The Olympic website states that dressage originated 2,000 years ago with the ancient Greeks, who developed it “to train the horses for war.” If so, we must assume that the Greeks were not trying to overrun their foes so much as dazzle them with fancy footwork. This is a sport that seems to be a holdover from a quainter version of the Olympics a century ago. It made its debut in Stockholm in 1912, with jumps included in the competition and added points for riding with one hand.
The team competition last week was a more subdued affair — at least in the arena. The Olympic Equestrian Center is in the Deodoro neighborhood, home to one of Brazil’s largest military barracks. When, over the course of a few days, two stray bullets landed in the equestrian media tent — organizers said one had come from a nearby favela, aimed at a government surveillance blimp — the authorities responded by flooding the area with heavily armed soldiers. The last mile of the trip to the center was like walking through a country under martial law.