Greenwich Park: World Capital of Equestrian Sports

The London Olympics are making a bold step: the equestrian events will be held right in the city. Of course dressage and show jumping events routinely squeeze into urban venues, but the Olympics includes eventing. How on earth…?

From the top of the hill, three-day event riders will be have one of the best views of London

Think of Central Park in New York City. Or Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Hold that thought. Now think of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with the monuments and the Smithsonian museums all around the grassy strip. Got that? Now put those two images together and you have a little bit of an idea where the equestrian sports of the London Olympics will be held. Greenwich is a village of that mass of villages that make up metropolitan London, but it is across the Thames River from the London you may have visited–Big Ben, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace are on the other side. When you cross the river to Greenwich, you step into the Greenwich Royal Heritage Site. Over there: the Greenwich Maritime Museum–home of the famous sailing ship Cutty Sark–and, over there: the Greenwich Observatory, where you can set your watch to Greenwich Mean Time. This is where all time starts and ends, and ?the Prime Meridian Line gives all maps their references. You’re at 0 degrees of longitude when you’re standing there. The heart of Greenwich is a huge park that perfectly compliments the historic buildings, with the museum and Canary Wharf at the river and the Observatory atop the hill. At 183 acres, it is a fraction of the size of Central Park, but it has hills and valleys that make it possible to get away from it all–or get a beautiful view of the London skyline across the river if you don’t mind walking uphill. Those hills will make it interesting for the event horses. What the park lacks in acreage, it makes up in altitude. This terrain will be both a technical and fitness challenge for the horses. Think: less galloping, more switching leads and collecting strides. This is the oldest of all the Royal Parks in London, and yet this summer it is destined to become one of the most modern. The most high-tech communications, security and logistics have been designed to turn the Park into both a venue that can accommodate many thousands of people in a day–but still keep it open, most days, to the local people so they can enjoy their big, beautiful back yard. The Park will be changed as little as possible. The huge arena for dressage and show jumping, and even the stables, are built on platforms so they won’t mar the royal ground. The manure will be collected practically before it hits the ground. The Olympics plans to give the park back to the people of Greenwich with nary a scar–let’s hope they’re sucessful! You’ll read lots more about Greenwich Park in the weeks to come. It will be our second home, and it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful, historic and colorful place to hang our helmets. Panorama from the hill?? Bill Bertram (Pixel8) 2007-08. Sunset from the hill Keith Furner. Time lapse video by Khedara Ariyaratue.

An arena rises before the Royal Naval College and Queen’s House in Greenwich Park. But it doesn’t touch the ground… Image by Khedara Ariyaratue, used by permission.
Construction of the arena and stabling at Greenwich Park is shown in this updated photo taken two weeks ago by Kay Williams.