Behind-the-Scenes at the Rio Olympic Games Part One: Three-Day Eventing

Rio Olympics Equestrian

The Olympic Equestrian Center in the Deodoro region of Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography

Bom Dia from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, site of the 2016 Olympic Games. We have been in residence at an apartment in the Barra Tijuca region of Rio since August 4th and are pleased to bring you some news and behind-the-scenes tidbits from the Olympic equestrian venue and around Rio.

As we thought about what to write it occurred to us that we have encountered many things beginning with “B” that associated with the Games thus far. Chief among them are the bronze medals; we are happy to report that there have been two bronze medals for the U.S. equestrian teams to date. Hopefully you have already heard about Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice taking the individual bronze in eventing and also about the U.S. dressage team taking the bronze three days later in a very impressive manner (more about dressage in our next report from Rio).

Rio Olympics Equestrian

Boyd Martin and Blackfoot Mystery in the first horse inspection. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice in the first horse inspection. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen in the first horse inspection. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

Lynn Symansky and Donner in the first horse inspection. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography

But there’s more to the story than just our bronze-medal-winning start to the equestrian action. Our plan was to bring you some of the news that you may not have heard about back in the States and share some photos from the equestrian venue and around Rio.

About Brazil and Rio de Janeiro

Brazil is the largest country in South America, the fifth largest in the world and is only slightly smaller than the United States. The country is diverse in climate and terrain and encompasses four time zones from east to west across the country, as well as the vast wilderness regions of the Amazon and the Pantanal.

Rio Olympics Equestrian

The beach in the Barra de Tijuca section of Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography

The only country in Latin America to speak Portuguese, Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese beginning in 1500. Besides the indigenous native Americans in the region there was also a large importation of African slaves to work the sugarcane plantations and a couple of wars with the French and Dutch, so Brazil has a very diverse population in terms of ethnic roots. The country is currently in limbo politically as their President Dilma Rousseff was impeached this summer on charges of corruption and the vice president is now serving as the head of government.

Rio Olympics Equestrian

Sunrise over Barra beach. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

Sand and palm trees at Barra Beach. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography

Rio de Janeiro is located in the southeast region of Brazil and nestled along the Atlantic coastline with granite-based mountains on the inland side of the city and a good number of small islands dotting the water just off the coast. The city has over five million inhabitants and, although in general it is very modern, many of the residents are quite poor. The people in Rio are called Cariocas and they love to spend time on the beach whenever they can. There are many beaches to choose from in Rio including Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, both made famous in songs that most Americans would recognize. Another famous landmark in Rio is the Christ the Redeemer statue situated on Corcovado Mountain in the middle of the Tijuca Forest National Park, which is inside the city limits.

Eventing First Up in Rio

The U.S. Eventing Team for Rio 2016 included two Olympic veteran riders, Phillip Dutton riding Mighty Nice owned by the HND Group and Boyd Martin riding Blackfoot Mystery owned by the Blackfoot Mystery Syndicate, and two Olympic rookies, Lauren Kieffer riding Veronica owned by Team Rebecca, LLC and Clark Montgomery riding Loughan Glen owned by Holly and William Becker, Kathryn Kraft and Jessica Montgomery. The traveling reserves were Lynn Symansky and Donner owned by the Donner Syndicate.

Rio Olympics Equestrian

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen over fence #1 on cross-country. Photo by Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica sailing over fence #1, the Copacabana Flower Bed. Photo by Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography

After all five U.S. team horses all jogged sound at the first horse inspection it was on to the dressage phase where Phillip and Mighty Nice, a.k.a. “Happy” had their best score to date. He talked about his test with Happy right after leaving the ring.
“We are so proud of Mighty Nice for scoring a personal best of 43.6 to sit in fifteenth place after dressage at the Olympics. I was hoping to get close to 40. We did have one mistake in the last flying change, but considering the atmosphere, I couldn’t be more proud of Happy. He’s really starting to understand the sport and keeps getting better and better.”

Rio Olympics Equestrian

Mighty Nice and Phillip Dutton on their way to a bronze medal. Photo by Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

Boyd Martin and Blackfoot Mystery jumping under the Olympic rings. Photo by Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography

Cross-country day for Phillip and Mighty Nice included one very close call at fence 6b, the second element of The Corners question, a pair of offset brush corners that caused numerous problems throughout the day. Coming to that corner Happy started to veer to the right and he and Phillip nearly parted company, but while jarred almost out of the saddle, Phillip willed Happy back on the line to the jump which they cleared and galloped on to a beautiful round over the rest of the obstacles. The television coverage on the Jumbotron showed a Herculean effort by Phillip at fence 6b to return to the saddle and keep Mighty Nice on track. After cross-country they were sitting in fifth place.

