Rider performing dressage.
Source: Getty Images

The Cost to Compete in Olympic Dressage Is Higher Than You Think

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Jul. 31 2021, Published 11:08 a.m. ET

One of the best parts of the Summer Olympic Games Equestrian competition is getting to see the gorgeous array of horses flown out for the Olympics. Their beauty is often a bonus to the exciting feats riders perform in competition, but how much does an Olympic dressage horse cost? Casual viewers might be shocked at how expensive Olympic horses are, so here's what we know.

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Zara Tindall competes in dressage, 2010.
Source: Getty Images

What is the discipline of dressage?

Before we can understand the cost of an Olympic horse, we must understand the three disciplines of "English riding" — so named for the type of saddle used, which doesn't have a horn. There is another type of riding, "Western riding," but this type of riding is most specific to the American Southwest and not yet included at the Olympics. The three disciplines of English riding are show jumping, dressage, and evening.

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Classical dressage is arguably the most artistic equestrian discipline and is based around the horse and rider performing a series of movements from memory. The goal is to perform these movements with the rider giving the horse the smallest cues possible. Watching dressage is supposed to seem like the horse is moving of its own accord and "dancing" to music. The word "dressage" means "training" in French.

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So, how much does an Olympic horse competing in dressage cost?

As with most sports, equestrian athletics can be expensive. In 2012, New Hampshire Public Radio's Dan Gorenstein calculated the cost of dressage, which can be the most expensive equestrian discipline. Dan's findings were recorded for Marketplace, and the results are extremely eye-opening.

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First, there's the cost of the horse itself. In the example Dan uses, the horse may cost between $60,000-$100,000. Then, there's the cost of the official dressage 'fit, which includes breeches, a jacket, and a helmet, among other items. Dressage is the most formal of the three English disciplines and requires specific clothing.

In 2012, the total cost of basics from equestrian tack shop Dover Saddlery was around $12,000, not including how expensive tall boots can be. Tall boots are often customized and start at $1,000 new.

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A horse before competition.
Source: Getty Images

Then, there's the cost of transporting horses on an overseas flight — which CBS8 notes can be as much as $30,000 per horse. In total, the cost of a dressage horse at the Olympics could be anywhere from $102,000-$142,000. Many professional equestrian competitions often offer a monetary prize for winning, so part of the incentive to perform well comes from simply needing to maintain the ability to compete!

Dressage can be an expensive discipline in which to compete, but it's a credit to the athletes that they spend so much money to participate in a sport they love. The horses at the Olympics are undoubtedly some of the best cared for in the world, and the time and energy spent keeping them happy and healthy is worth all the money in the world.

You can watch the Equestrian events on NBCOlympics.com, Peacock, or on NBC through August 8.

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