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Equestrian Legends - The Sydney Olympic Gold Medal Eventing Team

This article is from the November 2020 Horse Deals magazine.

The best Games ever.” IOC President Samaranch. No one, and certainly no Australian eventing enthusiasts, will argue with that. Twenty years ago, the 27th Olympic Games were history-making, dramatic and emotional and all well demonstrated at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre at Horsley Park. Many Australians got their first glimpse of international equestrian competition and embraced all the riders and horses from around the world and over 100,000 took up the opportunity. Riders, spectators and the international media still consider Sydney the best.”

Andrew Hoy OAM  |  Phillip Dutton OAM  |  Stuart Tinney OAM  |  Matt Ryan OAM

Andrew Hoy OAM | Phillip Dutton OAM | Stuart Tinney OAM | Matt Ryan OAM

Not only did the Eventing Team of Andrew Hoy, Stuart Tinney, Phillip Dutton and Matt Ryan win Team Gold, but they also did so in front of their home crowd and for the history-making third consecutive Olympic Games. For Andrew Hoy, who at both Atlanta and Sydney rode the Australian bred Warmblood, Darien Powers, it was his third Gold medal. For Matt Ryan who at Barcelona rode Kibah Tic Toc and at Sydney, Kibah Sandstone, both Australian bred, it was his third, as it was for Phillip Dutton who rode True Blue Girdwood at Atlanta and House Doctor at Sydney. For local rider, Stuart Tinney, although he had been shortlisted for previous Games, Sydney was his first call up and he certainly made the most of the occasion riding his off the track Thoroughbred, Jeepster. They finished the Team competition with the best score of all competing and for all Games 1992 and before would have earned him the Individual Gold Medal as well.

So much as been written about the history-making exploits of our Three Day Event Team that there is the risk of becoming just a little blasé about it all. From the outside looking in, it just seemed so easy at the time. But of course, it is history-making because no other country had ever done it before or since and of course it is not so easy. So much can go wrong eventing, especially at this level, so quickly. However, by Sydney the engine was finely tuned, namely Coach, Wayne Roycroft, Assistant Coach, Heath Ryan, Chef d’Equipe, (the late) Jim Dunn, Vet, Dr Denis Goulding and Manager, Gareth McKeen all knew what was needed for success and all executed their tasks to perfection.

But it was Andrew, Stuart, Phillip and Matt who had to get on their horses and execute the plan and execute it they did. The Sydney course, the last long format Olympic Three Day Event was tough, with only six of the 12 teams to start remaining after the cross country and only Australia, Germany, Ireland and Brazil fielding a team of four. Neither CCTV nor course commentator was needed to ascertain the location, or condition of the Australia pairings, as the cheer of the mostly 50,000 local spectators told the story. In the end, Australia cruised home to victory by 14.2 points. To some extent, you had to be there and if you were, still 20 years later many think “it was the best time of their lives.”

Horse Deals caught up with the Team for a brief reflection on the 20th Anniversary.

Andrew Hoy. OAM. (Australian Sporting Hall of Fame Inductee 2000)

Andrew Hoy and Darien Powers celebrate after the dressage phase.

Andrew Hoy and Darien Powers celebrate after the dressage phase.

Andrew grew up in Culcairn in South East NSW where cross country riding was a part of life. At just 19 he was selected to compete at the Eventing World Championships in Kentucky riding his pony club horse, the wonderful Davey. A year later, in 1979, Andrew and Davey won the prestigious Burghley Horse Trials, the beginning of an outstanding international career based in the UK and Europe that is still going strong. During that time Andrew has competed at seven Olympic Games and at Sydney he completed a hat-trick of Team Gold Medals. At Sydney too, Andrew took the Individual Silver Medal. Horse Deals spoke to him from his base in Germany where he has eight horses in work.