On the final day of eventing in stadium Phillip guided Mighty Nice to two great rounds, a clear round in the team jumping final and then just one rail in the individual jumping final. (There are two jumping rounds due to an Olympic rule that states no athlete can earn both team and individual medals for the same effort.) With their great stadium performances and with several riders ahead of them having rails come down, Phillip and Happy took the bronze medal.

Rio Olympics Equestrian

A happy Phillip Dutton with his individual bronze medal. Photo by Kim MacMillan/MacMillan Photography

A happy Phillip talked about Happy and winning his first individual Olympic medal.

“It’s been a great weekend for the horse. It’s a great achievement for him. The guy who owned him, Bruce Duchossois, would be proud of him. I was happy with fourth but ecstatic with third! It was a grand achievement, although a disappointing day for the team yesterday. So we just had to get up and do our best today. I’m so pleased with the horse; I don’t think I’ve had a horse with a bigger heart. He genuinely loves the sport.”

Germany’s Michael Jung and Sam FBW joined an elite club by winning their second consecutive Olympic gold medal and Astier Nichols riding Piaf de B’Neville took the silver.

Rio Olympics Equestrian

The Canadian and U.S. stables at the Deodoro Olympic Park. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography

Mixed Results For Rest of Team USA Eventers

Boyd Martin’s dressage score of 47.7 with Blackfoot Mystery, whose barn name is “Big Red,” was also a personal best for the pair and good enough for 34th place after dressage. Big Red is an off-the-track Thoroughbred who was adopted from a rehabilitation program. Boyd praised his horse after dressage, “He’s still a bit inexperienced and he did get a little bit excited with the cheering, but he kept his cool and did a good job. I was thrilled there were no big mistakes. I couldn’t have asked for much more.”

The pair moved up to sixth after a clear jumping round (with only 3.2 time penalties to add to their dressage score) over the very tough cross-country course to sixth, but had rails down in both the team and individual stadium rounds to finish sixteenth overall. Still it was a good performance for Blackfoot Mystery who was one of the greenest horses in the competition. It’s disappointing but I have to say this horse tried so hard all weekend. He just had nothing left in the last round. He’ll get stronger and I think it’s still an impressive result. I am very pleased for Phillip. That was huge effort. What a legend!”

Rio Olympics Equestrian

The Rio 2016 sign perched above the Olympic cross-country course. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography

Clark and Loughan Glen had a good dressage test, but with some adjustability issues and scored an uncharacteristically high score of 46.6 which put them in 24th after the first phase. Most of the last year Clark and “Beastie” had been scoring in the thirties rather than the forties, so it was a disappointment for Clark and Team USA. They started cross-country well, but the adjustability issue became a problem on course and after two refusals and a pretty rough go Clark wisely retired from the course with Beastie to end their first Olympic experience early.

“He’s definitely not feeling himself. It’s difficult to say what it is exactly. It’s an old problem that he used to do a couple of years ago and we thought we had fixed. It’s an adjustability issue; he is very difficult to make him come back and then to turn to the right especially. We thought everything was OK, but apparently it wasn’t.”

Lauren and Veronica, whose nickname is “The Troll”, had a nice dressage test that was not scored as well as Team USA would have hoped, ending dressage with a 47.3 to sit in 33rd at the end of dressage. They were having a great trip around cross-country when they had a fall at fence 24, the second element of a complex called the Malmesbury Cottage, which was a brown vertical gate.
“It’s certainly not the outcome I wanted,” said Lauren of their cross-country round. “She [Veronica] was being really good and going the direct route. She hit the gate with her right front and for a second I thought she would save it. My job first and foremost was to get a clean round and it’s pretty disappointing that I let the team down. She’s fine; she started jigging on the way to the vet box and acting like her normal self.”

Buses and Bullets

Our experience in Rio thus far has been filled with one thing you might expect – buses and another you may not have – bullets. I don’t mean to make it sound like a war zone down here, but to date we’ve had encounters with at least two confirmed bullets at the equestrian venue with rumors of at least two more.

But more about the buses and then we’ll get back to bullets. Every Olympic Games planning committee has to deal with the daunting task of how to move athletes, officials, volunteers, staff and the media from point A to point B. Allen and I, and other members of the press corps in Rio, have spent countless hours riding the buses driven by guys and gals who seem to be able to turn them on a dime and go from sixty to zero in a matter of seconds. The buses are actually quite nice for city buses, they have air conditioning and wifi and so far they have transported us safely from place to place mostly on time—or at least Rio time.

