Friday, Apr. 19, 2024

Women In History: Marjorie Haines Gill Was An American Trailblazer

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Today we take for granted that equestrian disciplines are one of the only Olympic sports in which men and women compete on equal footing, but it wasn’t that long ago that remarkable female riders were shattering the glass ceiling. During March, we’re looking back at some of them. A version of this story first appeared in Untacked magazine. 


For some pioneering female equestrians, their moment in the spotlight may have been brief, but it’s nonetheless important to recognize that they once crossed a threshold that was previously out-of-bounds for women. 

Any competitor will attest to the prestige of carrying the national flag on her saddle pad, but only a special few can call themselves Olympians. Marjorie Haines Gill was able to claim to both when she became the first female rider on a U.S. Olympic team at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, the first time the Games were open to civilians and women. 

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Marjorie Haines Gill became the first female on a U.S. Olympic equestrian team at the 1952 Games in Helsinki. The May 23, 1952, issue of the Chronicle included coverage of the team’s trip across the Atlantic on The Flying Dutchman, a plane that coincidentally shared the name of Gill’s talented dressage mount. Chronicle Archives

Former Olympian and team Chef d’Equipe Jessica Ransehousen remembers those days in the early 1950s when there were very few upper-level dressage riders in the United States at all; most, she recalls, “were nice amateur riders not bitten by the bug.” 

But Gill, then just 20, was in the right place at the right time, and The Flying Dutchman, a German horse that was liberated after World War II, trotted into her life. 

“He was available, and she was interested, so she took him on,” Ransehousen said. “He was a very nice horse, very well trained, and she deserved to go [to the Olympics].”

To some observers at the time, Gill’s appearance on the team came as a surprise. As Ransehousen recalled, “She came out of nowhere, but she was a hard worker and very dedicated. She was lucky to have found that horse, because it gave her a wonderful chance.” 

In 1952, the U.S. team was training at Sleepy Hollow Stables in New York, and Gill’s teammates were Bob Borg, William “Bill” James Jr. and Hartmann Pauly. 

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“They were the only ones with any experience,” Ransehousen noted. “We were second cousins to the jumpers. Very little was written about the sport, and if you don’t have interest from the public, it’s lost on the people.” 

Against this background, the team’s achievements, and those of Gill individually, did not make headlines. Although Gill finished 17th at the Olympics, her appearance there was largely overshadowed by Denmark’s Lis Hartel, who won silver. 

Upon the team’s return from Helsinki, Gill, played a less prominent role in dressage. Once she married Hall of Fame show jumping owner and trainer Harry R. Gill, who had also helped her with her dressage mounts, her attention was drawn to the hunter/jumper world. Together the Gills produced many successful horses, including the much-loved champion Idle Dice. 

Gill died in 2014 at the age of 86.


A version of this article originally appeared in the Summer 2014, issue of Untacked. You can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse and our lifestyle publication, Untacked. If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.

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