The equestrian discipline of dressage dates back to ancient Greece, whose people wanted their horses to move in a natural, disciplined manner. Other historical records however, indicate that its origins lie in training mounted horses for war – a process that is far from harmonious, with spurs and physical exhaustion both to the fore.
The art of riding an obedient, in-sync horse resurfaced during the Renaissance. At that time, kings and noblemen paraded on highly-trained animals that promptly obeyed their commands. The more disciplined the horses, the more elegant and admired they became.
In 1532, the Italian Federico Grisone founded a riding school in Naples to teach and foster this precious art. The notion spread throughout Europe in the following centuries, with the well-known Spanish Riding School of Vienna established in 1729 and still a worldwide reference for dressage even today.
Equestrian events have been present at the Games since Paris 1900, but dressage only made its debut in 1912, in Stockholm. The team event was disputed for the first time at the Amsterdam 1928 Games.
The goal is to evaluate the conduct of both rider and horse, checking the latter’s ability to respond to the former’s commands to execute specific movements. Competitions take place in a flat, rectangular area measuring 60m x 20m.
Performances are evaluated by seven judges, with the most important aspect being the rider’s control of his or her horse – even the posture of the horse’s head is taken into account. The winner is whoever receives the best scores, which range from zero to 10. During presentations, riders must not make sounds of any kind.
Errors in the horse’s route are alerted by the ringing of a bell, and the loss of points is proportional to the number of errors. The first error has a penalty of two points, the second four points, and so on.
Dressage competitions have both individual and team events, which occur at the same time. The first phase, called the Grand Prix, ranks the top seven teams and the top 11 riders from outside of those teams.
The next stage, the Special Grand Prix, is the final phase of the team competition and the sum of the scores from the two presentations determines who goes onto the podium. In individual competitions, the 18 best riders compete in the final event, the Freestyle Grand Prix, based solely on performances in this round.