1900 Paris Games
Equestrian events were first held at the 1900 Paris Olympic Games, although it did not include any of the disciplines seen today. There were 4 different equestrian events.
The polo competition consisted of 4 teams made up of players from Britain, France, Mexico, Spain, and the United States.
Grand Prix Jumping, which was similar to today’s show jumping event, for which 45 competitors entered, though only 37 competed. The first and second place was taken by riders from Belgium (1. Aimé Haageman on Benton II, 2. Georges van der Poële riding Winsor Squire), while a French rider, Louis de Champsavin, on his mount Terpsichore, got the third place.
The High Jump competition resulted in a tie between French rider Dominique Gardere on Canela and Italian Gian Giorgio Trissino on Oreste, with both of their horses clearing 1.85 meters, and the bronze was given to Constant van Langendonck of Belgium, whose mount, Extra Dry, cleared 1.70 meters. However, Constant van Langendonck and Extra Dry were able to clinch the gold in the Long Jump competition, clearing a distance of 6.10 meters. Trissino and Oreste won the silver, clearing 5.70 meters, and M. de Bellegarde of France won the bronze with the 5.30 meter jump by his mount Tolla.
Return of Equestrian Competition
Equestrian competition was dropped from the 1904 Olympic Games, and owed its return to Count Clarence von Rosen, Master of the Horse to the King of Sweden, for bringing it back. The 1906 IOC Congress agreed to his proposal to add dressage, eventing, and show jumping to the program of the upcoming 1908 Olympic Games in London. However, due to problems with the newly formed International Horse Show Committee, they were not introduced until the 1912 Games in Stockholm and only a polo event was held in 1908. These three disciplines would be held at every Summer Olympic Games through to the present day.
Participation of Non-Officers and Women
Until the 1952 Summer Olympics, only commissioned military officers and “gentlemen” were permitted to compete in the Olympic equestrian disciplines, which had the effect of excluding all women and all men serving in the military but not holding officers’ commissions.
In 1952, however, all men were permitted to compete in all equestrian disciplines, and women were permitted to compete in Dressage. Women were later permitted to compete in Jumping in 1956 and in Eventing in 1964. Since then, equestrianism has been one of the very few Olympic sports in which men and women compete with and directly against one another. In team competition, teams may have any blend of male and female competitors, and are not required to have minimum numbers of either gender; countries are free to choose the best riders, irrespective of gender.
Polo and Vaulting in the Olympics
Following the 1900 Olympic Games, polo would be held an additional 4 times: at the 1908 London Games, the 1920 Antwerp Games, the 1924 Paris Games, and the 1936 Berlin Games. The 1908 Olympics had just 3 polo teams, all representing Great Britain. The 1920 Games included a team from Belgium, Great Britain, Spain, and the United States, with Great Britain again winning the gold medal. It was not until 1924, after Argentina sent a team to Paris, that the gold changed hands. Argentina also won gold at the 1936 Olympic Games.
Vaulting was only held once, at the 1920 Antwerp Games. Vaulting included both a team and an individual competition, with the entrants having to perform movements at the canter and at the halt, both with a saddle and bareback. Three nations sent teams: the gold medal-winning Belgium, France, and Sweden. The individual competition was again made up of competitors from only Belgium, France, and Sweden, with Belgium’s M. Bouckaert winning gold medal, and the silver and bronze medals going respectively to France’s M. Fields and M. Finet.
Dressage in the Olympic Games
Dressage has changed dramatically since the 1912 Olympics. The dressage horse no longer has to jump, but the test on the flat has become increasingly difficult, emphasizing the piaffe and the passage. Today’s horses are specifically bred for dressage and have movement far more extravagant when compared to the horses of the early 20th century.
Only individual medals were awarded at the 1912, 1920, and 1924 Games, with team medals awarded at all Olympics following that point.
1912 Stockholm Olympics
The 1912 Stockholm Olympics held the first Olympic dressage competition, featuring 21 riders from 8 countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States). Dressage horses were required to perform 3 tests: a test on the flat, a jumping test, and an obedience test.
The test on the flat could only be a maximum of ten minutes in length and was ridden in what is now called the “small arena,” a 20 meter by 40 meter space. The difficulty was much less than it is today, similar to the USDF Fourth Level. The test, as it is today, scored each movement on a 0–10 scale. Required gaits included the “free” and “easy” walk, the “slow” and “extended” trot, and the “slow” and “extended” canter, all of which were to be performed on both reins. The horse also had to demonstrate “ordinary turns,” small circles at the slow trot, 8-meter circles at the canter, figure-eights at the canter (both performing a flying change in the center, as well as without a flying change, the second circle being at counter canter), four or more flying changes on a straight line, turn on the haunches, and reinback. At this time, piaffe, passage, and all other haute ecole movements were not allowed (including the airs above the ground and the Spanish Walk). Extra points could be earned if the rider rode with both reins in one hand, especially if this were performed at the canter.
