The equestrian events at the Olympics are the only event where men and women compete against each other, and the only event where human athletes partner with animal athletes. It is one of the aspects of the Olympics that provides a direct link to the sports played at the ancient games. Unfortunately, there are no longer chariot races or races (bareback or otherwise).
In fact, the Olympic events that we watch today — dressage, eventing, and show jumping — have evolved significantly over the past century. For example, women and civilians were not permitted to compete in equestrian events until 1952. Before then, equestrian riders were commissioned officers and eventing was a sport that evolved from military exercises — in Germany, this sport is still called the “militaire.”
Equestrian events made their debut at the Paris Olympics in 1900. Three events were contested: show jumping, high jump, and long jump. Hacks, hunters and mail coach (I can’t find a description of exactly what that entailed) were contested but not considered official Olympic sports.
The Italian rider Giovanni Giorgio Trissino won a gold and a silver. He narrowly missed making Olympic
history by winning two medals in the same event. Competing with two different horses in the high jump, he jointly won the gold medal and finished in 4th place on his second horse.
After 1900, equestrian events had a hiatus until 1912. At that Olympics the elements of eventing were
introduced, along with dressage. Polo was briefly an Olympic event in 1924.
The Olympics of 1932, in Los Angeles, were unusual — from an equestrian standpoint — no team medals were awarded because no team had three riders finish the course. In comparison to the current Olympic competitions, which is typically less technically challenging than a **** event, Olympics in the 1930s and 40s were know for their extremely difficult jumping courses. At the 1948 London Games, Mexico won a suprise gold medal ahead of Spain and Great Britain simply because no other team finished!
The first woman to medal at the Olympics was Lis Hartel won an individual silver medal in dressage at the
Helsinki Olympics in 1952. She repeated her win in 1956 when the equestrian events for the Melbourne, Australia Olympics were held in Stockholm, Sweden due to Australian quarantine regulations. Her accomplishment was more remarkable because Hartel had overcome polio and was still paralyzed from the knees down.