Equestrian – Dressage

Dressage is one of the three disciplines of the Olympic sport of Equestrian.

Did you know?

A total of 200 athletes will compete for six gold medals in the sport of Equestrian during the 2012 Games.
At Helsinki 1952, Denmark’s Lis Hartel won silver in Dressage, even though her legs were paralysed from polio eight years earlier.
At the Olympic Games horses must be at least eight-years-old for Dressage and Eventing, and nine-years-old for Jumping.

Key facts 

Venue: Greenwich Park
Dates: Thursday 2 August – Wednesday 8 August
Gold medals up for grabs:

Dressage: a history of the sport

The history of equestrian sport dates back over 2,000 years, when the Greeks introduced dressage training to prepare their horses for war.

It continued to develop as a military exercise through the Middle Ages.

Classical Dressage reached its peak with the creation of the world-famous Spanish Riding School in 1729 in Vienna. This laid the basis for the modern discipline.

In its modern form, equestrian owes much to its inclusion in the Olympic Games, which led to the creation of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) in 1921.

More recently and with unprecedented success, the freestyle to music test was introduced and has since become an integral part of dressage. Freestyle is the pinnacle of dressage execution and when it works, the result is magical.

Through its development of international competitions, the FEI has helped to spread the popularity of horse sport far beyond its traditional army base.

For more information on the history of the sport, visit the IOC website.

Dressage at the Olympic Games

Equestrian has been part of the Olympic programme since Stockholm 1912, when 62 competitors from 10 nations with 70 horses were involved.

To begin with, only military officers were allowed to enter the Eventing competition; Dressage and Show Jumping were open to all, but few civilians took part.

This changed at the Helsinki 1952 Games – when women also took part for the first time. Today, equestrian medallists come from a wide range of backgrounds and countries.

How the competition runs


Dressage tests take place in a 60 x 20-metre ‘all-weather’ (sand-based) arena.

Two competitions run at the same time – the team medals are decided over two rounds and the individual medals over three.

In each round, the riders have to perform a Dressage Test, made up of a series of movements to be performed by the horse. The movements are set in a compulsory order for the first two rounds. For the third and final round, the rider chooses what he or she will show the judges and the programme is set to music – ‘Freestyle’.

Horse and rider are marked by five judges who look for accuracy of movement, calmness, suppleness and flexibility.

Jargon buster

  • Aid: A prompt that a rider gives a horse to change gaits, turn, etc., using the hands, legs, voice or body weight.
  • Half Pass: A forward and sideways Dressage movement where the horse crosses its legs as it moves sideways.
  • Piaffe: A majestic trot on the spot, with each diagonally opposite pair of feet raised and returned to the ground alternately while the horse’s head ideally is vertical and the neck raised and arched.


Get involved


If you’re new to the sport and want to find out more, the British Equestrian Federation website is a good place to start. Also visit the Federation Equestre Internationale.

Jane Gregory of Great Britain and Lucky Star perform in the Individual Dressage Grand Prix at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

~ by superbowlnyc on February 17, 2011.

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