Dressage is one of three equestrian sports featured in the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France.

Known as the highest expression of horse training, dressage is an equestrian discipline that develops the horse’s strength, balance, and rideability. In competition, dressage athletes perform elegant and precise movements that showcase their training in front of a panel of judges.

Dressage has been part of the Olympic Games for over a century. Today, equestrian events are the only Olympic sport in which men and women compete directly against each other.

Dressage is beautiful to watch but sometimes challenging to understand. This Olympic Dressage Guide covers everything you need to know about the competition, scoring, teams, and schedule for dressage at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Dressage in the Olympics

Like other sports, dressage has several levels of national and international competition. At the Olympic level, dressage athletes perform the most difficult movements.

Training a horse to reach the top level takes years, but all dressage training is based on the same fundamentals. The Olympic dressage competition follows similar rules to other international dressage events.

History

Competitive dressage evolved from ancient methods of training cavalry horses and classical schools that developed riding as an art form. Dressage first appeared in the Olympic program at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. [1]

Initially, only male military officers could compete in dressage at the Olympics. Early versions of the sport resembled obedience tests used by the cavalry.

Dressage events at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games included most movements seen today in the modern competition arena. Females and civilian males first became eligible to compete at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. Since then, men and women have regularly shared the medal podium.

As with other recent Olympic Games, Paris 2024 includes the equestrian sports of dressage, eventing, and jumping. The equestrian events are also confirmed for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Arena

Olympic dressage athletes compete in a 20m x 60m arena. White railings line the arena’s outer border, while letters mark specific locations on the perimeter. The standard dressage arena is set up in the middle of a larger ring in the Olympic stadium.

Riders enter the arena at A, on the short side. C marks the center of the opposite short side. Seven judges sit at different letter locations around the arena, with the President of the ground jury sitting at C.

When the judge at C rings a bell, riders have 45 seconds to enter the competition arena and begin their test. They may ride around the arena’s border until the bell rings.

Tests

A dressage test is a sequence of movements performed at specific locations in the arena. The test sheet uses the arena letters to describe where riders should perform a movement.

The Olympic competition is held at the Grand Prix level. Grand Prix tests include the most complex movements and patterns dressage horses can perform.

Some movements seen in Grand Prix dressage tests at the Olympics include:

  • Piaffe: A highly collected and elevated movement where horses appear to trot on the spot
  • Passage: An elevated trot with a prolonged moment of suspension and pronounced engagement
  • Tempi changes: A sequence of flying changes performed every second stride or every stride at canter
  • Canter pirouette: A turn on the spot around the inside hind leg in a highly collected canter
  • Half pass: An advanced lateral movement in which the horse bends in the direction of travel

Riders create their own choreography to music for freestyle tests in the Olympics.

Scoring

Judges score each movement in the test on a scale from 1 (very bad) to 10 (excellent). Horse and rider combinations get a 0 if they don’t perform a movement called for on the test sheet.

International dressage tests also include a single collective mark for overall impression.

The final dressage score for a test is a percentage calculated by dividing the total points earned by the total possible points in the test. Scores from each judge are added together and divided by the total number of judges for a final result.

Going off course, or performing movements in the wrong order, results in penalties. The first error reduces the final score by two percentage points. The second error results in elimination. Dressage riders can also be eliminated for rule violations. [2]

The Olympic Games have a mandatory dressage judges supervisory panel. This panel has the authority to change movement scores if a judge misses a mistake or if a single judge’s final score varies by 5% or more from the average scores of the other judges.

Scores over 75% are competitive for team medals. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the gold medal-winning team had an average score above 80% in the final team competition.

Freestyle tests typically have higher scores due to artistic marks. All individual medal winners at Tokyo 2020 scored over 88% in the freestyle.

Attire and Equipment

Dressage riders wear tall boots, white breeches, white gloves, and a tailcoat. Some national teams have matching tailcoats.

Historically, top hats were traditional head attire for international dressage competitions. However, they started to fall out of fashion after 2010, when safety awareness increased in the sport.

