Horses in History: America’s first big equestrian break

Horse Nation is very excited for the return of its beloved series, Horses in History. This week Lorraine Jackson tells the story of America’s first medal winning Olympic Eventing Team.

From Lorraine:

In case you ever had any question whether Eventing had its roots in military training, does this answer your question?

The first United States Olympic Eventing Team to medal was in Stockholm in 1912 (see top photo), and included Lieutenant Colonel Ephraim Foster Graham and Colonel John Carter Montgomery, both of whom were in the West Point graduating class of 1903 with none other than General Douglas MacArthur. Teammate Ben Lear did not graduate from West Point, but that didn’t stop him from going on to hold the esteemed title of General of the Army, and provide faithful, disciplined service to the U.S. Army through FIVE wars. And rounding the team out? Major General Guy Henry, one of the great cavalry reformers of the 20th century. Our first bronze medalist eventing team was not just a smattering of athletic heroes, but military men of the highest order.

Lt. Colonel Ephraim F. Graham, when not competing as an Olympian, was an officer of the U.S. Army’s 10th Cavalry Regiment, known as the Buffalo Riders. The Regiment was a segregated cavalry, in other words, the regiment was composed of entirely of African American soldiers, except for officers. It had extraordinary challenges, but Graham was known for making an effort to keep his regiment, fit, smart, and revered in their cavalry skills and intimidating foes in battle and defense.

Colonel John Montgomery served with the 7th Cavalry division in various locations, including the Philippines. He was also an instructor at the Mounted Police School in the two years prior to the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. After his bronze medal winning ride, he would go on to serve as Inspector General of the 2nd Division in World War I, and be awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He remained in Germany after the war ended as Chief of Staff of American Forces up until 1920, and retired from military life in 1930.

Colonel John Montgomery

General of the Army Ben Lear was already a veteran soldier when he entered the 1912 eventing contest, and he would go on to be the most decorated and revered of the United State’s first medal winning team. After first serving in the bottom ranks in the Spanish American War, he was quickly promoted through the ranks in Philippine-American War and WWI. In WWII, his vast experiences made him a valuable resource to the army, and as lieutenant general he become responsible for the training styles and processes for innumerable soldiers entering combat. He was known to be extremely strict, and when he punished a convoy of soldiers who cat-called at a group of ladies in his presence, he made them march 15 miles back to their post in 97 degree heat, earning him the derogatory nickname “Yoo-Hoo.”

Army General Ben Lear

But as far as horses go, one might say that Major General Guy Henry was not only one of the greatest equestrian Olympians, a great military hero, and a man known to be tough as nails, but also one of the most influential horsemen of the 20th century. Though he had already graduated from West Point, served in battle, and graduated from the U.S. Army’s Cavalry school, Henry was dissatisfied with the U.S. Army’s horse program. He received permission to attend and graduate from France’s Cavalry School at Saumur in 1907. He returned with invaluable knowledge about better conditioning, more natural and less violent training methods, and was solely responsible for the U.S. Army abandoning more severe bits in exchange for snaffles and double bridles. In addition to competing, Henry was also the organizer and trainer of the 1912 team and– are you ready for this?– competed his horse Chiswell in not only eventing (which included more than 30 miles of galloping in that era) but also individual show jumping and dressage. In addition to his eventing bronze, he placed 4th in show jumping and 11th in Dressage.

Henry would go on to serve as Chef d’equipe, President of the FEI, and Chief of the Cavalry over the next 30 years, continually working to improve horsemanship and quality of riding in the United States competitive and military programs.

Major General Guy Henry

Henry on Chiswell

For more reading on these American heroes and their phenomenal experiences and trials at the Stockholm Olympic Games of 1912, you should read the fantastic three part series at US Horsemanship by Barbara Ellin Fox.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Go Riding.

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