Question of the Day: Why Is Dressage An Olympic Sport?

With all of the attention given the horse of the Romney family competing as the ultimate dark horse at the Olympics, there seemed little discussion of the far more relevant question: why is this still an Olympic sport?

That is the question I kept asking myself while watching the dressage competition, which comes off as horse dancing. The World Federation insists that dressage is “the highest expression of horse training” but of course it is not the horse that receives these medals. In surfing between gymnasts doing multiple dangerous exercises to achieve one medal, I could only think of how one of the gymnasts or track and field athletes must feel watching a guy dance a horse around a field for the same medal. I am not saying that this does not take work or that it is not impressive to watch the horses, but I fail to see how this merits olympic medals. I am willing to accept that events like jumping have athletic components but dressage has to go. Honestly.

Frankly, I often have the same reaction about the awarding of a medal to the coxswain in rowing who is selected for his of her ability to steer the boat and keep the pace — and of course being as small as possible. I also have serious question over the athleticism needed for some of the shooting competitions, which seem more skill than athleticism.

None of this takes away from the effort and training of dressage riders, but it would seem that the Olympics should try to keep some rough relative sense of effort for medals. There will always be more physically demanding sports but dressage seems well below what should be required.

What do you think?

81 thoughts on “Question of the Day: Why Is Dressage An Olympic Sport?”

  1. I’d vote for going back to track and field events, but how much air time could you sell for a 4-5 day event.

    Re: Archery – Since the original Olympic sports were based on war-skills, archery, and by extension, shooting, might be considered. What I don’t like about archery is that bows have gotten so complicated with weights, counterweights, extensions to compensate for side-to-side movement, where is the fundamental skill of a recurve bow, an arrow, and eye-hand co-ordination? Next thing you know, they’ll allow laser sights.

    Last thought – Wonder what Jim Thorpe would have to say about all the professionals involved in today’s Olympics?

  2. Watching a well trained team is a joy.

    Who gets the medal? The trainer? no, trainers don’t get medals. The rider? the horse? Bet it’s the owner of the horse and the employer of the rider.

  3. @OS: Probably because neither should be an Olympic event; just like car racing should not be, but bicycle racing should be: To me the point is in the visuals of the human body performing feats we instantly recognize as amazing. Dressage does not fit my definition, nor does acrobatics, or car racing, but bicycle races or rowing races fit; there is a vehicle involved but the human body is visibly working hard at every moment.

    I think “sports” like shooting and archery are borderline cases, but since I have, for fun, engaged in target practice with a pistol, rifle or bow, I do recognize some of those performances as astonishing, and well beyond any ability I ever had on my best day. I watch every season of “Top Shot” for that reason.

    To me the Olympics is about the trained human body. The less the focus on that, the less “Olympic” it seems to me.

    I will also take this opportunity to state that, IMO, “synchronized” is not an athletic sport. I do not watch synchronized diving or water ballet. Shall we make Waltzing or “synchronized Mambo” an Olympic event?

    Give me a break, I would rather replace those, along with Dressage, with Billiards or Darts (seriously, I like those).

  4. Lest we forget the modern Olympics were founded on the idea of amateurism.
    The idea of “amateurism” was another way of distinguishing the nobility from the masses. The other term used historically about the nobility was the “leisure class”, meaning those who had the “leisure” to pursue things other than work to stay alive. The pretense of Olympic “amateurism” lasted in hypocrisy for a while until Hitler used the 1936 games to try to advance his international prestige and then people slowly realized that despite the hypocritical hype, the amateurs were being subsidized by their country’s governments. During the Cold War the success of the various “Iron Curtain” teams upset America’s own faux “amateurism” so much that the demand to allow a more professional approach finally overwhelmed the Olympic establishment to the point that the amateur/professional distinction was dropped.

    However, the Olympic movement remains a self-serving elite with preferential feelings towards “our betters” and indeed comprised of that class. Thus sports like dressage and rowing remain prominent, even though retaining a relatively small worldwide fandom and base of devotees. Nevertheless, considering I can watch three hours of golf, a sport I don’t play, on TV, I don’t mind the inclusion of such activities in the Olympics. What I do mind is all of the pious hypocrisy used to describe the activities of what is essentially a hyped jingoist cash machine, whose sometimes glorified participants will be discarded with each new novelty.

