This week we complete our Olympic-themed articles by looking at the two remaining equestrian sports in the games: show jumping and dressage.
The artistic discipline of dressage is believed to have originated in ancient Greece. Its purpose was the creation of good war horses after the realisation that having a truly responsive and obedient mount that could change direction, go straight from halt to full speed as well as move sideways was extremely advantageous during battle. Dressage is also about the rider and horse being in harmony, another key tool when fighting in unison.
After the fall of ancient Greece, the art of dressage itself lay dormant until it became recognised as an important discipline again during the Renaissance, with the famous Spanish Riding School being set up in Vienna during the 18th century. The format dressage takes in the modern competitions is as a test which consists of the horse and rider team performing a particular series of movements in front of a panel of judges. Each movement is rated and these marks are converted into an overall score, the lower the better. There are effectively two rounds of tests (grand prix and grand prix special) in the group competition, and an additional round (grand prix freestyle) to determine the individual winner. Only the best seven teams (including any tied in seventh position as for both dressage and show jumping any team or individual tied in the place that’s the cut-off goes through), and best 11 individuals (if not already included in a team) progress to the second round, and the combined scores of these rounds decided team medals. The best 18 individual scores from the second round go on to the third, and it’s the score in this round that determines the individual medals.
Show jumping is the final equestrian competition to take place in this Olympics and its origins come from the hunting fields of England. When the Enclosures Act came into place during the 18th century, fences were erected between fields. This meant the horses being used for hunting suddenly required the ability to jump. Competition between fox hunters led to the modern discipline we now have.
The jumping takes place within an arena with fences that include poles, walls and water jumps in tricky combinations and heights that sometimes look impossible. The round of jumps must be completed within a set time, with faults added for things such as knocking down fences, stopping or running out. Clear rounds (no faults) are counted as equal if done within the time limit, with four faults (one fence down and within the time) next best and so on, so you end up with a number of competitors in equal places, hence the number of rounds.
The competition format is a little confusing as it involves five rounds of jumping, all of which are used to help determine the individual medals, but for which only two are used for team medals. Round one is a qualifier from which the top individual 60 riders progress. In round two, the best 45 riders based on adding the scores of round one and two progress, as do the best eight teams (but these are based only on scores from this round).
Round three completes the team competition using marks from rounds two and three combined but for the individual one only the best 35 progress based on total combined scores of all the rounds so far. In addition, only three riders for each country may now move forwards.
In round four, you get a clean slate again with the best 20 scores from this round only, going into round five. The combined scores of round four and five determine the medal winners. If there is a tie at the end for any of the medal places a jump-off is used. This is where a shortened course is jumped again and the fastest round with the lowest faults wins.