Get Involved: EQUESTRIAN
Equestrian has strong claims to be the most unique of Olympic sports. It is the only one to revolve around animals, and the only event in which men and women compete entirely on equal terms.
It is also one of the most varied and enthralling of sports - from the discipline of dressage to the danger of eventing to the drama of jumping, equestrian is an entertaining and exciting spectacle.
The equestrian events at the 2008 Olympics were somewhat sidelined by the fact that they were held in Hong Kong, 1,200 miles away from host city Beijing.
In London, by contrast, the sport will be right at the heart of things, with the events being held in Greenwich Park.
Great Britain have a rich equestrian history yet have won just one Olympic gold since 1972 - and even that came in controversial circumstances, when Leslie Law and Shear L'Eau were promoted to the top of the podium in 2004 after the original winner was disqualified for a rules infringement.
Why is it good for you?
An hour's riding burns about 120 calories at walking pace, 360 calories at trotting pace and 480 at galloping pace. Although it may seem that the horse is receiving all the exercise, this equates to the calories lost in a 30-minute jog or cycle ride carried out at a similar speed.
The position taken when riding a horse works muscles in the dorsal and abdominal region that are seldom used in everyday life. It provides steady exercise without straining the knee and ankle joints.
Horse riding is further recognised as possessing excellent therapeutic and stress relieving qualities due to the relationship developed between rider and horse.
Equestrian sports are enjoyed by people of all ages, as shown by German rider Reiner Klimke who won six Olympic gold medals between 1964 and 1988.
Horse riding is a sport that anyone can participate in, regardless of age, ability or background. Lessons are important for beginners as mastering the basics ensures safety.
The majority of riding centres and schools provide horses for use in any lesson or session, as well as essential equipment such as a riding hats and saddle. Other recommended pieces such as body protectors, jodhpurs and riding boots can be bought from equine retailers.
There are currently believed to be 4.3m horse riders in the United Kingdom. Visit the British Equestrian Federation's club finder to discover where your local riding centre is located.
Want to get involved with sport in your local community? Why not Join In ?
'Join In Local Sport' aims to get as many people as possible to turn up and take part in activities at their local sports facilities on 18/19 August, 2012 - the first weekend between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The aim of the initiative is for every sports club and community group in the UK to put on a special event in a bid to encourage more people to get involved as members, supporters or volunteers.
More than 4,000 local sports clubs will be opening their doors to host events and show people just how they can get involved.
As well as tips on playing sport there will be information on coaching, supporting and how to help out.
Find an event near you.
The competition format at London 2012
- A total of 200 athletes, spread across all three disciplines, will compete at Greenwich Park.
- Equestrian consists of three disciplines - dressage, eventing and jumping.
- The dressage competition will run from Thursday 2 August to Thursday 9 August, the eventing competition will run from Saturday 28 July to Tuesday 31 July, and the jumping competition will run from Saturday 4 to Wednesday 8 August.
- All three have a team event and an individual event for men and women.
The rules at London 2012
Dressage tests are performed in a sand arena of 60m x 20m, with seven judges awarding points for the harmony, lightness and free-flowing movement of the horse at all paces. A dressage team comprises of three athletes and three horses.
The individual and team events occur at the same time, with a rider's score relevant to both. After the first phase, the Grand Prix, the best seven teams (including those tied for seventh) and best 11 individuals (including those tied for 11th) who have not already qualified in the team event, qualify for the Grand Prix Special.
The team medals are decided when the scores in the two rounds are combined, with the highest total declared the gold medallist. After this stage, the top 18 (including those tied for 18th) compete for the individual medals in the Grand Prix Freestyle.
Eventing is divided into three disciplines - dressage, cross-country and jumping - with penalty points accumulated throughout and the lowest score winning.
The eventing competition takes place over four days, with riders competing for both the individual and team medals. The first jumping test on the final day determines the placings in the team event, with a second jumping test which comprises the best 25 riders (and any tied for 25th place) then determining the final standings in the individual event.
Jumping takes place around a short course containing 12-14 fences. There are five rounds of competition, two of which determine the placings in the team event, while all five contribute to the the individual event score.
Riders are timed on the course and penalised for any jumps they fail to clear correctly. The rider that finishes with the fewest penalties in the quickest time wins the gold.
Ones to watch
Britain have never won an Olympic dressage medal but that should change this summer. Team GB are the reigning European champions, with the experienced Carl Hester and talented young riders Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin more than capable of competing with the best.
Anky van Grunsven is the queen of dressage and the Dutch rider is looking to bow out with her fourth consecutive gold at her seventh Olympics. Germany are also a strong dressage nation, with Denmark and the USA also likely to be in contention for the medals.
Eventing legend Mark Todd won back-to-back individual golds at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics and a third here would be one of the stories of the Games.
Britain haven't won an Olympic jumping medal for 28 years but will go into London 2012 full of hope of ending that run. Nick Skelton has been in blistering form in 2012 and heads an experienced GB squad.
Canadian Eric Lamaze is the individual champion but his gold medal-winning horse Hickstead sadly collapsed and died at an event last year. Rolf-Goran Bengtsson of Sweden topped the 2011 world rankings.
Dressage is considered the art of equestrian sport and goes as far back as ancient Greece.
It has been part of the Olympic programme since 1912, although until 1948 only men competed in the events as the riders had to be officers. Women have competed since the Helsinki Games in 1952.
Jumping developed from foxhunting in England and appeared at the Olympics in one form or another from 1896, although the equestrian programme as a whole really took hold in 1912. Women first took part in 1956.
Eventing also made its Olympic debut in 1912 and was dominated by military entrants until the competition was broadened to include civilian riders in 1952.