  5. And lest you think dressage is some sort of namby-pamby sport, in 1912 when it was accepted as an Olympic sport, only commissioned military officers were permitted to compete. This was simply because the dressage movements were instrumental in training cavalry horses and were said to mimic the classic training of cavalry horses from the time of the ancient Greeks. Not until 1952 were civilians allowed to enter dressage events.

  6. Put then NBA back in the Olympics…then you’ll see ego and prostitution go hand in hand….

  7. Tony C:

    While top dressage horses can go for millions the typical dressage horse costs around $25K-$50K depending on the training level, the horse’s age and whether it is “on schedule.” Not cheap but hardly the sport of kings.

  8. Tony, that shows how much I am now out of touch. A top end aerobatic aircraft costs about $250K or even less.

    A quick online search shows me that horses good enough to compete in the Olympics run into seven figures, as you say. So we get back to my original thought, if that is not too expensive, how come aerobatics is not an Olympic sport?

  9. By the wayside, that is a good looking horse. Whats up with the fruit riding it?

  10. The Willard was over there in England bragging about his English heritage. The Romney tribe emigrated there from Romania with the Romanich tribe of gypsies. Adopted the name Romney when they landed here in the North American land of the free home of the braves. George let all this be known way back when he was running for Governor. The Willard would dress up like the guy on the horse if it would get him some votes but he has to stick with the blue jeans.

  11. As a former rider, the spouse of a rider, and former owner of horses, I can tell you riding is an athletic activity. It takes considerable strength to stay atop a moving animal hundreds of pounds heavier than you and to control its movements involves more than merely manipulating the reins. The lower body gets a workout and your balancing muscles from your hip to your neck are always in play. Dressage is the closest approximation of the horse being an extension of the its rider and is a beautiful sport to watch if you ever tried to get a horse to go where you want him to go. Like every sport it requires skill but the physical demands are there aplenty. Also keep in mind the routine is from memory and requires countless hours of preparation and training. A pirouette from mid-canter is as athletic as a triple axel.

  12. @OS: The horses cost far more than a stunt plane, Stephen Colbert reports that one of the horses costs $3M.

  13. My wife finds it ridiculously unfair that the volleyball competition has to win a dozen games or whatever it is to win a medal, that gymnasts and skiers must actually risk their lives to win a medal, but swimmers can win a medal for a few minutes worth of effort in a pool.

    That is all legitimate athleticism, but some are clearly far more risk and effort than others. Why some people have to win an entire tournament for a medal, and others get a medal for winning a single race, is beyond me. For gymnasts, there should be one medal per discipline: Or for swimmers, sum the time for ten races of different lengths and styles, and award one medal for that.

  14. IF dressage is an Olympic event, then competitive dog dancing (Google it) should be as well. Of course the ultimate such sport would be competitive cat dancing.

  15. So proud was Mitt Romney, savior of the Olympics, he abandoned his wife’s dressage performance. Even Mitt realizes it’s a most snicker-worthy “sport.”

  16. What Nal said. A sport where kings and princesses, and a few upper class twits can win medals. They don’t even get out and train the horse, they hire people to do that for them. IMHO, the competitor should not be allowed to compete unless they can prove they trained and exercised the horse every day. A little manure under the fingernails never hurt anyone.

  17. My daughter used to ride hunter-jumper horses in competition. We even went so far as to buy her a big thoroughbred gelding named Rolly Polly. Everything went well until the horse refused a jump, slammed on his brakes and she went flying over his head, breaking her fall with her face. That ended her horseback riding because her oral surgeon told her she could not afford to take another lick like that. It was an accident almost identical to the one that left Christopher Reeve paralyzed.

    On another front, there was some talk a few years ago about making aerobatics an Olympic event. This is a sport requiring enormous skill, and the airplane does not know whether the pilot is a man or woman. The Olympic Committee nixed the proposal. The excuse was that airplanes were expensive and would make the sport unaffordable for some countries. You gotta be kidding me. A top competition horse can cost about the same as most aerobatic airplanes.

  18. Dressage is an Olympic sport because rich people want to win Olympic medals, too.

Comments are closed.