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Lesage dazzles in the dressage

10 Aug 1932
Los Angeles 1932

Every Olympic Games produces moments of controversy; one of the most famous took place in the individual dressage event at Los Angeles 1932.

The man at the centre of the dispute was Swedish rider Bertil Sandström who, despite finish-ing second, was demoted to last place after it was ruled that he had unlawfully encouraged his horse during the contest by "clicking" at him.

Such was the storm caused by the incident that it nearly threatened to overshadow the achievements of the winning rider, the 45-year-old Frenchman Xavier Lesage, whose second appearance on the Olympic stage represented the crowning moment of his equestrian career.

Born in 1885 in Moret-sur-Loing, north-central France, Lesage joined the Riding School of Saumur after World War I and climbed the ranks of French riders until he was selected to compete in the 1924 Paris Olympics. A bronze medal in individual dressage was a noteworthy achievement, but eight years later he bettered it by some margin.

Riding his shiny black thoroughbred horse Taine on a Polo field in the Riviera Country Club, the official equestrian centre during the Los Angeles Games, Lesage won gold in both the individual dressage and the team dressage events.

“Taine, ridden by Commandant Lesage of France, won the individual competition with a brilliant performance,” the Official Report reads, “while the other French entries demonstrated their fitness to be his teammates by capturing the team title.”

A few years after his Olympic success, Lesage returned to the Riding School of Saumur to serve as chief instructor, a role he assumed until the outbreak of World War II. In 1940, during an evacuation of the school, Taine, who had served Lesage with such distinction for over a decade, broke his leg during loading and had to be put down.

Lesage himself died in the French commune of Gisors in 1968, aged 83.

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