What’s the deal?
Yes, we called it horse ballet on the opening page, but it’s really much more than that. If you’re not into horses, it might be a little difficult to wrap your head around the sport of dressage and why it is (still) in the Olympics. But it’s got history, man. Like ties to ancient Greece history.
See, the Greeks liked to fight a lot, and if you wanted to accomplish any fighting at any sort of speed, a lot of horseback riding was involved. That said, the Greeks also figured out that if you could put your horse through some good agility training and got the horse to work with the rider, you were a heck of a lot more successful (and by “more successful” we mean “likely alive”). The sport of dressage came out of this training.
Olympic dressage consists of three different rounds. Remember when figure skating used to have that compulsory figure round, where skaters did specific patterns on the ice, and judges determined how well they did them?* That’s like the first two rounds of dressage. The Grand Prix is a quarter-final round, with horse and rider doing a pre-determined routine involving walks, trots and canters. Moves are judged on a 0-10 point scale, and you’re looking for high marks in order to move on. The Grand Prix Special is more of the same, just with fewer competitors. The finals is called the Grand Prix Freestyle, where competitors do choreographed routines set to music. Best in this round wins.
Like a breath of fresh air, men and women compete against each other in mixed individual and mixed team events.
Why should I watch?
People get horses. To do choreography. That alone is mind-blowing. But add in the fact that a rider is able to get a horse to move laterally and do pirouettes when it looks like they’re barely doing anything with the reins, and you’ll have to physically shut your mouth. Then add the musical element. To top it off, the spectators know not to cheer during the musical number, and that amplifies the intensity.
If you need four more words: Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro. The British rider is unstoppable, and Valegro’s in his last Olympic competition. Read more about the duo in this fantastic New Yorker piece.
Potential drinking game:
Horse stumbles, you drink.
The perfect snack:
Apples and carrots
The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) is your go-to resource for all sports equine. They’ve got all the deets about dressage.
Dressage’s gotta be judged, and that’s another great way to get involved with the sport. Learn all about it from the FEI.