The discipline of Equestrian Dressage dates back to ancient Greece, whose people wanted their horses to move in a natural, disciplined manner. However, other historical records indicate that its origins lie in training mounted horses for war – something that is done in a way that is not harmonious at all, with spurs and physical exhaustion.
The art of riding obedient horses resurfaced during the Renaissance. At that time, kings and noblemen paraded on highly trained animals which promptly obeyed their commands. The more disciplined the horses, the more elegant and admired they were.
In the year 1532, Federico Grisone, an Italian, founded a riding school in Naples, and this concept spread throughout Europe in the following centuries. Another well-known institution is the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, which was established in 1729 and is a worldwide reference for Dressage even today.
Equestrian events have been present at the Games since Paris 1900, but Dressage only debuted in 1912, in Stockholm, when the sport joined the programme. 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 person’s commands to execute specific movements. Competitions take place in a flat, rectangular area measuring 60 x 20 m.
Performances are evaluated by seven judges, and the most important item is the rider’s control of his 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 ten. During presentations, riders cannot make any type of sound.
Errors in the horse’s path are warned of with a bell, and the loss of points is proportional to the number of errors. The first error has a penalty of two points, and second four points, and so on.
Dressage competitions have both individual and team events, each with three riders and occurring at the same time. The first phase, called the Grand Prix, ranks the top seven teams and 11 riders who are not part of any of them.
The next stage, the Special Grand Prix, is the final phase of the team competition – the sum of scores won in 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 performance in this round.