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Two thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks recognised that if rider and horse were to survive in battle, complete cooperation was necessary between the pair and developed Dressage as a method to train the horses for war. A horse’s ability to move quickly from side to side, burst into a gallop or change direction immediately were all considered vital skills.
With the disintegration of Ancient Greece, the art of riding slowly fell into oblivion, until its revival during the Renaissance period. In the 18th century, classical Dressage reached its peak with the creation of the world-famous Spanish Riding School in 1729 in Vienna, and laid the basis of the modern discipline. More recently and with unprecedented success, the freestyle to music test was introduced and has since become an integral part of Dressage, making its Olympic début in Atlanta 1996. Freestyle is the pinnacle of Dressage execution and when it works, the result is magic.
Equestrian sports featured on the Olympic programme of the Paris Games in 1900, with jumping events, and were then withdrawn until the 1912 Games in Stockholm. Since then, this sport has been on the Olympic programme with remarkable regularity.
Until 1948, only men competed in the events, as the riders had to be officers. This restriction was lifted in 1951, and, 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 confirmed her talent by winning gold for the third consecutive time in the individual dressage event. Her titles total eight medals - three gold and five silver. She is joined by Germany’s Isabell Werth (five gold medals and three silver) and Reiner Klimke (six gold and two bronze), who have also won eight medals.