“I never go out to break records or make history,” begins Andrew, “or do something that someone else hasn’t done. I focus on what I need to do to be better than I was yesterday. And that is how I approached Sydney. It is all about making sure of the horse’s wellbeing and my wellbeing, because without the horse being healthy and me being healthy, there is no way we can go out and perform. It is not about doing a Gold Medal performance every day, it’s about preparing to have a good performance and that involves, at times, going back to basics and making sure the basics are correct.

“I was very excited about the prospect of the Sydney Olympics, but I first had to make sure I was in the Team and therefore needed good performances. These things are never a certainty; anything can go wrong at any point in time. I had to make sure I gained selection and once I did, make sure that my horse and I were performing at our absolute best. So you don’t really have time to be thinking about the history books.

“I rode Darien Powers at Atlanta and again at Sydney and he was an exceptional horse and I always say it’s a privilege to ride horses like him. He was in his absolute prime and I was riding very well and we produced our best ever, and the best ever score for that test, of 30.60.”

At Barcelona, Australia won the Gold Medal in the final jumping phase, at Atlanta, it was our cross country skill that earned the medal and in Sydney, Australia was in the lead after the dressage phase; something we had never done before.

“For me, Sydney was a great sporting achievement” continues Andrew, “but the fact that it was in my home country was special. I had been away from home and training in Europe for seven years. It was special to go back to Sydney and personally very special for me that I knew so many of the volunteers at the Equestrian Centre, who I had had something to do with during my career in Australia. I had been back and forth during those seven years, but it was wonderful to be able to go out and ride at such a prestigious competition in front of such a supportive audience. That was very special.

“I thought the venue was extraordinary and it was home to the biggest competition in the world at that point in time. The atmosphere that the Olympic Games brought to Australia, brought the best out of the country and the best out of the Australian people. There wasn’t one person within the team, no matter what their role, that didn’t contribute enormously to our success. It is not just about the athletes going and doing their performance, it’s about management understanding the athletes and the athletes understanding the role of management as well. They all have a role to play and it’s not just the athletes that suffer the pressure. The support from everyone was outstanding. There was not one person that you turned to in the Australian Olympic Team for help that would not and did not bend over backwards to try and support you and help you with whatever it may be.

“The Olympic Games is the biggest sporting platform in the world and it is a competition that when I get there, I feel the least amount of pressure. Because at Sydney, I had Team Coach, Wayne Roycroft, Team Chef, Jim Dunn and Team Vet Denis Goulding and a huge part of the success at the three Olympics was down to them. I had physios. I had my groom there looking after two horses. I did not have to think about transport, I didn’t have to think about food for me or my staff. There was nothing I had to think about other than riding my horse.

“The atmosphere in the stadium was tremendous, but you need to be able to focus on the task at hand. On dressage day, I was the first Australian out and I knew the crowd were excited. So when I rode in, I rode past the judges and then I waved to the crowd and the applause just exploded. They were so excited that I had acknowledged them. Then I rode along past the grandstands with one finger in front of my mouth asking them to be quiet and you could have heard a pin drop during my test. It was just perfect.

“There was no room on the cross country course for error anywhere. The great thing about my situation was that I was about third or fourth out and I had no information as to how the course was riding. I have actually ridden some of my greatest rides going early. You just go and you do it with no doubt creeping into your plan. You have to believe in yourself.

“The thing was too that after the Team event I had to head straight into the Individual with Swizzle In. He was an exceptional horse, but totally different from Darien Powers. Sydney was wonderful as well because my parents were there and it was their first time at an Olympic Games. There is no doubt that with a Team Gold Medal and an Individual Silver, Sydney has been the highlight of my career so far. For me, Sydney was absolutely fantastic, however now I am employing people who were not born 20 years ago! It was wonderful, but life goes on. My wife Stefanie has a great saying, don’t admire the coals, keep the fire burning.”

Phillip Dutton. OAM. (Australian Sporting Hall of Fame Inductee 2000)

Phillip Dutton and House Doctor added only 1.60 time penalties across country.

