The painting of a postbox in honour of Carl Hester's win, alongside Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin, in the team dressage at Greenwich Park on Tuesday is going to be a little more complicated than for other contestants.
Hester comes from Sark in the Channel Islands, where the Royal Mail's writ does not run. But Guernsey Post, which is responsible for postal services on the island, has said it will follow the Royal Mail's lead and paint Sark's only postbox – currently blue – the appropriately celebratory colour.
Hester's background is very unusual. He learned to ride on Sark, which has no cars, by riding on donkeys, and insists that his success gives the lie to the assertion that dressage is an inherently elitist sport. His argument is significant because, if dressage is to build a legacy from winning gold at Greenwich, it will need to recast its image.
"My parents aren't horsey – they can't stand horses, actually," he said after receiving his medal, "so that makes it even more ridiculous that I've ended up on this route. The three of us come from totally different backgrounds. It's amazing I learned to balance and ride on a bareback donkey; Charlotte came through the showing world [riding ponies in shows]; and Laura did everything across all the equestrian disciplines before she took up dressage."
Hester and Dujardin come from unmoneyed backgrounds, but Bechtolsheimer is the German-born granddaughter of a multimillionaire who made his fortune in property, and her father has made a huge investment in the sport. Nonetheless, Hester insisted it was hard work, not money that got him and his team-mates to the top.
"I grew up on Sark, the most ridiculously small island," he said. "I left home at 16, said I wanted to go to England and do horses, and worked as a groom for many, many years. There's a story up here that any kid could aspire to. You have to have the right opportunities and you have to find your way, but the obvious answer is that hard work and dedication paid off for all three of us."
Hester believes the gold – Britain's first ever dressage medal after decades of domination by Germany and the Netherlands – can take the sport in the UK to a new level. "It's shot it into a different league," he said. But the sport has work to do to shake off its moneyed, top-hatted image. Ann Romney's ownership of the dressage horse Rafalca, which was eliminated from the individual competition at Greenwich after posting a disappointing score, has caused difficulties for her husband Mitt, the Republican presidential hopeful.
The Democrats have used the horse as a stick with which to beat him, forcing him to distance himself from his wife's hobby, and US comedians have had a field day with what is widely seen as a sport that enshrines wealth and privilege.
Satirist Stephen Colbert mocked claims made by Rafalca's rider, Jan Ebeling, that dressage was not exclusively a sport for the well-heeled. "It's something you can do with a normal budget," said Colbert. "Yeah, it's really all about budgeting. You cut out a couple of lattes a week. By the end of the month, you've got yourself a $3m Dutch warmblood."
Claire Shand of the British Equestrian Federation said dressage's reputation as the preserve of the wealthy was undeserved. "Dressage is accessible," she argued. "You don't have to throw yourself over massive fences, and you don't need a big, expensive horse to do it. Winning here will be amazing for the sport."
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image: © Fighting Irish 1977