Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Olympic equestrian at Tokyo 2020: Top five things to know

Who are the top riders? When and where will Olympic equestrian take place at the Games in 2021? What is the history of equestrian at the Olympics? Find out here.
By Rory Jiwani

There are three equestrian disciplines scheduled for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021: dressage, eventing, and jumping.

They are unique in two ways - equestrian events are the only ones on the Olympic programme involving non-human animals, and they feature men and women competing with and against each other on equal terms.

Who are the athletes to watch? When will the competition take place and where will it be held?

Ever wanted to know about sport's Olympic history?

Look no further. Here is our guide to the top things to know about Olympic equestrian.

Top Olympic equestrian riders at Tokyo 2020

Germany is the most successful nation in Olympic equestrian history by a considerable margin.

They have won a total of 25 golds, 13 silver and 14 bronze medals with no fewer than 34 of those medals coming since German reunification in 1990.

Isabell Werth was part of Germany's victorious dressage team at Barcelona 1992, winning individual silver on that occasion.

At Rio 2016, she overtook West German dressage legend Reiner Klimke as the most successful rider in equestrian Olympic history with 10 medals (six gold, four silver) at five Games.

Now 51, Werth remains as good as ever, claiming her ninth world title at the 2018 World Equestrian Games and taking her European Championship gold medal tally to 20 in Rotterdam in 2019.

Those successes were with her beloved mare Bella Rose although she has won the last three World Cup Finals on board Weihegold OLD, her mount at Rio 2016 where she won team gold and individual silver behind reigning champion Charlotte Dujardin.

Rio was the last competition for Dujardin's gelding Valegro with their home triumph at London 2012 earning her the nickname of 'The Girl on the Dancing Horse'.

She has failed to repeat that success with her new equine partner Mount St John Freestyle so far, but the mare is growing in experience.

It is likely that Dujardin and Werth will battle for gold once more with the former seeking a unique third consecutive individual dressage gold.

Also seeking an unprecedented hat-trick in Tokyo is German event star Michael Jung who retained his individual title at Rio 2016.

Like Dujardin, he has also had to find a new equine partner having won both golds on board Sam.

And Jung looks to have found the perfect successor in Chipmunk who was previously ridden in competition by Rio team-mate Julia Krajewski.

Chipmunk showed his ability at the 2018 World Equestrian Games with Krajewski leading after the dressage, but he ran out in the cross-country in Tryon to rule them out of medal contention.

Jung took possession of Chipmunk soon after, and they finished second in the 2019 European Championships behind double Olympic gold medallist Ingrid Klimke - daughter of Reiner - as Germany took the team title.

The year delay of the Games can only help Jung become more familiar with his mount, and a third consecutive Olympic individual gold is certainly within reach.

The jumping looks completely up for grabs with Nick Skelton retiring months after claiming individual gold at Rio 2016, his seventh Olympic Games.

Skelton and Ben Maher helped Britain win team gold at London 2012, and the latter continues in the higher echelons of the sport with silver at the 2019 European Championships.

The winner in Rotterdam was Martin Fuchs who was also second at the 2018 World Equestrian Games behind Germany's Simone Blum.

Fuchs is part of a strong Swiss team with his mentor Steve Guerdat, the individual gold medallist at London 2012, still a force to be reckoned with.

The United States won team gold at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 with McLain Ward and Beezie Madden aiming to win more medals in Tokyo.

The Swedes are also to be greatly respected with Peder Fredricson hoping to go one better than Rio where he took silver behind out to Skelton in a jump-off for gold.

Olympic equestrian schedule at Tokyo 2020

Competition in equestrian disciplines at the Tokyo 2020 Games takes place from 24th July to 7th August 2021.

Dressage:

24 July 2021 - Grand Prix (Team and Individual) Day 1

25 July 2021 - Grand Prix (Team and Individual) Day 2

27 July 2021 - Grand Prix Special (Team)

28 July 2021 - Grand Prix Freestyle (Individual)

Eventing:

30 July 2021 - Dressage (Team and Individual) Day 1

31 July 2021 - Dressage (Team and Individual) Day 2

1 August 2021 - Cross Country (Team and Individual)

2 August 2021- Jumping Team Final and Individual Qualifier, Jumping Individual Final

Jumping:

3 August 2021 - Individual Qualifier

4 August 2021 - Individual Final

6 August 2021 - Team Qualifier

7 August 2021- Team Final

Olympic equestrian venue at Tokyo 2020

Most of the equestrian action will be held at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park.

Built in 1940 and used for the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games, it is situated just west of Tokyo and will stage dressage and jumping competition.

The eventing cross-country element will take place at Sea Forest Cross Country Course in Sea Forest Park, Tokyo Bay.

General view of jumping at Equestrian Park during the Tokyo 2020 test event in August 2019
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Olympic equestrian competition format at Tokyo 2020

There are team and individual competitions in each of the three disciplines at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021.

Dressage

Sometimes likened to ballet on horseback, dressage is scored solely by judges who are looking for horse and athlete to display athletic prowess and supreme elegance in a series of pre-determined movements.

There are 60 partnerships in the dressage taking part in a maximum of three rounds.

Everyone takes part in the Grand Prix Test with the 60 split into six groups of 10 based on world rankings. The top two in each group, plus the six next best partnerships, go through to the Grand Prix Freestyle individual final.

The top eight teams, of three riders apiece, will go through to the Grand Prix Special set to music - a more rigorous examination than the Test - where the team medals are decided. Every score counts with no dropping of the worst score as in previous Games.