Some riders chose to wear helmets in the Olympics at London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016. Helmets became mandatory for all international dressage competitions in 2021. Tokyo 2020, held in 2021, was the first Olympic Games to require athletes to wear helmets.

Horses wear a dressage saddle, white saddle pad, and double bridle. The double bridle has two bits, which enables more refined rein aids. Wraps and boots are not allowed in the competition arena, but horses often wear leg protection while warming up.

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Olympic Dressage Sport Organizations

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the official authority responsible for organizing the Olympic games. The IOC partners with organizations to develop the competition format and rules for each Olympic sport, including dressage.

Federation Equestre Internationale

The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), also known as the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, is the IOC-recognized world governing body for horse sport. The FEI approves the dressage, jumping, and eventing programs at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

This organization also governs regulations for all international dressage events and championships.

National Federations

International organizations collaborate with national federations, which govern dressage nationally. These federations develop qualifying processes for their national Olympic teams and nominate the dressage athletes who will represent their country at Paris 2024.

The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) is the national governing body for equestrian sport in the United States. Equestrian Canada (EC) is Canada’s national governing body.

National Olympic committees also oversee all Olympic sports in the United States and Canada.

Paris 2024 Dressage Events

Dressage events at the Paris 2024 Olympics include horse inspections, medal ceremonies, and three dressage tests.

Preparation

Athletes spend the time before and between competition events preparing and caring for their horses. Teams arrive well before the competition begins to allow horses to settle in. The preparation process often includes a pre-export quarantine to protect horse health.

Facilities are available behind the scenes to house and exercise horses. Riders can also school in the competition arena during designated times to help their horses feel comfortable in the stadium.

Horse Inspection

All horses must pass inspection by official veterinarians to participate in the Olympic Games. The FEI requires inspection for every international event.

Horse inspections ensure all equine Olympic athletes are healthy and fit to compete. Olympic dressage teams can present a maximum of four horses, including the reserve, for inspection.

Olympic Dressage Tests

There are three different Grand Prix dressage tests in the Olympic program:

  • FEI Grand Prix: The standard dressage test for the Grand Prix level
  • FEI Grand Prix Special: An alternate Grand Prix dressage test used at international events and championships
  • FEI Grand Prix Freestyle: A customized test with unique choreography that contains all Grand Prix movements performed to music

All combinations ride the Grand Prix but must earn a qualifying place to continue to the Special and Freestyle.

Dressage Medal Ceremonies

Paris 2024 will have medal ceremonies for team and individual dressage medal winners.

Winning horses receive coolers and ribbons to wear before the medal ceremony. Athletes enter the arena on their horses before dismounting to accept their medals and stand on the podium.

Grooms hold the horses while riders are on the podium. At the end of the ceremony, riders remount and ride a lap of honour to celebrate their achievement with their equine partner.

How to Qualify for Dressage at Paris 2024

A maximum of 60 athlete-horse combinations and 15 national teams can compete at the games.

Team Qualification

The Paris qualification process stretches over two years before the games. France qualified its team based on its status as the host nation.

Other nations qualified based on their performance at the 2022 FEI Dressage World Championships, 2023 European Dressage Championships, 2023 Pan American Games, and other Olympic Qualification Events.

Individual Qualification

Nations without teams can send one combination to compete as an individual if they meet the qualification requirements designated by the FEI. Fifteen slots are available to individuals.

All athletes must be no younger than 18 years of age, and all horses must be no younger than eight years of age. Equestrian athletes can have long careers in the sport. Many of the best riders in the world attend multiple Olympic Games and compete into their 50s and beyond.

Qualifying Dressage Teams

Dressage teams qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics include: [3]

  • France
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Great Britain
  • Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • United States of America

Each national team consists of three horse and rider pairs. Nations can send a travelling reserve to take a team spot if one member has to withdraw before the competition.

