Eventing is best described as an equestrian triathlon. It is comprised of three phases – dressage, cross country, and stadium.  The sport tests a rider’s skill more completely than any other.

Dressage, the first phase, shows the horse’s and rider’s ability to perform a series of prescribed classical movements on the flat in an enclosed arena.  The second phase, cross-country, involves the horse and rider galloping over natural terrain, jumping a variety of fixed obstacles along the way.  In the final phase of show jumping, horse and rider jump a series of stadium fences in an enclosed arena.

The rider accumulates penalty points in each phase based on varying factors and the rider with the lowest amount of points at the end of the three phases takes home top honors. The sport evolved from a military contest to an Olympic competition. It is an exciting sport attracting interest from all levels of sports enthusiasts, from weekend hobby riders to professional international stars.

Day One: Dressage
The dressage phase begins every eventing competition. In French, dressage means “training.” Originally designed to show the horse’s ability to perform intricate movements on the parade involved with reviewing troops, today the dressage test comprises a set series of pre-memorized movements performed in an enclosed arena. Precision, smoothness, suppleness, and complete obedience show off the horse’s obedience. Ideally the horse appears to perform the test’s movents on its own accord, working in harmony with its rider. The test is scored on each movement, rather like the scoring of the compulsories in figure skating, with the overall harmony and precision of the test taken into consideration.

Dressage is also very important to the three-day event horse, as it helps to develop the muscular strength and suppleness needed in the other two phases of competition, cross-country and show jumping, where the horse must be unbelievably fit and strong, and able to lengthen and shorten stride at a gallop.

The purpose of the dressage test is to demonstrate the level of communication between the horse and rider to and displaying the power and grace required to perform each movement with balance, rhythm, and suppleness. Due to the demands of the sport, the three-day event horse is extremely fit, and only strong and tactful riders possess the skills needed to harness and direct that energy into a both polished and powerful performance.

Dressage tests are updated every three to four years and are written by the United States Equestrian Federation. For the CCI 1-4* the tests are written by the FEI. Preliminary level and below are performed in a small (20×40 meter) arena while Preliminary Level Test C and above are ridden in a standard (20×60 meter) arena. Copies of the tests are available on the USEA website under the dressage test section.

Day Two: Cross-Country
The cross-country test typically takes place on the second day of competition. The object of this test is to prove the speed, endurance, and jumping ability of the horse over varied terrain and obstacles. In order to accomplish this task, the horse and rider must be at peak condition. The horse must be brave and obedient, and the rider must use knowledge of pace in order to expend only as much of the horse’s energy as necessary, if they expect to finish well.

The cross-country course covers approximately 2.75 to 4 miles, along which sit 24-36 fixed and solid obstacles. This phase is ridden at a gallop, with exact speed requirements depending on the level of competition. Cross-country courses require horses and riders to be bold and smart, while testing their physical stamina. The aim of each horse and rider combination is to complete the course on time and with as few penalties as possible. Penalties can be accrued through jumping errors (horse refuses or runs out at an obstacle, rider falls off on course, etc.) or by exceeding the optimum time allowed.

Of the three days of competition, the cross-country phase is usually the most appealing to spectators and riders alike. It is the ultimate challenge to prepare a horse for this rigorous test. Unlike other sports, where only the human will and body are pitted against the clock, in eventing, two minds and bodies work as one. As an additional attraction, eventing is the only high-risk Olympic sport where men and women compete as equals, with no separate divisions. Some of the top riders in the world today are women from all over the globe.

Day Three: Show Jumping
The third and final test takes place in the show jumping arena. A show jumping course comprises a series of colored fences usually made up of lightweight rails that are easily knocked down. The test takes place in an enclosed ring and the course must be negotiated in order for the horse and rider to successfully complete the event. This final phase tests the stamina and recovery of the horse after the endurance phase and shows that it is fit enough to continue work.

In the words of the FEI rule book, “The test on the third day is not an ordinary show jumping competition…Its sole object is to demonstrate that, on the day after a severe test of endurance, the horses have retained the suppleness, energy and obedience necessary for them to continue in service.”

The show jumping course requires very exact riding; it consists of between 12 and 15 show jumping obstacles, which normally include at least one combination, two spread fences, and in some cases a ditch.

The courses are designed to test the horse’s and rider’s ability to negotiate a variety of fences of differing heights, widths, and technicality. This requires the horse to be balanced and supple for tight turns and short distances between fences. He must be able to lengthen or shorten his stride in an instant. Therefore, the rider must know exactly where he is on the approach to a fence, with an obedient horse that will respond to his commands. For the spectator, this sport is both exciting and breathtaking to watch, as just one single rail knocked down can change the final standings dramatically.

The scores for eventing are cumulative, each phase is added together to get the final score. The rider with the lowest score (fewest penalty points) at the end of the competition takes home the blue ribbon!

Each movement in the dressage test is given a score between 0 and 10. In addition there are 4 collective marks: gaits, impulsion, submission, rider, which are scored the same way.

  • * 10 – Excellent
  • * 5 – Sufficient
  • * 0 -Not Performed

All of the judge’s marks are added together, then any penalty points are deducted. Penalties are given for errors in the test.

That total is now divided by the total possible points, multiplied by 100, and rounded to two decimal digits. This number is than subtracted from 100 and the resulting score is the score in penalty points that you carry on to the next round.

Full explanation of Dressage Scoring is available in the rulebook EV136.

