Olympic dressage rules

ArticleHow to - horse trainingFriday 02 September 2011
By David Bartram

Dressage is one of the four equestrian Olympic disciplines, along with Eventing, Jumping and the Modern Pentathlon. The name “dressage” comes from “dresser”, the French word meaning “to train”. It has a long history dating back to the Renaissance, when it was considered the best training method for cavalry horses.

The competition is designed to test the synergy between the horse and its rider along with the horse’s agility and obedience. Some refer to the discipline as “equestrian ballet” because it requires the horse and rider to execute a series of graceful and precisely choreographed movements. Read on to find out more about the rules of Olympic dressage.

Each competing country is allowed three riders and one alternate on their team. All of the riders are eligible for individual medals, and there are also team medals for the highest scoring countries. The dressage arena is a perfectly flat and level sand surface; 60 meters long and 20 meters wide; marked at the enclosure of the arena and separated from the spectators by a distance of not less than 15 meters.

The riders perform a series of movements known as a dressage test, and are ranked by seven judges. Each movement in the test is scored from 0 (not executed) to 10 (excellent). The scores from the judges are averaged, and a total score of 70-75 for the entire test is considered competitive.

The movements in the equestrian Olympic dressage test are:
Piaffe: This is a calm trot in place, although minimal movement forward is not penalised.

Passage: A particular form of trot, with a high stride. It is described by some as like watching a horse trot underwater. The horse must be strong and well-trained to achieve a good passage.

Extended gaits: Normally done at trot and at canter, in this movement the horse strides the maximum length possible, testing its forward thrust and reach. The extended walk also shows that the horse can relax and stretch in the middle of other movements.

Collected gait: The reverse of the extended gait, for these the horse shortens and elevates the stride and carries more weight on the hind end.

Flying changes in sequence: Informally called "tempi", the horse changes leads at the canter every stride (one tempi or "onesies"), two strides (two tempi), or three strides (three tempi).

Pirouette: A turn in place of 180 or 360 degrees, usually performed at a canter.

Half-pass: A movement where the horse travels on a diagonal, moving sideways and forwards simultaneously, while bending slightly in the direction of movement.

The Olympic dressage team event is divided into the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special. After the Grand Prix Special, medals are awarded in the Team event. The individual events continue after this point: the 18 riders with the best scores in the Grand Prix Special then qualify for the Grand Prix Freestyle, in which riders perform routines of their own design set to music. The scores in the Freestyle round decide the individual medallists.

Photo credit: Fallingdominos.

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