National dressage teams at the Olympics can include both men and women. While some sports have mixed events, equestrian is the only sport at the Summer Games where men and women compete directly against each other.

Dressage Olympic Medals

The Olympic dressage format includes three tests and two competitions, one for team medals and one for individual medals.

Team Medals

Athletes qualify to participate in the team and individual finals based on their performance in the Grand Prix test. All 60 athletes ride the Grand Prix over the first two days of competition. The field is split into groups of 30 starters over those two days.

The top 10 teams advance to the team final and ride the Grand Prix Special. The Paris Olympics has a two-day break between the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special.

Team medals are awarded to the three nations with the highest average scores in the Grand Prix Special. There is no drop score; every teammate’s ride counts toward the team total.

Individual Medals

The top 18 riders from the Grand Prix qualify for the individual final and ride the Grand Prix Freestyle on the last day of competition. Riders do not have to be a member of a team to qualify for the Freestyle.

Individual medals are awarded to the three riders with the highest Grand Prix Freestyle scores.

Olympic Dressage Records

Germany is the most successful nation in the Olympic sport of dressage, having claimed team gold at nine out of the last ten Olympics.

Isabell Werth, a German rider, holds the record for the most individual medals in dressage. Werth has 12 medals from 6 Olympic games.

Another German rider, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, holds the record for the highest Grand Prix Special score at an Olympic Games. Von Bredow-Werndl earned an 84.666% on Dalera at Tokyo 2020.

British rider Charlotte Dujardin holds the Olympic record scores in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle. Dujardin earned a Grand Prix score of 85.07% and a Grand Prix Freestyle score of 93.857% at Rio de Janeiro 2016. [4]

Past Olympic Dressage Results

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Individual Dressage:

  • Gold: Jessica-von Bredow-Werndl and Dalera
  • Silver: Isabell Werth and Bella Rose
  • Bronze: Charlotte Dujardin and Gio

Team Dressage:

  • Gold: Germany
  • Silver: USA
  • Bronze: United Kingdom

Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games

Individual Dressage:

  • Gold: Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro
  • Silver: Isabell Werth and Weihegold
  • Bronze: Kristina Sprehe and Desperados

Team Dressage:

  • Gold: Germany
  • Silver: United Kingdom
  • Bronze: USA

London 2012 Olympic Games

Individual Dressage:

  • Gold: Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro
  • Silver: Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival
  • Bronze: Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris

Team Dressage:

  • Gold: United Kingdom
  • Silver: Germany
  • Bronze: Netherlands

2024 Olympic Dressage Schedule

Equestrian events at Paris 2024 will run from July 27 to August 6 at the Palace of Versailles.

Dressage is on the schedule for the following days:

Date Events Time (CET)
Sunday, July 28 1st Horse Inspection 8:00-10:00
Tuesday, July 30 Grand Prix – Team & Individual Qualifier (30 starters) 11:00-16:30
Wednesday, July 31 Grand Prix – Team & Individual Qualifier (30 starters) 10:00-15:30
Saturday, August 3 Grand Prix Special – Team Final (30 starters)
Team Medal Ceremony
10:00-15:30
15:30-16:00
Sunday, August 4 2nd Horse Inspection
Grand Prix Freestyle – Individual Final (18 starters)
Individual Medal Ceremony
TBD
10:00-13:30
13:30-14:00

Note: This schedule is current at time of publication, but is subject to change by the IOC.

How to Watch Dressage at the Olympic Games

Can’t make it to the Palace of Versailles to watch the best dressage horses and riders perform for the podium? Stream dressage events at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games live on NBC Olympics or CBC Sports.

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References

  1. De Haan, D. et al. Equestrian Sport at the Olympic Games from 1900 to 1948. Int J Hist Sport. 2016.
  2. Federation Equestre Internationale. FEI Dressage Rules 26th Edition. 2024.
  3. Federation Equestre Internationale. Dressage Paris 2024 Qualification System. 2024.
  4. Federation Equestre Internationale. FEI Dressage Records. 2023.