Glorious Great Britain reigned supreme at the London Olympics in 2012, winning an unprecedented five equestrian medals as the dressage and showjumping teams were crowned Olympic champions and Charlotte Dujardin secured an unforgettable golden double.
So, can the Brits do it again? Can they turn Rio red, white and blue next month and recreate a sea of Union Jacks amid scenes of wild celebration?
The military base of Deodoro — Rio’s most northerly Olympic zone — will stage an eagerly-awaited equestrian competition, starting on August 6 with four days of eventing and ending almost a fortnight later with the individual showjumping final.
Dujardin and the evergreen Carl Hester, driving forces behind the dressage team in 2012, will drive Britain’s bid for a successful title defence, with London showjumping gold medallists Skelton and Ben Maher being joined by John and Michael Whitaker, the brothers who helped GB to team silver in Los Angeles 32 years ago.
If experience proves to be a defining factor, then Britain will be firmly in the medal mix, with only a third of the 12-strong team across all three disciplines — dressage riders Fiona Bigwood and Spencer Wilton, together with eventers Kitty King and Gemma Tattersall — making their Olympic debuts.
Showjumper Nick Skelton makes his seventh Olympics appearance — the most of any Team GB competitor in Rio — while 60-year-old John Whitaker (who will be 61 when opening ceremony day dawns) is the oldest British team member, and the eventing team contains multiple major championship medallists in William Fox-Pitt and Pippa Funnell.
There can be little doubt that the British will be serious contenders throughout a packed equestrian programme, but what odds on a Herculean feat being achieved as Rio winter’s sun prepares to bathe the 31st Olympiad?
Not since Seoul in 1988 has one country won team golds in dressage, eventing and showjumping at the same Olympics. On that occasion, it was achieved by West Germany, so the precedent has been set for a German equestrian team that, if it hits its collective straps, could take some stopping.
Kristina Sprehe — the rider many people felt was desperately unlucky not to beat Dujardin in last summer’s European Championships — and Isabell Werth lead the German dressage challenge, while the eventing quartet — Michael Jung, Sandra Auffarth, Ingrid Klimke and Andreas Ostholt — appears nigh on invincible.
When the showjumping team of Ludger Beerbaum, Marcus Ehning, Christian Ahlmann and Daniel Deusser is added to the equation, then the rest of the field could quite easily find themselves playing catch-up.
No Olympics is easy, even for the greatest champions: so much can — and often does — go wrong, especially given the unpredictable nature of eventing’s cross-country day and a showjumping competition that stretches across six days. That said, the Germans appear as close to unstoppable as can be defined in equestrian sport.
Of course, Britain won’t go down without a fight. Dujardin could again provide Team GB’s equestrian highlight by taking individual gold, and a medal of some description should be achieved in the dressage team competition — but that might be it.
Britain boasts a superb Olympic record in team eventing — with the added driver of team boss Yogi Breisner bowing out after Rio — but New Zealand, led by double Olympic individual champion Mark Todd, and France both look strong. The showjumpers face major threats from the likes of Germany, Holland, France and United States.
For the Brits, Rio could be spectacular, but the chances are that they — and everyone else — will end up playing second fiddle to the imperious Germans. What do you think?
Image: The Olympics cross-country venue in Rio by Renato Sette Camara / City Hall of Rio de Janeiro