Equestrian Sports

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Equestrian Sports


sports involving the riding of horses.

The first mention of horse chariots taking part in the Olympic Games was in 680 B.C. and the first report of the inclusion of horse and mule races in the Olympian program, in 648 B.C. Special riding schools appeared in the early 16th century in Italy, France, Spain, and Austria.

In prerevolutionary Russia the development of national horse games and races had begun in antiquity—in Middle Asia, Transcaucasia, the Northern Caucasus, and the regions inhabited by the cossacks (the Don, Kuban’, Ural, and Terek). The first (European-type) horse tournaments were held in St. Petersburg in 1766. Horse races as official competitions were first held in Russia in 1826. In the second half of the 19th century a four-verst (4.32 km) race with obstacles—the Russian steeplechase (the first was in 1872 in Krasnoe Selo)—enjoyed great popularity among the court aristocracy and the officers. The first sports victories for Russian equestrians in the international arena were K. Avalov’s win at the Liverpool Steeplechase (Great Britain, 1912) and the three-time victory by a team of Russian cavalry officers of the King Edward Gold Cup (London, 1911-13).

In the USSR equestrian sports were developed in the 1920’s in the cavalry units of the Red Army and later in the clubs of the Society for the Promotion of Defense and Aviation and Chemical Construction in the USSR (Osoaviakhim). Large competitions have been systematically held since 1925, at first all-army, from 1926 under Osoaviakhim, and from 1938 all-Union. In 1935 the Spartak, Pishchevik, and Stroitel’ sports societies began to get involved in equestrian sports. Horse races were popular in the 1930’s, of which the Ashkhabad-Moscow Race (in 1935, 32 Turkmen kolkhoz sportsmen covered 4, 300 km in 84 days) was the most well known. In 1952 the Section (Federation since 1959) of Equestrian Sports of the USSR was accepted into the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI). By the early 1970’s the Dinamo, Spartak, Urozhai, Trud, and Burevestnik sports societies, as well as the army’s Central Sports Club, occupied a leading position in Soviet equestrian sports.

Soviet horsemen have participated in the Olympic Games since 1952. The best showings have been by I. M. Kizimov (two gold one silver, and one bronze medal; 1964, 1968, and 1972) and S. I. Filatov (one gold and two bronze medals; 1960 and 1964) in dressage competition. A Soviet team (V. P. Raspopov, A. M. Favorskii, B. M. Lilov, and E. T. Shabailo) won first prize at the largest international jumping competition, the Prix des Nations (Paris, 1959). The combined Soviet team won the European championship in the three-day event in 1962 and 1965, the world championship in 1970, and the Olympic dressage championship in 1972 (I. M. Kizimov, I. A. Kalita, and E. V. Petushkova); in 1970, E. V. Petushkova won the title of world champion in the individual competition as well.

Outside the USSR, equestrian sports are greatly developed in Great Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), Sweden, the German Democratic Republic, Switzerland, Italy, France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the USA. The foreign sportsmen who have achieved the greatest success in the Olympics have been F. Pahud de Mortanges of the Netherlands, with four gold medals and one silver medal (1924, 1928, and 1932); H. G. Winkler of the FRG, with five gold medals and one bronze medal (1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972); and H. St. Cyr of Sweden, with four gold medals (1952 and 1956).

A contemporary type of equestrian sports is dressage (the highest school of equestrian art), which is the art of putting a horse through various pacings (including the walk, trot, gallop, passage, and piaffe). Competitions are held in an area 20 X 40 or 20 X 60 m with programs of varying degrees of difficulty, usually to be carried out in 5-12 minutes. Judging is on a ten-point system. A grand prize is awarded at the Olympic Games, the European and world championships, and at the Spartakiady (Games) of the Soviet peoples.

Show jumping (concours hippique) is a widely cultivated type of equestrian sport, in which each entrant must jump from six to 13 different obstacles set up along a fixed course (parcours) from 200 to 1, 100 m long and on a special field measuring no less than 75 X 40 m. There are a number of different types of shows, including superior class (haute école), hunting, optional, and relay races. Riders are penalized for faults (falls, the knocking down of obstacles, disobedience by the horse, and so on) according to a set scale. The most complicated event included in the program of the Olympic Games, world championships (held since 1953), and European championships (since 1952) is the Prix des Nations and in the Soviet Union, the USSR Cup. Jumping is included in the modern pentathlon.

