The construction of the Bitsa Equestrian Centre (currently a sports school) began in 1977 and was intended for the 22nd Summer Olympics. Its inauguration date – 4 July 1980 – is deemed its birthday.
Horses and the Bitsa Forest
The centre was built on the edge of the Bitsa Forest for a reason. About 40 years ago this district, called Chertanovo, was sparsely populated, calm and quiet and was like a rural area. This location was chosen for the equestrian centre because the lack of noise wouldn’t disturb the Olympians or frighten horses during an event.
The centre is 46 hectares in area. Its unique sports facilities are designed to hold equestrian and modern pentathlon competitions at any level: from amateur to international.
Competition was the centre’s primary use. During the Olympics it hosted competitions in modern pentathlon and three Olympic equestrian disciplines: show jumping, dressage and eventing (horse trial).
After the Olympics, in the late 1990s-early 2000s, the centre became Russia’s main venue for major competitions from national championships to five-star tournaments conducted in such disciplines as show jumping and dressage.
The facilities are now used by the Bitsa Sports School. The grounds comprise areas for show jumping and dressage competitions, two riding halls, summer (120-stall) and winter (245-stall) stables, a veterinary clinic and outdoor practice fields.
World equestrian stars have come here several times. For example, Peter Charles of Ireland, the 2012 London Summer Olympics champion in show jumping, came to compete at Bitsa.
In addition, the Bitsa centre has a gym, a water-pool and a shooting gallery. It even has an enclosure with four deer that visitors like.
The centre’s location is very convenient: a metro station is nearby. Many people in addition to professional athletes come to Bitsa.
“It is important for us that Bitsa is also visited by people who are not equestrians at all — just for riding or watching the horses,” said Nikolai Gulyaev, head of Moscow’s Department of Sport and Tourism. “Some visitors come regularly. Most come on weekends with children and the whole family. Those who live nearby can use the shooting gallery, the gym, take guided tours of the stable yard or ride through Bitsa Park.”
Even though people liked Bitsa they said on many occasions that a renovation would help. Residents of the Severnoye (Northern) Chertanovo District, where the Bitsa centre is located, asked Mayor Sergei Sobyanin at a meeting this summer for a comprehensive restoration. The project is now underway and a major renovation is scheduled for 2019.
Towards a new life
“Some work on the Bitsa Equestrian Centre is already underway,” said Gulyaev. “For example, we are now working on the pool: the pool deck, locker rooms and shower rooms. Repairs on the sport and fitness complex are almost completed.”
Facility design and funding needs to be approved by the end of the year and we must determine the extent of utility line upgrades and rerouting. We expect work on the stables to begin in 2019. The project will be completed step by step.
“We’ll get started in late March-early April because we can’t move the horses to the summer stalls before then. We’ll have about seven months, from April to October, for repairing the stables and the riding hall. Meeting this deadline before the cold weather is very important. The horses will need the warmer stalls by the end of October. But the facilities that are not vital for the animals will be repaired gradually,” said Tatyana Bibikova, Bitsa Sport School acting director.
There are plans to build 250 summer stalls where the horses are to be relocated while the repairs are underway by the beginning of April.
“In addition, we’ll develop a promenade and green area on the grounds so people can use the area as a park,” Gulyaev added.
Developing a champion
However, the Bitsa Sport School is a hive of activity even now. People not only watch or ride horses here, but they also take up equestrian sport more professionally. Training is available in several stages: primary, practice, mastership and supreme mastership.
Several world-class sportsmen have been employed as instructors. Among them are Masters of Sports and national team members Maria Bibikova (show jumping) and Yelizaveta Troshchenkova (dressage). It’s always good to provide examples for young people as they get started. This is the best motivation.
It’s also important for new riding students to develop a relationship with the horse, something that plays an important part in an sportsperson’s potential. The animal can sense a rider’s attitude at once.
“The foremost task is to teach a child to love the animal. If a child treats the horse like an exercise machine nothing will come of it. It is important to regard the horse as a friend, someone you take care of, hang out with and talk to,” added Tatiana Bibikova.
Despite its size a horse can be skittish. It gets used to a certain site which can affect its work qualities.
A horse needs to be taken to other competition sites at least once a month. Generally, the students go to competitions with their horses. Participation in large tournaments helps overcome psychological barriers and fear.
A horse’s life in sports depends on many things: from proper training and diet to veterinary’s work and intensity of performances. Sporting horses, for example, are only admitted to Olympic Games starting from the age of nine. Before that the animal is deemed too young and underdeveloped. Such horses are even barred from Grand Prix long routes.
Innovative technologies for race horses
High-tech equipment has recently been introduced for horses for drying them and to relax the muscles and for muscle toning. The treatment boosts metabolism, improves blood circulation and mitigates muscle fatigue.
The equipment has been installed in the stable. Infrared lamps have been mounted on the ceiling. A horse is lead under the lamps and stands there for about 15 minutes.
The centre has also has new treadmills for horse walking.
“It’s not always safe to walk a horse in winter but it needs exercise for 20 to 30 minutes twice a day. When it’s cold outside we use the horse treadmill. And the horse walks to a programme selected by our specialists,” explained Tatiana Bibikova.
A set of exercises has been developed for the horses. In addition to under-saddle exercises, we practice easier exercise with the cord (without a rider or saddle): the horse runs around in circles 18 metres in diameter with the rider or coach standing in the centre. These exercises are supplemented by the treadmills at various speeds depending on the horse’s classification.