Phillip Dutton and House Doctor added only 1.60 time penalties across country.

Phillip from Nyngan in Central NSW grew up like his teammates who were learning to ride across the country long before they harboured any Olympic or even competitive ambitions.

“I grew up on a reasonably isolated sheep, cattle and wheat farm,” says Phillip. “My grandfather had racehorses and mum and dad started Nyngan Pony Club. I always rode and was involved with the pony club and we went to all the local agricultural shows. We used horses on the property for mustering and if you fell off you had to walk home.

“I drifted into eventing through pony club and the influence of Dennis Piggot who came and did a pony club camp every year. I moved to the US in 1991. Most riders were going to the UK, but I thought the US was a good place to make a new start and there was a lot of opportunity here for me. The idea was to stay for a year or so, but you realise that a year is not a long time in the production of a horse and I realised it would take a lot longer to get established. I took True Blue Girdwood with me. He was a Novice horse at the time. From the US I went to the 1994 WEG in The Hague on the Australian Team (4th). I went to Badminton and from there on to the Atlanta Olympics. One thing led to another after that and I decided to make my life in the US as there were more opportunities for me.

“The advantage for us at a Sydney Olympics was that we perhaps had some local knowledge within the team about the course and conditions etc. But I don’t think we had any great advantage from that. The biggest thing we were up against as Australians, was on dressage day trying to keep the crowd quiet because as soon as an Australian rider came into the arena, the crowd just erupted and on a fit, excited event horse, that is not what you want as you are coming down the centre line. For me, it was an advantage being there and being a part of it. It’s not that you don’t try hard all the time, but it was really fulfilling to be a part of it and it is certainly something I will always remember.

“It was a tough course and it was the last long-format Olympics. It was a long course too, I think nearly 13 minutes which is unheard of today. It was a proper test; an endurance test and a jumping test and encompassed everything expected of an Olympic Games. Australia has traditionally pulled themselves up after the cross country and again at Sydney, we all went well. What has happened since is that the rest of the world have become great cross country riders, but for a while, Australia really stood out across country.

“I am always confident about my ability and what I can do, but from my point of view at Sydney, House Doctor was my reserve horse. I was actually selected on a horse called Show Of Hearts. I was fortunate to get selected on House Doctor and fortunate that he did well because he was only an eight-year-old at the time. So I was very focused on doing my part for the team rather than being a hero, especially on a pretty green horse at that level. (House Doctor jumped clear with the addition of 1.60 time penalties). I certainly did not go in thinking we were destined to get another Gold Medal.

“It was such an Australian era at the time. The team of Wayne Roycroft, Jim Dunn and Denis Goulding, that was the thread and of course, Andrew Hoy was involved as a rider as well. That was the thread that orchestrated that magnificent Australian performance when it really counted. A lot of the credit goes to those three, but in particular, Wayne, who was leading the charge and who envisaged what he wanted; certain riders, certain horses and he had a picture in his mind as to what it would take to win a Team Gold Medal and went about doing it and I was fortunate to be part of two of those three Gold Medal Teams. We still had to implement the plans, but it is good to be put in a position to be prepared so well. We just had to pull the trigger and do our best.

“I think everyone reacts differently to an occasion like that. For me, the biggest satisfaction is looking back on it now. At the time, it was kind of stressful. You came out of the showjumping and all of a sudden you’ve got people congratulating you and photos being taken. Then you have to get on the podium, gallop the horses, go to the press conference. You really don’t get that much of a chance to reflect on what you have done. My wife Evie and I flew back to the States shortly after; it was all quite rushed. When I look back on it all now, the achievement, the camaraderie with all the other riders, the coaches, the grooms, I realise how special it was. At the time, it blows by you pretty quickly; there is so much going on. The Australian community and country as a whole really got behind the Games. Every rider, from every country, could not say enough good things about what an incredible Games it was; the best Games ever. It was certainly a proud moment to be an Australian.