The three-day event consists of dressage, an endurance test, and stadium jumping (the rider performs on the same horse for three days in succession). Dressage competition is held in an open area or an enclosed hall (20 X 60 m) with a program including exercises in the basic maneuvers (walk, trot, and gallop); the endurance test, for a distance of 23-34 km, is divided into four sections and includes road riding, a steeplechase, and cross-country jumping; the stadium jumping is held at a distance of 800-1,000 m with 13 obstacles not more than 120 cm high and ditches up to 3.5 m wide. Three-day events are included in the Soviet championships and Spartakiady, European and world championships, and the Olympics.

The two-day event adheres to the general rules of the threeday event but does not include the endurance test.

Horse races are competitions held on a racetrack or on level ground to see which horse can cover the distance the fastest. Straight races are, as a rule, held at distances of 1,200-3,200 m (depending on the horses’ age); national straight races are held at longer distances (up to 7 km). Hurdle races are held along a racecourse 2-3 km long, at every kilometer of which light brush fences (hurdles) up to 1 m high are placed. The steeplechase is the hardest race; it is 6-7 km long, with 18 large immobile obstacles up to 140 cm high and 5.5 m wide. The Grand Liver-pool Steeplechase (held since 1836 in Great Britain), the most difficult in the world, is 7, 200 m long, with 30 obstacles up to 150 cm in height. The Great Pardubice Steeplechase (held since 1874 in Czechoslovakia), which Soviet riders have won seven times, is 6, 900 m long, with 31 obstacles up to 150 cm high and 6.5 m wide. Cross-country races (over broken terrain) are held at distances of 3 to 8 km over obligatory or optional courses with immobile field-type obstacles, with three obstacles per kilometer.

Hunting on horseback is a type of outdoor riding. Using hounds, a live animal (a deer, wolf, wild boar, fox, or hare) is hunted, or an artificial animal track is followed. Distances for hunts are up to 35 km.

Horse and ski competitions are held on a racecourse or on level, moderately snow-covered country roads; there are two types—in one, the skier is pulled by a horse which he controls by means of a rein or strap attached to the breast collar, and in the other, the skier is pulled by a horse controlled by a rider.

Long-distance races are based on speed (with distances of 25, 50, and 100 km; the course is on a highway or country roads) or endurance (lasting 24 hours or several days and covering long distances).

In horseback acrobatic and trick-riding competitions (obligatory or optional programs) riders perform gymnastic exercises. Horseback acrobatics (vaults, leaps, jumping dismounts, scissors, handstands, etc.) are performed on a horse trotting or galloping in a circle. Trick riding (vaults, leaps, riding standing up, spins, picking up various objects from the ground, and so on) is done on a straight course 200 m long, with the horse moving at a speed of 400 m per minute. National forms of trick riding in the USSR are most common in Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Armenia, and Georgia.

Among the games played on horseback, the most well known are pushball and polo. Pushball is played by two teams of six to eight riders on a field 150 X 300 m or 200 X 400 m, with a ball 130 X 150 cm in diameter. The players try to drive the ball into the opponents’ goal. Polo is a game that is widely played in Western Europe and America. There are two teams of four players; the riders try to drive a wooden ball (10-12 cm in diameter) into the opponents’ goal, using special mallets. The field usually measures 150 X 300 m. The game is divided into six 15-minute periods. Specially trained horses (160-162 cm in height), called polo ponies, are used. Polo has frequently been included in the Olympic Games program.


Kniga o loshadi, vols. 1-5. Moscow, 1952-60. [Moiseev-Cherkasskii, M. F.] Konnyi sport v SSSR. Moscow, 1954.
Konnyi sport: Uchebnoe posobie. Moscow, 1959.
Ivanov, M. Vozniknovenie i razvitie konnogo sporta. [Moscow] 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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