Additionally, all dressage horses were required to jump 4 obstacles which were a maximum of 1.1 meters high, and another fence with a 3-meter spread. They were then asked to perform an “obedience test,” riding the horse near spooky objects.
Riders were required to wear informal uniform if they were military officers, or black or pink coats with silk hats if they were civilians. Horses had to be ridden in a double bridle, and martingales and bearing reins were prohibited.
1920 Antwerp, 1924 Paris, 1928 Amsterdam, and 1932 Los Angeles Olympics
17 riders from 5 countries participated in the dressage competition at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games. The test was now ridden required to be ridden from memory, and was held in a slightly larger arena (50m by 20m).
“Slow” was changed to “Collected” on the test sheet. Collected walk, trot, and canter were required, as was extended trot posting followed by collected trot sitting. A 5-loop serpentine was introduced, to be ridden at the canter, both with flying lead changes and with counter-canter loops. The counter change of hand with flying changes was also introduced, as was 4-, 3-, 2-, and 1-tempi changes. The halt was performed through the walk, and followed by a salute.
The Paris Games had 24 riders competing from 9 countries. The test was similar to that used for the 1920 Games.
The 1928 Olympics saw an increase in the time allowed for the test, from 10 up to 13 minutes. Riders lost 2 points per second over the time.
The most significant change at the 1932 Los Angeles Games was the introduction of the piaffe and passage. Only 10 riders from 4 countries competed due to the aftermath of World War I.
1936 Berlin Olympics
29 riders from 11 countries participated. The test length increased again to 17 minutes.
The test included an 8-second halt, half-turns on the haunches at the walk, riding with reins in one hand at the trot, “ordinary” and extended trot while posting, a 5-loop canter serpentine with each loop 8-meters in diameter, the canter pirouette, four-, three-, two-, and one-tempi changes, and the piaffe and passage. The highest coefficient for the test was bending on two-tracks at the collected trot and collected canter.
1948 London Olympics
19 riders from 9 countries competed. Due to World War II, there was not sufficient time to prepare the dressage horses for the 1948 Games. Therefore, piaffe and passage were not placed on the tests. However, half-pass, renvers, canter pirouettes, and tempi changes were included, with the highest coefficient on the one-tempis.
Later Olympic Games
Today, the format for the dressage competition begins with a Grand Prix test to determine the winners of the team competition. The top 25 competitors in the Grand Prix then perform a second test, the Grand Prix Special, which is shortened and emphasizes the piaffe and passage. The top 13 of this group then goes onto the Grand Prix Freestyle (first introduced at the 1996 Olympics), which is written by each individual rider according to strict guidelines, and set to music. These scores help determine the individual medalists.
The test has remained relatively unchanged, except for the fact that renvers is no longer included in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special Classes.
Eventing in the Olympic Games
Introduced in 1912, three-day eventing originally only allowed active military officers to compete, and only on mounts either owned by themselves or by their military branch.
1912 Stockholm Olympics
The competition was held over 5 days. Day 1 was the Endurance Test, consisting of 55 km (34 mi) on roads (with a time allowed of 4 hours, giving a speed of approx. 230 meters per minute), immediately followed by a 5 km cross-country course at a speed of 333 meters per minute. Time penalties were given for exceeding the time allowed, but no bonus points were given for being fast.
Day 2 was a rest day, before the horses set off on the Speed Test on Day 3, over a steeplechase course that was 3.5 km with 10 plain obstacles, at 600 mpm.
Day 4 was the Jumping Test (“Prize Jumping”), which consisted of 15 obstacles, maximum 1.3 meters high and 3.0 meters wide.
Day 5 was the Dressage Test (“Prize Riding”), which was similar to the individual dressage test that year, except the horses were not required to do figure-eights, flying changes, or the jumping and obedience tests that were required of the dressage horses.
Horses had to carry at least 80 kg and had to be wearing a double bridle. Riders were required to be attired in informal uniform.
1920 Antwerp Olympics
There were significant changes in the format for the 1920 Olympics, most notable was the removal of the dressage test. 25 riders from 8 nations competed.
Horses began on Day 1 with a 45 km roads and tracks test to be completed in 3.5 hours. This was followed by a 5 km cross-country test, with 18 obstacles between 1.1–1.15 meters high, with a time limit of 12.5 minutes.
Day 2 consisted of a second roads and tracks test that was 20 km, with a time limit of 1 hour. The horse was then examined by a vet, and eliminated if lame or too exhausted to continue. The horse then went on to do a 4,000 meter steeplechase at 550 mpm. Unlike the previous year, speed was rewarded, with riders earning 1/2 point if they rode it at 600 mpm and 1 point if it was ridden at 650 mpm (this system of bonus points was eliminated in 1971). They were penalized 1 point for every second under the time. A new rule was also instituted which eliminated riders after three refusals, run-outs, or falls.
