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The Olympic Opening Ceremony takes place on 27 July and will be followed by 12 days of equestrian competition, with the world’s best athletes competing for six gold medals in the Olympic disciplines of eventing, dressage and jumping.
In modern Dressage competitions, the horse and rider perform a series of movements in a 60m x 20m arena before a panel of seven judges, who award scores for individual movements and for the overall routine.
The Dressage competition consists of a Team event, which is made up of the Grand Prix (GP) and Grand Prix Special (GPS) rounds, and an Individual event, the Grand Prix Freestyle (GPF).
Riders can compete in both the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special tests, only the top 7 teams as well as the top 11 individuals not part of a team compete in the Special – all riders perform the same set floor plan. The Grand Prix Freestyle sees only the top 18 riders from the Special go through – with a maximum 3 athletes per country able to participate in the Freestyle competition, which sees riders perform their own routines set to music.
The eventing competition takes places over four days: the first two days are dressage (half of the field compete on each day), followed by cross-country and then two showjumping rounds on the final day.
Dressage: each horse and rider combination performs a dressage test in front of a panel of 3 judges. The judges’ scores are converted into penalty points, which are carried forward to the next stage of the competition (riders are aiming to achieve as low a dressage penalty score as possible).
Cross-country: held over the beautiful but challenging terrain Greenwich Park offers, the 5,700m (approx) course will contain between 42-45 jumping efforts. Every horse/rider combination will receive penalty points for jumping errors and for exceeding the optimum time; if they are penalised, these points are then added to the penalty points incurred during the dressage test to give a total score.
First showjumping Round: the first round decides the placings of the team event; the winning team is the one with the lowest total number of penalty points, after adding together the scores from the three highest placed athletes in the team. Riders and horses are given penalty points for any jumping errors and time faults, which are added to their carried forward score from the dressage and cross-country rounds.
Second showjumping Round: this round determines the individual placings. The team scores from the previous jumping round determine which riders (the top 25) will go through to this round. The individual winner is the athlete with the lowest penalty score after penalty points incurred from all three phases have been totaled, including results from the first jumping round.
There are four competition days at the Games; the first three days of competition count towards the team competition and are qualifying rounds for the individual competition.
The fourth day of competition sees the individual final take place – where the top 35 athletes (from the standings after the first and second individual qualifying rounds) compete for individual honours, with all athletes starting this final day on a score of zero.
If two or more rider/horse combinations are tied for medal places after the final round of the Individual event, there will be a jump-off against the clock.
30 August sees the start of the equestrian Paralympic competition, where the world’s best para-equestrian dressage riders will battle it out for team and individual glory, with a total 11 gold medals up for grabs over the six days.
The athletes are classified according to their disability across five grades, which determine the complexity of the movements that the riders perform with their horses. Grade Ia is for athletes whose impairment has the greatest impact on their ability to ride, through to Grade IV for athletes whose impairment has the least impact on their ability to ride.
The grading ensures that the tests can be judged on the skill of the rider, regardless of their disability. Riders may use permitted assistive devices such as dressage whips, connecting rein bars looped reins, and the like; visually impaired riders are permitted to use ‘callers’ to help them navigate around the arena.
At the Paralympic Games, all athletes compete in three Dressage tests: a Team Test (with three to four riders per team), an Individual Championship Test and a Freestyle Test (where athletes choose their own routine and set it to music).
The results of the Team and Individual Championship Tests are added together to arrive at the overall Team score, with the best three scores (from a team of four) counting. Individual medals are also awarded on the merit of both the Individual Championship Test and the Freestyle Test. All riders, whether competing in a team or not, may ride in the Team Test.
The equestrian events all take place at Greenwich Park, which also plays host to some of the disciplines of the Modern Pentathlon competition (11-12 August; more on Modern Penthathlon).