Trailblazers: Australia's First Olympic Equestrians
In January 1955 six riders sailed for England. The men had just 14 months to learn it all, living and training together in military barracks south of London, under the tuition of Franz Mairinger, an instructor from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. The Australians soon discovered their horses simply were not up to international standard; and so, in addition to their tough training regime, they had less than a year to find and train new horses. They competed in one of the most difficult crosscountry courses in Olympic history, with almost every jump at maximum height and width, and slippery ground due to bad weather. The Australians put up a tough performance and, after the second day, they were in contention for the bronze medal. In an astounding effort for a country with no international equestrian experience, they came fourth and were congratulated by the Queen. Then in a cruel twist, the team was not permitted to take their Olympic horses home; they had to be sold to pay for costs and due to Australian quarantine regulations. After the Olympics, the men blazed a trail for the Rome Olympic team, which won gold just four years later. Wyatt (Bunty) Thompson is the last surviving member of the first Australian Olympic equestrians.
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