Dressage, the highest expression of horse training, is considered the most artistic of the equestrian sports and can be traced as far back as ancient Greece. The horse has to perform at a walk, trot and canter, and all tests are ridden from memory and follow a prescribed pattern of movements. The only exception is the Freestyle which is specially choreographed for each horse and is performed to music.
Of all the exponents of Dressage Germany’s Reiner Kilmke is perhaps the best known, after winning six gold and two bronze medals between 1964 and 1976, a record for equestrian events. And Dressage has also produced its share of heroic achievements, none more so than Denmark’s Lis Hartel.
Hartel, who became one of the first women to take part in Olympic Dressage, was paralysed by polio in 1944, when she was 23 and expecting her first child. Despite remaining paralysed below the knees, she was chosen to represent her country in the Helsinki Olympics of 1952 and responded by winning the silver medal. When gold medallist Henri Saint Cyr helped her up on to the podium, it was one of the most emotional moments in Olympic history.
The popularity of Dressage has increased rapidly in recent years and the sport now regularly attracts huge crowds. Dressage is undoubtedly the most aesthetically pleasing of the disciplines in the FEI stable and the pure magic of top-class Freestyle under floodlights, as sport and art combine, guarantees that the popularity of Dressage will continue to grow. Furthermore, Para-Equestrian Dressage is the only equestrian discipline that is included in the Paralympic Games, where it has been a regular fixture since 1996.