There are six gold medals up for grabs in the equestrian Olympics. Two of those will be awarded in individual and team dressage. What is dressage and who are the hot picks to medal?
Between July 28 and August 9, athletes from 40 countries on six continents will launch their quest for a medal in the equestrian event of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Riders and their horses will compete in three disciplines at Greenwich Park: Dressage, Eventing and Jumping.
Each discipline requires a different skill set, with Eventing requiring them all. Equestrian is the only sport in the Olympics where men compete directly against women on a level playing field for six gold medals — one individual medal and one team medal for each discipline. In 2012, 200 participants will mount up and compete, that's 75 riders in Jumping, 50 riders in Dressage and 75 riders in Eventing.
The equestrian section of the games is one of the Olympic's greatest highlights — when one understands each discipline. But like many other sports, it can get complicated if the basics are not grasped. Here's a rundown.
Dressage is the art of classical riding, the ballet of the horse world. It is a series of transitions and movements performed by the horse and rider that should appear seamless and effortless. Harmony and unity is the key to dressage, as riders cue their horses to complete a series of intricate movements from memory, without appearing to do so.
Dressage is a French term, most commonly translated to mean "training" and it takes years to train a high-caliber dressage horse. The International Equestrian Federation describes this discipline as "the highest expression of horse training."
Dressage takes place in a standard 66 x 197 ft. arena bearing the standard letters: A-K-V-E-S-H-C-M-R-B-P-F. The horse always enters at A and there is always a judge sitting at C. The Olympics however, will have a panel of seven judges, who will award scores for individual movements and overall routine.
According to Dressage America.com, "the ancient Greeks were the first to practice dressage in preparation for war." Movements such as the piaffe, the pirouette, the levade and the courbette were designed to help man and horse prevail in battle.
Flying lead changes (when a horse is moving at a canter or gallop and changes from leading with one leg to another), kept the horse "handy and mobile on the battlefield." In Olympic dressage, moves performed are: passage, half pass, canter pirouettes, piaffe and lead changes.
Today, dressage is less about the art of war and more about art in motion. The first Olympic Dressage games were held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1912, and was for cavalry officers only. In 1932, the standard arena with its letters was introduced.
The team event for Olympic dressage consists of three riders per team and their horses. Each will perform a the dressage test before the panel of judges, who will award scores for individual movements and for the overall routine.
For the first two rounds, the movements are set in compulsory order. For the final freestyle round, the rider chooses an individual programme, to be set to music. Each single movement and the transitions between them receive a score on a scale of 1 to 10.
Team and individual events are conducted simultaneously, so a rider’s score in a test will be relevant for both events. According to the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the governing body for the sport, after the first phase (the Grand Prix), "the best seven teams (including any teams tied for seventh place) and the best 11 individuals (including any tied for 11th place) who are not already qualified as team members, progress to the next phase, the Grand Prix Special." The team event medals are decided by the total of the scores in the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special.
So who's hot to trot to gold?
The hot teams in Olympic dressage for 2012 are Great Britain, Germany, Holland, Denmark, and the USA.
Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro
Carl Hester & Uthopia
Laura Bechtolsheimer & Mistral Hojris
Richard Davison & Hiscox Artemis (Individual)
Personal favorite: Carl Hester and Uthopia.
Jan Ebeling & Rafalca
Tina Konyot & Calecto V
Steffen Peters & Four Winds Farm's Ravel
Adrienne Lyle & Peggy Thomas' Wizard (Individual)
Personal favorite: Steffen Peters
Helen Langehanenberg & Damon Hill NRW
Dorothee Schneider & Diva Royal
Kristina Sprehe & Desperadoes
Anabel Balkenhol & Dablino (individual)
Personal favorite: Kristina Sprehe
Adelinde Cornelissen & Parzival
Edward Gal & Undercover
Anky van Grunsven & Salinero
Patrick van der Meer & Uzzo (Individual)
Personal favorite: Anky van Grunsven
Anna Kasprzak & Donperignon
Anne van Olst & Talkoen
Nathalie Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein & Digby
Lisbet Seierskilde & Raneur (Individual)
Personal favorite: Nathalie Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein
Gold Medal winning German dressage team, Beijing, 2008
International Equestrian Federation score analyst David Stickland, told the UK's Daily Telegraph that he expects Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin to become Olympic individual champion and win team gold alongside Laura Bechtolsheimer.
But Great Britain has a lot of pressure of its shoulders as host nation. Despite its impressive history in equestrian, Britain has won just one Olympic gold since 1972. Still, Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro have been on fire.
At Hagen CDI4* last April, Dujardin and Valegro brought the German crowd to their feet and set a new standard in the Grand Prix Special with a mark of 88.022 per cent. And in July, in the Gala performance at the 2012 CDI Hartpury in Gloucestershire, Dujardin and Valegro's debut of their Freestyle music and floor plan, became the first duo to top the 90% barrier in international competition. Their final score of 90.65%, smashed the previous British record, set last April by Laura Bechtolsheimer.
Still, it won't be easy, as expectations in the Olympics often go awry. Germany has dominated dressage in the Olympics taking 12 Team and seven individual titles, but the gap has been closing with each passing year. Steffen Peters of the USA, Kristina Sprehe and Helen Langehanenberg of Germany, plus Olympic veteran Anky van Grunsven, are strong contenders.
Olympic firsts for London 2012
Dressage for the the first time, has surpassed Eventing for the number of competing nations with a total of 23 as opposed to 22.
Also for the first time, a Judges Supervisory Panel (JSP) is in place to immediately correct any scoring anomalies.
Prior to 2012, team results were based on performances in the Grand Prix alone. Now, the results of both the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special will be combined to decide the final team classification.
The selection process by some nations for their riders has not been without criticism. According to the Daily Telegraph, "there were no surprises in the British teams announced for London 2012, but other key equestrian nations have been unsettled by litigation and controversy over the rider selection process."
When to watch
Aug 02: Team dressage day 1
Aug 03: Team dressage: day 2
Aug 07:Team dressage: finals and medal ceremony
Aug 09: Individual dressage: Grand Prix Freestyle and medal ceremony
Not to be missed
The Grand Prix Freestyle
Watch Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin post a new world record in the Grand Prix Special in Hagen on April 29th 2012 with a score of 88.022%. Video was posted by emmydejeu.