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What are the Olympic Equestrian Sports?

The Basics Of Olympic Equestrian Sports


What are the Olympic Equestrian Sports?

Narrow jumps called 'skinnies' on a cross-country course test the obedience of the horse not to run out to the side to avoid the obstacle.

Photo by MN Chan/Getty Images
What are the Olympic Equestrian sports? The Olympic Equestrian sports are dressage, three-day eventing and show jumping.

Horse sports such as chariot and riding races were part of the early Olympic games. Riding was first included in the 1900 Olympics and reappeared in 1912. Originally in the modern Olympics, only commissioned officers were allowed to compete. Beginning in 1952 rules were changed to allow civilians and women. Olympic equestrian events are one of two Olympic sports where women compete equally with men (sailing is the other).


There are 6 Olympic Equestrian events that take place in a number of venues:

  • Eventing, Team Competition
  • Eventing, Individual Competition
  • Dressage, Team Competition
  • Dressage, Individual Competition
  • Jumping, Team Competition
  • Jumping, Individual Competition
All Olympic equestrian disciplines are governed by the rules of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI).

Dressage is the systematic training of a horse to carry a rider with ease and grace. Dressage competitions demonstrate the level of training a horse and rider team have attained. During the test, you will see the horse ridden at different paces, and different speeds within those paces. The horses will be asked to fluidly move in straight lines and circles. The horses will also be asked to move smoothly and obediently sideways, diagonally and in place. You will see horses in 'collection' where the horse is moving with higher elevation of back and legs, and 'extension' where the horse is reaching further with its legs while still carrying its neck and back in an elevated frame. Olympic level dressage competition highlights the most advanced and refined riding skills. It is often compared to ballet on horseback.

The first Olympic competition was in 1912 although the sport is centuries old. Olympic dressage is scored by 5 FEI judges that each sit in a different position around the arena. Scores are based on the accuracy and brilliance of each required movement of the assigned test and rated on a scale of 0 to 10.

Horses and riders at the Olympics compete at the highest level of dressage recognized by the FEI; Grand Prix. Kur or freestyle is a dressage test choreographed to music. The score is based on the accuracy of the movements and artistic impression. The highest score wins.

Show Jumping
Show jumping tests the ability of horse and rider to jump over a series of obstacles inside a riding ring. You will see horses and riders jumping over a preset course of 10 to 16 jumps that are up to 6ft 6in (2m)high or wide. Courses are designed with many tricky turns and colorful obstacles challenging both the mental and physical agility of horse and rider. The horse/rider teams must finish within a set time and penalties are given for knocking down rails and other faults.

Scores are based on the number of jumps knocked down, falls , touches, refusals to jump and time penalties. The rider with the fewest penalties wins. Ties are broken by jump-offs with penalties and fastest times used to break the tie. Riders inspect the course before riding to plan the best strategy for jumping these very challenging courses cleanly and quickly.

Three Day Eventing
Eventing is a test of the skill, versatility, courage and endurance of horse and rider. Three day eventing is held over three days and consists of three disciplines: cross country jumping, dressage and stadium jumping. The cross-country phase takes place over a course of natural and man-made objects. There can be up to 40 obstacles that horses must jump or go through over the course that is up to four miles long.

Scores are based on refusals, coming in under or over a set time and falls of the rider.

Read more about Olympic Equestrian Rules and Scoring.

Back to Main Olympic Equestrian page.

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