Sometimes described as horse ballet, dressage actually has its roots in the way Greeks prepared their horses for war more than 2000 years ago. The modern objective is to demonstrate the harmonious development of the horse’s three natural paces (walk, trot, canter) and how the horse responds to the rider’s commands while performing a series of prearranged movements, striving to give the impression that the horse is executing the exercises all on its own.

Men and women compete side by side in the individual and team events, which are run concurrently. Scores from the first two phases of competition, the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special, in which the horses perform compulsory movements, count towards both events and determine the final standings of the team event. A third phase of competition, the Grand Prix Freestyle, in which riders choose the exercises to demonstrate in a routine set to music, determines the final standings of the individual event.

Canada's Ashley Holzer riding her horse Pop Art competes at the Equestrian Grand Prix Special Dressage Individual competition of the Beijing 2008 Olympics Equestrian in Hong Kong, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Canada’s Ashley Holzer competes at Beijing 2008 Olympics Equestrian. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Canada’s Olympic History (Pre-Rio 2016)

Canada’s lone Olympic dressage medal was the bronze won in the team event by Cynthia Ishoy, Ashley Nicoll, Eva Maria Pracht and Gina Smith at Seoul 1988. At 51 years and 89 days old, Pracht became the oldest ever female Canadian Olympic medallist. It was at those same Games that Ishoy posted Canada’s best-ever individual dressage result, just missing the podium in fourth place.