In the Grand Prix Freestyle, routines are devised by the 18 riders themselves but must be set to music and contain 16 compulsory movements. Previous scores do not count and the best score takes gold.

Eventing

In eventing, featuring 65 horse-and-rider combinations, each phase counts towards the team and individual competition.

The dressage now takes place over two days, hence the name change from three-day eventing to just eventing, followed by the cross country round.

Cross country is a unique test on an undulating, demanding course approximately six kilometres in length containing around 40 obstacles including fences, hedges and water jumps.

There are penalty points for a horse refusing to negotiate an obstacle while a fall to a rider or horse results in elimination.

Time faults are also incurred for exceeding the allotted time for the test.

The first of two jumping tests decides the medals for the team competitions. Knocking down a fence, also known as having a rail down, results in four faults with competitors also liable for time faults.

After dropping the worst individual score, the team with the lowest total takes gold.

Following the first jumping round, the top 25 pairings go through to a second round to decide the individual medals.

Jumping

In jumping, individual and team competitions are held independently.

There are 75 horse-and-rider combinations in the individual competition with the top 30 progressing to the final the following day.

If there is a tie after the final, it goes to a jump-off to decide gold with the fastest time the tiebreaker if two riders have the same number of faults.

Twenty teams of three horse-and-rider combinations take part in the team qualifier with the top 10 going through to the final the next day.

The order of the third round in the final is decided by the score after two rounds with the leading team going last. Again, unlike at previous Games where the worst of four scores could be dropped, each one of the three scores counts.

Olympic equestrian history

Equestrian events made their Olympic debut in 1900 with two disciplines of equestrian driving, three of equestrian jumping, plus polo.

The equestrian jumping comprised Grand Prix Jumping, much like today's jumping, High Jump (also known as puissance), and Long Jump.

The two equestrian driving events - not staged again after 1900 - were the Four-In-Hand race competition, with four horses drawing a carriage, and Hacks And Hunters which bore similarities to modern-day dressage but also involved the horse-and-rider partnership being judged jumping two low fences.

Neither polo nor equestrianism were part of the 1904 Games but the former did return in 1908 and made sporadic appearances until its final sighting at the 1936 Berlin Games.

Meanwhile, equestrian returned in 1912 with dressage, three-day eventing and show jumping and has been part of the Olympic programme ever since.

Equestrian vaulting - often described as gymnastics and dance on horseback - made a one-off appearance at Antwerp 1920.

In recent years, the dressage phase of eventing has been extended to two days making the three-day event a four-day one and necessitating a name change. Show jumping is more commonly known as jumping these days.

Hans Günther Winkler is the most successful equestrian jumper in Olympic history.

He was the reigning two-time individual world champion going into his Games debut in 1956 with the equestrian events held in Stockholm due to Australia's strict quarantine laws.

Winkler won gold with four faults from two rounds, despite the pain of a pulled groin muscle, beating the Italian D'Inzeo brothers Raimondo and Piero.

He also helped All-Germany to team gold.

Four years later in Rome, Winkler was only fifth as Raimondo beat Piero to gold, but he led a successful defence of the team title and was part of the hat-trick winning team at Tokyo 1964, the last Games for the All-German team.

The winning run ended at Mexico City 1968 with West Germany taking bronze, but they won the title on home soil in Munich four years later with Winkler's Games swansong in Montreal yielding team silver.

He remains the only jumper to win five Olympic gold medals and the sole equestrian rider to claim medals at six different Games, an achievement Isabell Werth could match in Tokyo.

Winkler worked as a trainer for the victorious West German jumping team at Seoul 1988 and continued to champion the sport until his death in 2018 aged 91.

Hans Günter Winkler helps Germany to team jumping gold at Rome 1960
Picture by 2004 Getty Images

Voted 'FEI Rider of the 20th Century' by his peers, Mark Todd is one of the greats of eventing.

A rare talent, the New Zealander won the famous Badminton Horse Trials in England on his first attempt in 1980. His groom was Andrew Nicholson who went on to follow Todd as an Olympian and competed in his sixth Games at Rio 2016.

After New Zealand boycotted Moscow 1980, Todd won individual eventing gold four years later in Los Angeles and retained his title at Seoul 1988 with Charisma his equine partner on both occasions.

It was the first successful defence since Charles Pahud de Mortanges in 1932, the Dutchman achieving the feat on different horses.

Tood was busy in Seoul, finishing 26th place in individual jumping on board Bago.

Barcelona was less happy with his mount Welton Greylag picking up an injury during the cross-country.

It was a similar tale four years later as his horse was ruled out the day before competition at Atlanta 1996 on medical grounds.

Todd bounced back to win individual bronze at Sydney 2000 on board Eyespy II and retired to become a successful trainer of racehorses, winning big races including the New Zealand Oaks. He also coached the New Zealand eventing team at Athens 2004.

But the retirement proved to be temporary as he announced his comeback in January 2008, making the team for Beijing before helping New Zealand to bronze at London 2012 - their first team eventing medal since 1996 and a record-breaking 28 years after Todd's first Olympic medal.

They looked set for better with Todd last to go in the Rio 2016 competition, but his partner Leonidas II failed to settle and they had four fences down to leave New Zealand out of the medals in fourth. A clear round would have won them a first team eventing gold.

Todd officially retired for the second time in September 2019 and now trains racehorses again at his stables in Marlborough, England.