Indeed. But I’m not talking happiness-inducing pharmaceuticals, here.

Equestrian Events

Today, I’m looking at sporting events involving a rider and a horse. That’s “a” horse, as opposed to just “horse”.
There are no drugs involved. All right? Good.

Now, let’s get started.

First, Some General Terms

A bit is the metal mouthpiece on a bridle (see below), to which the reins are attached.
Blinkers are the flaps on a bridle which stop a horse from seeing backwards or sideways. Blinkers are not allowed in competition.
Breeches are trousers worn specifically for riding.
The bridle is a harness that fits around a horse’s head, holding the bit.
A hunting stock is a broad band worn around a rider’s neck.
The saddle is the seat for the rider on the back of a horse.
A spur is a pointed device attached to a rider’s boot heel, used to encourage a horse.
A whip is a long, thin, hand-held device used to encourage a horse.

Equestrian is the word used to describe aspects of horse-riding, or activities done on horseback.
The term derives from ancient Rome, where the Equites were initially the cavalry section of the army.
Later the title applied also to a political and administrative class known as knights, or the Equestrian Order.

The origins of horse-riding go way beyond ancient Rome. Let’s face it; humans and horses have been working together for a long, long time.

The horse made its first appearance at the Ancient Olympic Games in 680 B.C. when chariot racing was introduced – and was by far the most exciting and spectacular event on the program.

Many centuries later. when the modern Games began, a few unsuccessful attempts -1896,1900, 1904 and 1908 – preceded the success of equestrian in the 1912 Olympic program.

As far as the Olympics are concerned, the Equestrian section of the Games has three parts:
Dressage, Eventing, and Jumping.


Dressage (from the French word for “training”), is considered the art of equestrian sport. It is used as the groundwork for all other disciplines.

Two thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks realized that if rider and horse were to survive in battle, complete cooperation was necessary between the two. A horse’s ability to move quickly from side to side, burst into a gallop or change direction immediately were all considered vital skills.

Dressage was developed as a method to train horses for war.

Centuries later, the art of riding was revived, during the Renaissance period.

The Imperial Spanish Riding School was founded in 1729 in Vienna, Austria, and laid the basis of the modern discipline. Its haute école (“high school”) program included complex and precise movements designed to develop a horse’s natural movements to the greatest perfection.

Such moves include:

The pirouette – a turn on the haunches in four or five strides.
The piaffe – a trot in place (cf. running on the spot).
The levade – in which the horse raises and draws in its forelegs, standing balanced on its bent hindlegs.

More recently, the freestyle to music test was introduced and has since become an integral part of Dressage, making its Olympic début in Atlanta 1996.

Equestrian sports first featured on the Olympic program of the Paris Games in 1900, with jumping events.
They were withdrawn until the 1912 Games in Stockholm. Since then, this sport has been on the Olympic program with remarkable regularity.

Until 1948, only men competed in the events, as the riders had to be military officers. This restriction was lifted in 1951.

Since the Helsinki Games in 1952, women have competed with men in the mixed events.
They competed first in dressage, then gradually in the other equestrian events.

At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Netherlands’ Anky van Grunsven won gold for the third consecutive time in the individual dressage event. Her titles total eight medals – three gold and five silver.

Germany’s Isabell Werth (five gold medals and three silver) and Reiner Klimke (six gold and two bronze), have also won eight medals.


Eventing is a combined competition discipline, and demands of the competitor and horse considerable experience in all branches of equestrianism. It brings together not only jumping and dressage, but also a long cross-country course, on mixed terrain with occasional natural or artificial obstacles.

Initially, the purpose of eventing was to create a competition in which officers and cavalry horses could be tested for any challenges that could occur on or off duty. It also provided a basis to compare training standards between the calvalries of different countries.

Although women had been allowed to ride in Olympic equestrian events since 1952, it wasn’t until Helena du Pont competed for the United States at the 1964 Tokyo Games that Eventing saw its first woman representing her country.


The discipline of jumping, as we know it today, developed as a result of competition among fox hunters, following the introduction of the Enclosures Acts which came into force in 18th-century England.

Previously, hunters would gallop across open fields in their pursuit of foxes. But when fences were erected following the Acts, the jumping horse became a coveted item.

Many regard Italian Federico Caprilli as the “father of modern riding”, a status he earned by radically altering the jumping seat.

Before this, riders would lean back and pull the reins when jumping a fence. This technique was awkward and uncomfortable for the horse. Caprilli’s solution was the more natural “forward seat” position – which is now universally used.

Women made their first Olmypic appearance in Jumping at the 1956 Games in Stockholm..

At the 2008 Games in Beijing, Canada’s Ian Millar notably won the silver medal in the team jumping, 36 years after his first participation in the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. At 61, he was the oldest medallist at the Beijing Games.

My thanks again to, for additional facts and figures.

Next: F ‘n’ G.

I’ll see you, then.