One bus driver returning us after dark from the equestrian venue to the Main Press Center (MPC) at the Olympic Village took a wrong turn in the village of Deodoro and we spent some tense moments winding our way through incredibly narrow streets while he stopped four times to ask the locals how to get back to where he was supposed to be. This made us nervous, but we eventually were delivered safely to the MPC.

Rio Olympics Equestrian

Buses at the Media Transportation Mall in Rio. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography

The first week of the Games one Olympic bus was hit by some projectile (there are conflicting reports as to whether it was a bullet or a rock) that shattered a window or windows sending several on the bus for medical care to treat cuts and scrapes. But that incident pales in comparison to the saga of bullets around the equestrian venue.

Another really unfortunate thing that happened on one of our media buses was that our one of our apartment mates (we are sharing housing with three other journalists here) had her cameras and lenses stolen from the luggage rack on the bus. We were all sitting on the bus waiting for the driver to take us home when one man got up and left the bus in a hurry and must have handed the camera case off to a second man who was waiting outside to grab and go. It all happened so fast that none of us suspected until it was too late. That night and most of the next day our poor friend and her husband spent in the Games security office and the local police station filing reports.

During the first week of the Games a bullet tore a hole in the roof of the tent that houses the media center at the equestrian venue landing on the floor next to a journalist who was working. He picked up the bullet and gave it to one of the media center staff who in turn gave it to the security forces. Two security press conferences later we were told that the bullet was fired by local favela lords (favelas are local slum neighborhoods) who was taking pot shots at a police surveillance camera attached to a blimp tethered over the equestrian venue.

A few days later another bullet was found near the stabling and the local military base general informed us in an official press conference that there was also an “incident” in the stable area. The incident turned out to be a security force shooting of a young man who had entered the secure stable area carrying a gun presumably intending to steal things (theft and robbery are very, very common in Brazil). The condition of the young man who was shot is not known. We have also heard rumors of a third bullet found out near the cross-country course. So far, no horses or people, other than the would-be robber, have been injured at the equestrian venue.

This week news that American swimmer Ryan Lochte and several other swimmers had been robbed at gun point in Rio was confirmed (though later called into question by local law enforcement.) According to Lochte, he and the other swimmers were in a taxi that was pulled over by men posing as police officers who then robbed them at gunpoint.

In a separate incident during the Games, a military patrol on their way to work at the Games took a wrong turn and ended up in a bad area where three were shot and one killed by local thugs.

Theft and violence are part of life in Brazil and we are getting a taste of what the innocent Brazilian citizens have to deal with day in and day out. We have encountered some wonderful people here even despite the scary happenings. They are warm and friendly and seem to genuinely care about whether or not we are getting along OK. From the lunch ladies at the concession stand near our media tent in the equestrian venue to the Games volunteers and the landlord who owns our apartment, they have all been lovely.

Eventing Bum Art

We will close this segment of our Olympic report on a much lighter note, bum art. No, I’m not talking about the derrieres in thong bikinis on the Rio beaches (yes, skimpy bikinis are everywhere here!), but rather quartermarks: the designs brushed into the hair on the rumps of the event horses. From the traditional checkerboard design to the British Union Jack, to a four leafed clover to the Rio Olympic symbol, there were many designs coiffed into equine backsides in Rio. We thought we would share a few photos of some we noticed as we captured the eventing action.

Rio Olympics Equestrian

Michael Jung and his groom prefer the traditional checkerboard bum art for Sam FBW. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

Japan’s Ryuzo Kitajima and Just Chocolate show their national pride during the dressage. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

A maple leaf on the bum of Canada’s A Little Romance ridden by Jessica Phoenix. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

The Brazilian even horses wore the Olympic rings and the Rio Olympics’ modern art design on their backsides. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

A variation on the basic checkerboard design. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

A fern leaf and sharks teeth design decorate this horse’s hind end. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

Three wide bars, possibly denoting a flag design. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

The British Union Jack flag on a horse from the United Kingdom. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

A flower or windmill on a Dutch horse. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography
Rio Olympics Equestrian

The Irish horses wore lucky clovers. Photo by Allen MacMillan/MacMillan Photography


  1. Thank You… For the information and pictures of the Equestrian teams at the Olympics. I love horses and of all the many stations that showed the Olympics, their coverage was almost nil regarding the horse events. I wish more horse events could be viewed on TV.


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