A Beginner's Guide To Horse Dancing At The Olympics

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One of the highlights of the Olympic Games is the horse dancing.

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Or dressage, as officials prefer to call it.

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That’s right, the horses dance, and it is a genuine and very prestigious, legitimate sport. And it starts in Rio today.

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But this isn’t just some freestyle horse-boogie – a posh person in a fancy hat and coat will teach it to do a very serious routine, and both horse and posh person will be judged on just how well they perform it.

Kristy Oatley of Australia riding Du Soleil competes in the men’s/women’s team dressage grand prix at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Christian Petersen / Getty Images

“Dressage is the ultimate expression of horse training and elegance,” according to the International Federation for Equestrian Sports.

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The aim is for the rider to show they are the true master of their horse by training it to remember and perform a series of complicated moves on command.

Masanao Takahashi of Japan riding Fabrianoat the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Christian Petersen / Getty Images

At competition level, a rider will be given a predetermined set of instructions by a judge, and will then be marked on how skilfully the horse is able to perform them from memory.

An intense connection between rider and horse is needed to seemingly effortlessly carry out the moves.

Needless to say, Great Britain is a veritable dressage super power.

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Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Laura Bechtolsheimer won gold and bronze in the individual event four years ago, and with Carl Hester they came first in the team event. The British team is among the favourites this year as well.

The discipline and athleticism required to perform such feats has often been compared to ballet.

Ian Gavan / Getty Images / BuzzFeed

One classic move, the “piaffe” (that’s trotting on the spot, to you and I) is said to have been originally developed to maintain focus and strength of horses in battle.

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“A horse in piaffe defies what horses otherwise do,” wrote The New Yorker ahead of this year’s Olympic horse dance-off in Rio.

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“Instead of going anywhere, it jogs on the spot, three-quarters of a ton of moving muscle, feet rising and falling in the same four hoofprints like an animation in a flip book,” they continued.

As well as being marked out of 10 for their ability to perform the dance moves, the horse is judged on “gaits”, “submission”, “impulsion”, and the rider’s performance.

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The “gait” is the term given to the way a horse walks and can involve it throwing diagonal leg-shapes or just regular walking. But it must be rhythmic, deliberate, and clear.

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“Submission” is the horse doing as it’s fucking told while looking like it’s NBD.

“To me, a submissive horse is one that is supple, loose, happy and reacting on my dressage training aids,” one rider told Dressage Today (yes, that is a thing).

“Impulsion” is the controlled forward movement of the horse: sort of thrusting itself forward from its hind with power rather than speed.

Russia’s Inessa Merkulova riding Mister X at the Rio 2016 Games

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Like in a Pilates class when the teacher says, “Use your core, not momentum!” but for horses.

“Rider’s performance” is the posh person not fucking it up for the horse by waving to their posh mates in the crowd or something.

So there you have it. Horse dancing.

Patrik Kittel of Sweden riding Deja at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Christian Petersen / Getty Images

A graceful, powerful sport.

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Not just a horse on the razz.

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