How Gail Greenough Made Show Jumping History
By Margaret Evans
Gail Greenough was born in Edmonton, Alberta in March of 1960.
She started enjoying equestrian sports at age 11 and by the time she was 23 she had competed at World Cup show jumping events and had been selected to the Canadian Equestrian Team. Then at the 1986 Championships in Aachen, (then) West Germany, as a relative newcomer, she made her first appearance in an international team championship. Her performance stunned the world when, riding the Hanoverian gelding, Mr T, she snagged gold from the other three seasoned finalists including individual Olympic silver medalist Conrad Homfeld of the US, French equestrian Pierre Durand, and British legend Nick Skelton. In the individual standings, Greenough had been one of the “final four” – top four riders who then had to jump one round on each horse, their own and the horses of the other three finalists. She did it flawlessly.
With that win she became the first woman, the first Canadian, and the youngest rider to win gold at the Show Jumping World Championships (now known as the show jumping competition at the FEI World Equestrian Games).
Greenough admitted later that she was more than a little nervous. She had watched many videos of each of the other horses in action, then tried to liken them to horses she had known in the past to get a feel for what they would be like to ride. The video prep paid off and she rode clear rounds on Homfeld’s Abdullah, Nick Skelton’s Raffles Apollo, and Durand’s Jappeloup de Luze. Those amazing rounds earned her the gold medal – and moreover, she was the first rider to win with zero faults.
Her Canadian team, which included Ian Millar, Laura Tidball-Balisky, and John Anderson, finished a close fourth.
Greenough’s win broke the glass ceiling on many levels and put female riders in the spotlight. At the time, show jumping riders competing at that level in Europe were men, and in North America there were only a few women at the upper echelon of the sport.
In 1990, Greenough was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In 1992, she expanded her sports career by becoming a CBC commentator and served on the selection committee for the Canadian team. For a number of years, she ran an extensive coaching business, sourced horses at the international level, and took teams to Young Riders.
Main Photo: Gail Greenough competing on Mr T at the World Championships in 1986. Courtesy of Equestrian Canada