Olympics 2021: Our Guide to the Dressage

July 21, 2021 3 min read

Olympics 2021: Our Guide to the Dressage

After being postponed last year due to Coronavirus, the Olympics are due to start on the 23rd of July in Tokyo. For many it’s a time of excitement and a chance to get stuck in to watching lots of different activities after a not-so-great year for sport. Let’s face it, most of us here probably only care about one thing – the equestrian events. So, we’ll get stuck in to explaining the first equestrian sport that’s on this year at the Olympics: the dressage.

What is dressage?

For those who are new to dressage we’ll give a quick overview of how it works. Dressage is essentially the test of a horse and riders ability to perform a variety of movements in harmony with one another. There are different levels to dressage too, starting from the intro which includes only walk and trot movements, right up to Grand Prix level which is what you’ll see in the Olympics. Regardless of what level you’re competing at, the same core principles of dressage always apply and this is what the judges will score you on:

  • The freedom and regularity of the paces.
  • The harmony, lightness, and ease of the movements.
  • The lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating from a lively impulsion.
  • The acceptance of the bit, with submissiveness/thoroughness without any tension or resistance
  • How Dressage works in the Olympics

There are three competition rounds in the Olympics, which consists of the Grand Prix Qualifying Round, The Grand Prix Special Round and finally the Grand Prix Freestyle. In each round, the normal walk, trot  and canter moves will need to be carried out as well as more advanced movements like zig zag half pass, multiple flying lad changes, piaffe, passage and pirouettes.

What to expect in the Grand Prix Qualifying Round

The first test in the Olympics is used as a qualifying event for the team and individual competitions. Each team will have three horse and rider combinations to perform. Horses and riders will each perform a set test, with the judges marking each movement out of 10. These scores are then added up and combined with additional marks for the riders aids before then being converted to an overall percentage score. To decide the nations that qualify for the team final, the scores from all three team riders will be combined to produce an overall score. The top eight teams will qualify for the Grand Prix Special.

What to expect in the Grand Prix Special

The top eight teams (a total of 24 horse and rider combinations) will ride in the Grand Prix Special. This test is usually more difficult and demanding that the first round, and riders must submit music to be played while they ride their test but this isn’t judged as part of the competition. The results of the Grand Prix Special determine the allocation of team medals, with all three scores counting towards the final result.

What to expect in the Grand Prix Freestyle

The top 18 horse and rider combinations in the Grand Prix Special will then go forwards to the Grand Prix Freestyle, which allocates individual medals. The freestyle test consists of combinations having to ride a floor plan test to music of their choice. They are given a set list of required movements, and additional marks are given for artistic merit and degree of difficulty. 

Dressage times for the 2021 Olympics

This year the dressage rounds will be held between the 24th and 28th July, and will follow the below timetable:

Dressage timetable


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