Equestrianism and the Olympics – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About These Games

With the London 2012 Olympic Games in full swing, it’s safe to say most of the country – if not the World – is gripped with Olympic fever. But it’s not just the worlds’ fastest sprinters, heptathletes, and swimmers we will be watching this summer.

London’s Greenwich Park is playing host to this years’ equestrian events, and they’re set to be as popular as ever. This year’s equine events involve three disciplines, and feature an individual and a team format. With the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, taking part, the world will certainly be watching.

History of Olympic Equestrian Events

Equestrian sports were first contested in the Summer games since the 1990 games in Paris. After a 12 year hiatus, they became a regular feature at the 1912 games in Stockholm. Equestrianism is the only event in the Games where women and men compete on equal terms, and the only event involving animals.

With the horse being considered as much of an athlete as the rider, and both genders competing together, equestrian events are the stand-out sport for many. They differ so greatly from everything else, yet hold so much prestige for competitors and spectators alike.

While the events have changed over the decades – polo was featured in earlier Games – the three that feature today are long standing. Here we look at these events in more detail, and see just why they’re a prominent feature of the Olympics today:


When equine sports were reintroduced in 1912, dressage was amongst the events and has remained so since then. Originally featuring 21 competitors from 7 counties, dressage horses had to undertake three tasks: an obedience, jumping and flat test.

100 years on and dressage has change slightly, but is still featured in the Games. Horses are no longer required to perform jumps. Because of this, the test on the flat has become increasingly more difficult.

This test is the performed in front of seven judges, awarding points for both individual movements and the overall routine. Today, horses are bred specifically to compete in dressage and have to be at least eight-years-old to take part.


Show jumping was one of the equine disciplines contested in the Paris games. While the sport itself hasn’t really changed in the last century, the way it is scored and the courses themselves have changed somewhat. Early fences were smaller, less technical and more naturally built that the brightly coloured poles of today.

Jumping used to see riders try and earn points, with each completed jump giving them 10 points. They would then loose faults for any faults occurred. In the modern Games, scoring is much less complicated. Riders incur faults for the disobediences. It is marked on a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ system, whereby on the third fault the competitor is eliminated. The winner is the rider who completes the course in the fastest time, with the fewest faults.

Horses that compete in jumping must be at least nine-years-old, and the event takes place in five rounds. Much like dressage, jumping has both an individual and a team format, with certain individual rounds helping to determine the overall team score.


Eventing was introduced to the Games in Stockholm in 1912. Held over four days, eventing sees riders compete in jumping and dressage events. Again, eventing is both an individual and team discipline where men and women compete together.

The first two days are filled with dressage, where – much like the singular dressage event – riders perform a routine in front of a judging panel. This score is then carried over to the second stage event.

The third event in eventing is the cross country. Taking place over an impressive 5,700 – 6,840m and 45 jumps, riders aim to accumulate the fewest penalty points. The fourth and final stage is the jumping tests. The penalty points accrued during this stage will be added to the overall score for the rider.

Equestrian sports, even though they have changed considerably, have been a prominent feature of the Summer Olympic Games for more than a century. So if athletics doesn’t amaze you, and swimming doesn’t float your boat, why not tune in for equestrianism? It might just be your calling.

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