Horses and the Ancient Olympics: More Than Just Chariot Racing

Considered noble creatures and staunch companions, horses have been a significant part of human history. Their contribution extends to multiple facets, including transportation, agriculture, warfare, and sports. One particular event where our four-legged friends have exhibited their prowess and vitality is the global sports extravaganza we know as the Olympics. Interestingly, the involvement of horses in this grand event dates back to the Ancient Olympic Games, much earlier than most people realize.

Tethrippon: The Thrilling Four-Horse Chariot Races

Chariot racing, known as Tethrippon, was introduced around 680 BC and was the most hyped equine event during the Ancient Olympic Games. Featuring a single man driving a four-horse, open back, single-axel chariot in the Hippodrome, this event was as exciting as it was dangerous. Each race consisted of 12 laps, which amounted to approximately 8.5 miles. Given the magnitude of these races, it's understandable why they were such a spectacle.

The Hippodrome was similar to our modern tracks but had a couple of differences. The first being the narrowness of the track that made collisions and injuries an inevitable part of these races. The second was the track's central divider, known as Spina, dictating the track's shape, length, and tightness of the turns.

Kelēs: The Introduction of Flat Racing

In 648 BC, regular flat racing, known as Kelēs, was added to the Games. Young boys were favored as riders due to their lightweight, marking a contrast from modern horse racing where control is of utmost importance.

Kalpē: A Unique Race for Mares

In 496 BC, a unique horse race called the Kalpē was introduced, exclusively for mares. The event required the rider to dismount and run alongside their horse for the last lap, spreading quite a bit of chaos and amusement. This particular sport did not enjoy much popularity and was removed from the program in 444 BC.

Synōris: A Less Dangerous Yet Equally Exciting Event

Two-horse chariot racing, known as Synōris, was added in 408 BC. The danger levels in these chariot races were presumably lower than in Tethrippon due to the reduced number of horses, but the thrill and excitement were just as high.

Interestingly, despite the risk and grit exhibited by the charioteers and jockeys, the victory and spoils went to the horse owners, underlining the status quo of the times.

The Unforgotten Heroes of the Games

The contribution of horses to the Olympics, both ancient and modern, is often overlooked. Horses have brought the world together on multiple levels. They are the silent heroes, contributing vast amounts to society while asking for little in return. Knowing their involvement in the Games, it's only right that they are recognized as Olympic athletes and champions, just as deserving of applause and accolades as their human counterparts.

Next week we will explore the role of women in the Ancient Olympic Games.