The jumping test consisted of 18 obstacles, a maximum of 1.25 meters high, on a 1,150 meter course. There was a 3-minute time limit, again rewarding speed with an extra 1/2 point for every second under the time, adding 1/4 point for every second over. Unlike today’s show jumping tests, some obstacles had to be cleared multiple times during the test, at a different part of the fence each time. Riders gained points for refusals, run-outs, falls, and going off-course.
The required weight was reduced to 75 kg, where it would remain for several decades. Riders could also wear dark or “pink” coats instead of informal uniform attire. All riders had to wear white breeches and silk hats.
1924 Paris Olympics
The 1924 Games again changed the format to what would be seen today. 44 competitors from 13 countries took part.
Dressage was held over two days due to the large number of entries. The test was now required to be held in a 20×60 meter arena, and a time limit was instituted (10 minute 30 seconds maximum). Riders had to demonstrate the walk, the “ordinary” (working) trot both rising and sitting, the “slow” (collected) trot, the extended trot, the “ordinary” and extended canter. They also had to show small circles, the halt, reinback, and counter-canter. There was new rule this year that required a double bridle but would not allow martingales, bandages, or bearing reins. Riders could now wear hunt caps in addition to silk hats.
The cross-country test on Day 3 was similar to what is now called the “long format” test, and was a true endurance test, taking 2 hours, 1 minute, and 47 seconds. It consisted of 5 phases. Phase A was a 7 km roads and tracks test at 240 mpm, followed by Phase B, a 4 km steeplechase at 550–600 mpm, then Phase C, a second roads and tracks at 240 mpm that was 15 km long. The horse then went on the 8 km cross-country test (Phase D) at a speed of only 450 mpm. Unlike today, the rider then had to complete a 2 km canter on the flat at 333 mpm (Phase E, which was abolished in 1967).
The 4th day held the jumping test.
1928 Amsterdam Olympics
This Olympic Games was similar to the 1924 Olympics. A few changes were made, however. In dressage, the time limit was raised to 11 minutes, and competitors lost 2 points for every second over this limit. Endurance day saw an increase in the steeplechase speed from 550 to 600 mpm. Stadium jumping rules changed to specify the course- 12 obstacles to be ridden at 375 mpm, with the competitor losing 1/2 point for every second over time.
The format and rules remained relatively unchanged through the 1932 Olympic Games.
1936 Berlin Olympics
The Berlin Games saw new rules designed to help protect the horse, mostly regarding the use of performance-altering drugs, especially stimulants and sedatives. Additionally, horses that were exhausted or lame following the endurance test were to be eliminated.
The weight requirement of at least 165 lbs, previously required for all rides, was dropped for the dressage phase, although it remained for stadium jumping and the endurance test. Scoring of the Stadium phase was weighed to make it significantly less-important than the Endurance test.
50 riders competed in the eventing competition, but only 27 finished, mostly due to one particular fence on cross-country (see Equestrian at the 1936 Summer Olympics).
1948 London Olympics
The 1948 Games had 46 entrants, including competitors from Argentina, Portugal, and Brazil. Dressages tests now included half-pass at the trot. The endurance test was reduced to 22 km of roads and tracks, a 3.5 km steeplechase, and 8 km on cross-country (a total of 33.5 km).
Olympics through the 1990s
Olympic Games from 1952 to 1996 saw few changes in format or rules. Dressage introduced the single flying change.
The Endurance test also saw some changes. Steeplechase speed increased to 690 mpm. Cross-country was shortened by 2 km and required 32–34 fences that were a maximum of 1.2 meters in height, and was to be ridden at the heightened speed of 570 mpm. Additionally, the 75 kg required for jumping was reduced to 70 kg for the 1996 Games, and abolished 2 years later.
Women were allowed to ride in equestrian events in 1952. However, it was not until Helena du Pont competed for the United States at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics that eventing saw its first woman representing her country.
The 1996 Games also provided a testing grounds for new methods of cooling the horses after cross-country, including misting fans, and added an additional hold during Phase C to ensure the horses were cooling properly. Also during this time was an extensive study performed on the event horses at the Games to study the effects of heat and different methods of cooling. These studies provided a great deal of valuable information, debunking several myths, and the results have been useful to horsemen outside of eventing as well. This was the first time where an extensive veterinary study was conducted in conjunction with the Games.
2004 Athens Olympics
The traditional Endurance test, known as the “classic format,” included roads and tracks (Phase A and C), steeplechase (Phase B), and cross-country (Phase D). At the 2004 Olympics, the “short format” was introduced, removing phases A, B, and C from the endurance day. This was intended to reduce the amount of space needed to hold an Olympic-level competition, thereby helping to ensure that the sport was not ousted by the IOC from the Olympics. This format has drawn criticism from various members of the sport, but is now considered to be the “standard” competition format at all levels.
Show jumping in the Olympic Games