78 Rolex was controversial for a lot of reasons, and the start of a lot of calls to change the sport.
The intent was to have a North American championship on the level of Burghley or Badminton so the American team was a better prepared for international competition. America had won the right to host the championship when Bruce Davidson and the US Team won Burghley in 74. It was supposed to be a tough *** track. (Yes, this was a only a ***, Rolex didn't become a **** until the 90s.) However, this was also when it was a 5 phase event, what is now called the classic format, with horses performing roads & tracks and steeplechase on XC day.
In 78, their was a late fall heat wave, and the temp and the humidity were brutal. I can't find the references, but IIRC, cross country day the temps were in the 90s with humidity at 80 percent. Shortening roads and tracks and steeplechase was considered but no one wanted the first NA championship to be less demanding than their European counterparts.
So what you see here are a lot of tired, distressed horses and riders trying to navigate a big, tough course.
Bruce Davidson, the winner, came under huge amounts of criticism, as the only rider to be both clear and under the time on Might Tango, but Might Tango finished the course exhausted and required IV fluids. I can't imagine how that would be perceived in today's animal rights environment, and with video appearing on YouTube within minutes afterwards.
It was widely agreed that those heat and humidity made the course insanely difficult. The European horses, who were not used to the weather in the American South, fared worse than the Americans
It's also worth noting that many of the fences on this video (Giant's Table, Fort Lexington) were fixtures of the course for years afterward and jumped successfully in competition hundreds of times.
I also find it interesting that while there are lots of falls, there are none of the horrific rotational falls that we have now, after revising the format and trying to make it safer.
And please note that eventing rules now require that you retire immediately after a fall, but that hasn't made the sport any safer either.
I wish that if folks (not specifically the OP) have the time and Google skills to find these old videos, that they would use those same skills to find some history and context.
Last edited by maura; 12-09-2012 at 08:58 AM.