While the lion’s share of the 2008 Olympics took place in Beijing, China, the equestrian events were held 1,200 miles to the south in Hong Kong, whose well-established protocols allowed incoming horses to skip a lengthy quarantine upon return to their home countries. The venerable Hong Kong Jockey Club provided new state-of-the-art stabling facilities at the Sha Tin Racecourse, which also featured a veterinary clinic. The dressage competition was ridden in an outdoor ring surrounded by seating to accommodate some 18,000 spectators.
It was a difficult Games for the U.S. dressage team of Steffen Peters on Ravel, Debbie McDonald on Brentina and Courtney King-Dye on Harmony’s Mythilus. Michael Barisone on Neruda were the alternate pair. After placing fourth in the Special and third in the Freestyle, Peters and Ravel narrowly missed winning an individual bronze medal when they were edged out by Germany’s Heike Kemmer on Bonaparte. Looking back, Peters remains upbeat about his experience with Akiko Yamazaki’s then-10-year-old gelding. “Ravel was the new kid on the block,” he says, “so to be third in the Freestyle was very exciting.”
In the team competition, McDonald and Brentina performed a Grand Prix that was utterly out of character for the legendary Hanoverian mare. The result was an unthinkable 63-percent score and 33rd place. This was McDonald’s second and final Olympics with Brentina. “Obviously, I didn’t plan on going in there and having that happen,” she says. “You learn to deal with it and move on, but it was pretty devastating.”
Then the young King-Dye, in her first Olympic appearance, finished in an excellent seventh place in the Grand Prix and 13th individually. But Mythilus tested positive for the little-known topical anti-inflammatory felbinac, and the U.S. team was disqualified from its fourth-place finish. Though the FEI issued a statement that neither King-Dye “nor anyone on her behalf or related to the U.S. Equestrian Federation had knowingly administered the medication to the horse,” the disqualification was automatic.
Despite what she describes as “Debbie’s heartbreak and my own devastation,” King-Dye says she was captivated by her surroundings in Hong Kong. “From the Jockey Club, we could stand by a dressage ring and see skyscrapers in the distance silhouetted against mountains. It was breathtaking.” There were other great moments, too, such as “just being on a team with my own two personal heroes.” She lists other favorite memories: “Breakfast every morning with the team, walking over squishy sanitizing rugs to get to the barns, hand-walking on paths of perfect footing through the cross-country course and Mythy’s incredibly huge, giving heart.”