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. oh yea, I forgot. They approved Western Reigning competition a few years back. If the war guys get their games, the cowboys had to get one too. This sport originated in Spain. Not sure if it is in this Olympics or not.

  2. My old man taught me how to bet on horses. I’ve been to most of the great tracks w/ Saratoga and Santa Anita being my favorites. Can you bet on these competitions? I know not in the Olympics, but otherwise. Side bets?

  3. I’d rather have a goddam horse. A horse is at least human, for God’s sake. ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

  4. OS:

    I’d have no problem with this as a new Olympic sport. I think it combines athleticism with steel nerves.

  5. Is Everything Political Now?:

    “Lay off the political attack on ancient, elegant sport. BTW, “I don’t understand it” is not a valid argument against something. (Long time reader, first time poster.)”


    Agreed. It seems more about Romney and his wife or bourgeoisie ressentiment than the merits of the sport. In the equestrian community, there are all manner of socio-economic classes who share the love of horses.

  6. @BettyKath: Ever hear of NASCAR?

    I have. In talking about visuals, I am thinking specifically of the visual of humans executing athletic acts.

    My point is about whether it has the visuals for the Olympics, not whether it makes money on TV. Should “Big Brother” be an Olympic event? Should “America’s Got Talent?”

    It is just my opinion, but I stand by it; and I will ride closer to the rail after considering it in this forum: The Olympics should be about people, not animals or machines. If you cannot SEE the athleticism it should not be an Olympic event, so I will retract my earlier statement about target shooting being borderline as an Olympic event: I no longer think it should be; it does require expertise but it isn’t athletic enough.

    I am not saying we should be limited to track and field; I do not believe in limiting the field to war skills. I can see the athleticism in volleyball, soccer, or rowing. I would not object to adding skateboarding.

  7. Napoleon would have been familiar with all dressage moves on these tests. Olympic dressage does not test for the leaping moves.

    the other horse competition is 3 Day Eventing, a combo of dressage, show jumping and cross country jumping.

    This will be the best Olympic competition in history for 3 Day because the origin is England. Huge sport in Ireland too, so tons of rivalry. both nations have the best horses in the world for this sport.

  8. The Sport Horse lobby is huge in places like Kentucky, Maryland. Tx, Ca, etc… big agricultural industry that supports rural life in America .

  9. Why is shooting a gun an Olympic sport (not to mention EVERYONES favorite: BADMINTON).

  10. What mespo said. It’s a lot more complicated and athletic than it looks. They are in the Olympics (riders and horses) because they practice a lot, are very good, and make it look easy. It’s also dangerous. These ain’t bicycles they’re riding, they can maim and kill if you act a fool. Lay off the political attack on ancient, elegant sport. BTW, “I don’t understand it” is not a valid argument against something. (Long time reader, first time poster.)

  11. Tony,

    “I have no doubt that athleticism exists in aerobatics or car racing, I just do not think it is obvious enough to be televised. The recognition of athleticism is pretty much limited to those in the sport or close to it. That isn’t true for foot racing, gymnastics, weight lifting, swimming, etc.”

    There are many events that aren’t televised b/c they aren’t all that visual. Shooting events come to mind. Boooring.

    Airshows are well attended. Competitions appear much like airshows, just a whole lot more complex for the pilots. Some education on what’s involved would increase appreciation. Maybe you’re right about televising but they would certainly have good attendance.

    Car racing doesn’t have the visuals for television? Ever hear of NASCAR? I don’t watch them but I know there are lots of televised races.

    Soaring competitions are something else. There are lots of competitions, regional, national and international. Don’t think it would help for it to be an Olympic event though.

    Actually, I think it’s enough that each sport have its own competitions. The Olympics have become too commercial to be enjoyable.

  12. Dressage used to be about training the horse and rider for war.

    Horses were taught ‘airs above the ground’ as defensive and offensive moves to kill or disable enemies. These moves were designed to disable fighters by having the horse kick them in the head or knock them down with body blows.

    Other moves, forward & side to side, enable groups of riders the control needed to keep horses in a calvalry formation while meeting lines of enemy fighters.
    The whole sport is based on war training before the machine age.

  13. @OS: I have no doubt that athleticism exists in aerobatics or car racing, I just do not think it is obvious enough to be televised. The recognition of athleticism is pretty much limited to those in the sport or close to it. That isn’t true for foot racing, gymnastics, weight lifting, swimming, etc.

    My point is only about the visuals, and for aerobatics, for all most people know that could be a computer competing, not a human being.

    The same thing goes for Dressage, it might be a physical task, but for most people it looks like a butler sitting on a horse. At least jumping is more obviously athletic.

  14. Dressage is an olympic sport for the same reason that baseball and softball aren’t; the US doesn’t dominate dressage. Also, consider the degree of abuse required to train an elite level horse, it just follows that it deserves the attention of the landed gentry in the same manner an indentured servant does, pride of ownership…

  15. Mike, I am with you on your take about the Olympics. I have not watched so much as one minute of the Olympics, not even the opening ceremonies. There has not been decent coverage of any major sporting event since Roone Arledge and Jim McKay retired.

    Tony, beg to differ on the athleticism of pilots, race drivers and competition shooters. May not be the enjoyment of seeing sleek fit bodies in motion on the gym floor or track & field, but those are events requiring enormous skills as well. Like you, I am far less impressed with such “sports” as twirling ribbons on a stick.

    Mespo, I did a quick search of fully aerobatic aircraft. You can pick up a used Pitt’s Special, single seat, in excellent condition for less than $40,000. Here is one that is $35,000. Those are excellent for practice, but would not be able to compete at the world competition level, just as the horses my daughter rode were fine for local competition, but not at the national or international level.

    This is world class competition shown in the video below. Note what the pilots have to say in the interviews in the video. One pilot described it as, “An absolutely ruthless sport.” This is not an air show, it is competition. Like gymnastics, the slightest error results in points deducted. There is a set routine which must be done inside the “box” which has boundaries. Getting outside the aerobatic box is the same as out of bounds in any other sport. A four or sixteen point roll is scored on the roll stopping at exactly the proper points on the clock face, and so forth. Besides the standard required maneuvers which change every year, just before the competition the competitors are handed a “surprise” maneuver they have to execute perfectly, even though they have never seen it before. The G-loads they discuss are brutal. The most G I ever pulled was slightly more 10Gs, and my face felt as if all the skin were being pulled down on my chest. I still think this should be an Olympic event. If it were, I would watch again.

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