“When I left Australia to go to the US I was a relative nobody. Over the time there, I had really established my career. All the horses I rode were American owned, my kids went to school there and I really felt my future was in the US. But becoming a US citizen was one of the toughest decisions I have ever made and a great deal of thought went into it. I still regard myself as Australian and all my values have a default Australian setting. It was really tough to call Mum and Dad and also Wayne Roycroft to tell them of my decision, but I felt it was the right thing to do. It was gratifying that Wayne Roycroft and then EA President, Russ Withers wrote to the FEI to ask them not to enforce the ruling that if a rider changed nationality they had to sit out the next major Team Championship. I was very grateful for that.”

Stuart Tinney. OAM. (Australian Sporting Hall of Fame Inductee 2003)

Stuart Tinney and Jeepster at the 1998 WEG at Rome.

Stuart Tinney and Jeepster at the 1998 WEG at Rome.

Originally from outback Queensland, Stuart Tinney lives literally a few kilometres from SIEC. Of the four team members, Stuart was the only one to operate from a home base. “There was no pressure for me to go overseas to qualify for the Sydney Team” says Stuart, “because although not permanently based overseas, I had a lot of overseas riding experience and I was selected for the Barcelona team, but my horse was vetted out. Jeepster, too, an off the track Thoroughbred was experienced, as he had competed at the 1998 WEG in Rome (8th). Heath and Krissy Harris had him and he was not a good enough showjumper for them. He ended up being a very good mover and in fact did his best ever dressage test at Sydney (36.00). He was a lovely cross country horse, he seemed to enjoy it. He had a great gallop because he was a Thoroughbred. He did a lot of three day events, but never jumped clear in the final jumping phase. At the Rome WEG we were second after the cross country and he had two fences down. At Sydney, we had one down, and I suppose it would have surprised me if he had jumped clear, but it was a tough showjumping track. I had him for six years before Sydney, so I knew him well.

Karen and Stuart Tinney.

Karen and Stuart Tinney.

“I did not have to fly to Sydney like the other team horses, but we were actually in quarantine longer and I did not feel it an advantage, nor did I feel any extra pressure because it was a home Olympics. It was such a great event and everything about it was as enjoyable as they get. Everything went smoothly, even the Sydney traffic worked and that is not usually the case, let alone during an Olympic Games.

“Winning a medal at the Olympics (and World Championships) is what it is all about and there is nothing better than Gold of course. For me and what I wanted to do, winning at Sydney was a wonderful thing. It was a very good team, we were all mates and we supported one another and the support team was outstanding. The Team Coach, Wayne Roycroft was my coach at the time, so to have him there was tremendous and Heath Ryan as well. The late Jim Dunn was a great Chef and Denis Goulding, the vet rounded out that vital inner support. They were a great team, they had been doing it for years and they were very, very good at it. Back then, we were at the forefront of horse preparation and management and that’s why we won so many medals. The whole thing came together and all the horses and riders performed at or above their expectations and that’s all you can really ask.

“It was a home Olympics and the crowd was always going to be 60%-70% Australian and the amount of crowd support was amazing and when we won, the crowds in the stands just erupted and that is the stuff you remember and it is special.”

Matt Ryan. OAM. (Australian Sporting Hall of Fame Inductee 2001).

Matt Ryan and Kibah Sandstone during the dressage phase.

Matt Ryan and Kibah Sandstone during the dressage phase.

Born in Sydney, but raised on the Central Coast of NSW, Matt grew up heavily influenced by big brother Heath Ryan. Like some before him and many after, Matt went to the UK, first as a working pupil for successful British Eventing Olympian, Richard Meade and then after being the Reserve rider for the Seoul Olympics, he returned to the UK in 1989 to establish his own yard.

