring, with the Olympic stadium looming in the background. 
 

A full size galloping track was built, mainly for the eventers, although riders from other disciplines are utlilizing it as well.

 

Next month, this will all be just a memory.

Greenwich Park Olympic Equestrian Stadium

Photos ©Erin Gilmore/ProEquest