Penalty points in the cross-country round are accumulated through faults at obstacles (such as refusals, run-outs, and circles) and time faults. A fall of rider results in Elimination from the entire competition

Faults at Obstacles:

  • * First refusal, run-out or circle – 20 penalties
  • * Second refusal, run-out or circle at the same obstacle – 40 penalties
  • * Third refusal, run-out or circle at the same obstacle – Elimination
  • * Fourth penalized disobedience on the entire course – Elimination

Time and Speed Faults:

  • * Exceeding optimum time – 0.4 penalty point per second
  • * Exceeding time limit- Elimination

Full explanation of Cross-country Scoring is available in the rulebook EV141.

Show Jumping
Similar to cross-country, show jumping penalties are accrued through faults at obstacles and time penalties. However, in show jumping penalties are also earned from knocking down obstacles and rails as unlike cross-country jumps, show jumps fall down easily.

Faults at Obstacles:

  • * Obstacle knocked down while jumping – 4 penalties
  • * First disobedience – 4 penalties
  • * Second disobedience at Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced – Elimination
  • * Second disobedience at Beginner Novice, Novice and Training – 8 penalties
  • * Third disobedience at Beginner Novice, Novice and Training – Elimination
  • * Fall of horse or competitor or both – Elimination

Time and Speed Faults:

  • * Exceeding the time allowed – 1 penalty for each second or commenced fraction of a second

Full explanation of Cross-country Scoring is available in the rulebook EV153.

How to read the scoreboard

  • W: Withdrew
  • E: Eliminated
  • R: Retired
  • RF: Rider Fall
  • MR: Mandatory Retirement (Horse fall)
  • X: Didn’t pass veterinary inspection
  • DQ: Disqualified

History of Eventing

An eventing competition that resembles the current sport was first held in 1902, at the Championnat du Cheval d’Armes in France, the first occurrence of eventing in the Olympics was in 1912 when Count Clarence von Rosen, Master of the Horse to the King of Sweden, devised the first event.

The object of the event was to test Cavalry Officers’ chargers for their fitness and suitability. Dressage originally demonstrated the horse’s ability to perform on the parade ground, where elegance and obedience were key. Cross-country began as a test of stamina, courage, and bravery over difficult terrain, important for a charger on long marches or if the horse was asked to carry a dispatch across country. The show jumping phase sought to prove the horse’s continuing soundness and fitness after the difficult cross-country day.

The Olympic eventing competition was originally open only to male military officers in active duty, mounted only on military charges. Each Cavalry Officer was required to carry 182 pounds and ride with a double bridle except for the steeplechase. On the first day, each rider had to complete a long distance ride of 33 miles followed by a cross-country test of three miles over natural obstacles with a 15-minute time limit. On the second day, officers rode over a steeplechase course. The third day was devoted to show ring jumping, and the fourth day to dressage. The ten minute dressage test utilized seven judges. The test included a collected and fast walk, collected and fast trot, rein back, gallop, pirouette and jumping. Reins could be held in either one or both hands.

In 1920, in Antwerp, the test was changed a little. The dressage phase was eliminated and another endurance phase added. The first phase was 28 miles of roads and tracks followed by a three-mile cross-country course over eighteen natural obstacles to be completed in a total time of three and a half hours. 12 1/2 minutes of the total time were allotted for cross-country. This was followed by a day of rest, which was followed by another endurance test of 12 miles of roads and tracks to be completed in an hour. A 2.4-mile steeplechase ridden at 550 meters per minutes followed on the third day. After another rest day, an obstacle jumping course was ridden.

The Paris Olympics in 1924, established the present pattern for the three-day event. The dressage included six-meter circles; half pass, halts, rein back, and many transitions up and down between ordinary and extended gaits. The only difference between the present three-day test was a Phase E at the end, which was a run-in of 1.25 miles to cool the horse down.

The teams for the Olympic Equestrian Games were furnished by the army. The army in those days had 14 regiments of horse cavalry, thousands of horses, and a cavalry school at Fort Riley, Kansas. The teams turned out by the army had some success. In the first Equestrian Games in Stockholm the USA was third behind Sweden and Germany. The U.S. Team was fourth at Antwerp in 1920, and Major Sloan Doak was the individual bronze medalist in Paris in 1924. The U.S. won the team gold medal at Los Angeles in 1932 and Lt. Earl F. Thomson was the individual silver medalist. Click for complete U.S. Olympic Results.

The first civilian three-day event held in the U.S. took place in 1949 and was run in conjunction with the Bryn Mawr Horse Show. In 1953, it was decided to organize a miniature event based on the Olympic three-day formula. Rules were written, and a course was developed at the steeplechase course in Nashville in 1953. There was only one level, which would equate to the training level under current standards. The trial was a huge success and it became the first continuous one-day event.

Eventing continued mostly unchanged until 1963 when the 10-minute halt was introduced, to occur after the completion of phases A, B, and C. It took place in a marked out area (the 10-minute box), where the horse was checked by two judges and one veterinary official who would make sure the horse was fit to continue onto phase D. If the horse was unfit, the panel would pull it from the competition.

In 1967 Phase E was also eliminated from the competition. The next major change did not occur until 2004 and 2005, with the creation of the “short” or “modified format,” which excluded phases A, B, and C from endurance day. The last Olympic Games that included the long, or “classic”, three-day format was the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, while Rolex Kentucky, the Badminton Horse Trials, and Burghley Horse Trials ran their last long format three-day in 2005. The short format is now the standard for all international competitions.

information provided by Discover Eventing