“Seoul made me convinced that if I wanted to win a Gold Medal, I should be based in the UK, as, at those Games, the UK/European riders looked so good,” says Matt. “I felt I needed to mix it with them, so I moved back in 1989 with three horses. The plan was to stay for between two and five years.” Matt remained in the UK and retired from international eventing in 2013 when career injuries he thought affected his performance. “I had back issues and I felt I could no longer ride as well as I used to.” But he did get his Gold Medals. Team and Individual Gold at Barcelona in 1992 and Team Gold at Sydney in 2000. Matt’s performance at Barcelona in being the best individual performance in the Team Three Day Event was emulated by Wendy Schaeffer and Sunburst at Atlanta in 1996 and Stuart Tinney and Jeepster in Sydney. However, by Atlanta, the IOC decided that there had to be a separate event to determine the Individual Medals.

“By the time the Sydney Team selection process was underway, my Barcelona horse, Kibah Tic Toc had retired,” continues Matt. “But I did have his half brother, both out of the Thoroughbred, Kibah Sanddrift, Kibah Sandstone. Both horses were bred by Bridget (Bud) Hyem at Gunnedah. That was amazing to be riding two half brothers at two Olympics. Sandy was a full Thoroughbred being by a son of Souvenir, Bamborough Sunny Souvenir and was a little trickier than Tic Toc that was by the Hanoverian, Domherr (imp). But Sandy was just a fantastic athlete. They were both such tough, hardy animals and that contributed to their success as three day event horses. Both lived to well into their 30s.

“I did not think Sandy was as good a horse as Tic Toc, but he was an extremely good team horse; he was a really tough galloping machine. I was the number four rider at Sydney, which I really liked. I always liked going later in the competition, as it gave me plenty of time to assess how the course was riding. I always think too that going later in the competition gives you a slight advantage in the dressage. The judges, particularly at the end of the second day, just tend to be slightly more generous. It was our weakest link and I welcomed the possibility of getting an extra mark here or there. As it was, my dressage score was the discard, so my nose was put out a little by that.

“I used to call Sandy my Five Star horse before Five Star existed and I loved the fact that the Sydney course was long and tough. The course suited him and I had no problems with the roads and tracks and the 13-minute cross country. Sandy was a classic Thoroughbred and in his element. The course caused trouble and I loved that because it opened up opportunities to shine. The roar from the crowd as we were going around was fantastic and I really loved the crowd involvement.

“I had two down in the final phase as Sandy was not a brilliant jumper, but I made a mess of a set of planks which was frustrating. Going into the final jumping phase I think we had three fences in hand, but Great Britain who had been breathing down our necks did not have a great jumping phase and we ended up winning by 14.2 penalties.

“The rest of the world thought we had fluked it at Barcelona but then we won at Atlanta. We knew by Atlanta that Sydney had won the 2000 bid, so we were inspired and much more experienced by then. Wendy Schaeffer’s and Gill Rolton’s performances at Atlanta were truly inspirational. At Sydney, Australia could probably have put two or three teams together and all would have been competitive. Through that period, from Barcelona to Sydney, Wayne Roycroft was inspirational. My brother Heath has always been inspirational and he was part of the support Wayne put together and Wayne encouraged, managed and coached us to do really well.

“On our victory laps at Horsley Park, the crown involvement was amazing. We had just created Olympic history and we galloped around many more times than we were meant to. It was the best feeling, I loved it. It felt really good winning at Barcelona in ’92, but I did not feel the elation I felt at Sydney.”

All four riders have been inducted into the Sporting Australia Hall of Fame.

L-R: Andrew Hoy and Darien Powers, Phillip Dutton and House Doctor, Stuart Tinney and Jeepster, and Matt Ryan and Kibah Sandstone.

L-R: Andrew Hoy and Darien Powers, Phillip Dutton and House Doctor, Stuart Tinney and Jeepster, and Matt Ryan and Kibah Sandstone.

Article: Anna Sharpley | Photos: Julie Wilson

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