The standard formula for the Olympic equestrian discipline of dressage consists Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix Freestyle tests.
The International Equestrian Federation has under its regulation a series of international competitions at different levels. Horses and riders are expected to perform different tests in accordance with each of these levels.
Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix Freestyle are top levels of the tests, typically required for world and continental championships and the Olympics.
Grand Prix is a highly demanding 5 minutes 40 seconds test requiring all of the basic schooling movements plus the fundamental airs of haute ecole, or Classical High School, including pirouettes, piaffe, passage, half-pass and flying lead changes.
To understand the movements, one should bear in mind that the basic dressage work includes collection and extension -- shortening and lengthening of the horse's stride -- at the walk, trot and canter, and such lateral movements as the leg yield, in which the horse moves forward and to one side simultaneously.
Piaffe is a sophisticated "trotting on the spot". Pirouette, often performed at the walk or canter, is 360-degree circle that is almost in place. Passage, or Spanish step, requires the horse to throw its diagonal pair of feet upward with the greatest energy and pause a moment longer than when trotting. It was described as giving the impression that the horse "sways free of all earthly weight."
There is also the half-pass, which requires the horse to go sideways and forward at the same time, while bent slightly in the direction of the movement.
Flying lead changes, also known as one, two and three tempi, require the horse to change from one lead to the other in the canter.
Grand Prix Special is a seven-minute test requiring the same movements as the Grand Prix but in a different order and with increased focus on the more advanced gaits.
Grand Prix Freestyle is performed to the accompaniment of a musical score, often tailor-made. The movements may contain all the Grand Prix movements, as well as double canter pirouettes, pirouettes in piaffe and half-pass in passage. Some of the most spectacular performances occur during the freestyle.
The dressage discipline at the Olympics is composed of team and individual competitions. The team competition comprises only the Grand Prix, with the medals awarded to the teams with the best sum scores from all its three riders.
The Grand Prix is also the qualifying test for individual competitions, with the best 25 riders moving on to the Grand Prix Special. Then the 15 best-placed riders move on to the final round of the individual competitions, the Grand Prix Freestyle.
The final ranking of the individual riders is set according to the average of points earned in the Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix Freestyle tests.
(Xinhua News Agency August 15, 2008)