The cross-country phase

Eventing (also known as horse trials) is an equestrian event comprising dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. This event has its roots in a comprehensive cavalry test requiring mastery of several types of riding. The competition may be run as a one-day event (ODE), where all three events are completed in one day (dressage, followed by show jumping and then cross country) or a three-day event (3DE), which is more commonly now run over four days, with dressage on the first two days followed by cross country the next day and then show jumping in reverse order on the final day. Eventing was previously known as Combined Training, but this usually now refers to a combination of just two of the events, most commonly dressage and show jumping.


The Phases

Eventing is an equestrian triathlon, in that it combines three different disciplines in one competition set out over one, two, or three days, depending on the length of courses and number of entries.


The dressage phase at a 3-day.

The dressage phase (held first) consists of an exact sequence of movements ridden in an enclosed arena (20x60m for International 3DE but usually 20x40 for ODE). The test is judged by one or more judges who are looking for balance, rhythm, suppleness, and most importantly, obedience of the horse and its harmony with the rider. The challenge is to demonstrate that a supremely fit horse, capable of completing the cross country phase on time, also has the training to perform in a graceful, relaxed and precise manner.

At the highest level of competition, the dressage test is roughly equivalent to the USDF Third Level, and may ask for half-pass at trot, shoulder-in, travers, collected, medium and extended gaits, single flying changes, and counter-canter. The tests may not ask for Grand Prix movements such as piaffe or passage.

Each movement in the test is scored on a scale from 0 to 10, with a score of "10" being the highest possible mark and with the total maximum score for the test varying depending on the level of competition and the number of movements. Therefore, if one movement is poorly executed, it is still possible for the rider to get a good overall score if the remaining movements are very well executed. The marks are added together and any errors of course deducted. To convert this score to penalty points, the average marks of all judges are converted to a percentage of the maximum possible score, multiplied by a co-efficient decided by the governing body and then subtracted from 100.

  • Once the bell rings the rider is allowed 45 seconds to enter the ring or is eliminated.
  • If all four feet of the horse exit the arena during the test, this results in elimination.
  • If the horse resists more than 20 seconds during the test, this results in elimination.
  • Errors on course:
    • 1st Error = minus 2 marks
    • 2nd Error = minus 4 marks
    • 3rd Error = elimination


A rider on cross-country

The next phase, cross-country, requires both horse and rider to be in excellent physical shape and to be brave and trusting of each other. This phase consists of approximately 12–20 fences (lower levels), or 30–40 at the higher levels, placed on a long outdoor circuit. These fences consist of very solidly built natural objects (telephone poles, stone walls, etc.) as well as various obstacles such as ponds and streams, ditches, drops and banks, and combinations including several jumping efforts based on objects that would commonly occur in the countryside. Sometimes, particularly at higher levels, fences are designed that would not normally occur in nature. However, these are still designed to be as solid as more natural obstacles. Safety regulations mean that some obstacles are now being built with a "frangible pin system," allowing part or all of the jump to collapse if hit with enough impact. Speed is also a factor, with the rider required to cross the finish line within a certain time frame (optimum time). Crossing the finish line after the optimum time results in penalties for each second over. At lower levels, there is also a speed fault time, incurring penalties for horse and rider pairs completing the course too quickly. For every "disobedience"(refusal or run-out of a jump) a horse and rider incur on course, penalities will be added to their dressage score. After 3 disobediences the pair is eliminated, meaning they can no longer participate in the competition. A horse and rider pair can also be eliminated for going off course, for example missing a fence. Should the horses shoulder or hind-quarter touch the ground, mandatory requirement is taken and they are not allowed to participate further in the competiton. If the rider should fall off the horse they are eliminated. However in the US this rule is currently being revised for the Training level and below. The penalties for disobediences on cross country are weighted severely relative to the other phases of competition to emphasize the importance of courage, endurance and athleticism. Fitness is required as the time allowed will require a strong canter at the lower levels, all the way to a strong gallop at the higher events.

In recent years, a controversy has developed between supporters of short and long format three-day events. Traditionally, three day events had dressage, endurance and show jumping. Endurance day consisted of 4 phases, A, B, C and D. Phase A and C were roads and tracks, with A being a medium-paced warm up to prepare the horse and rider for Phase B, a steeplechase format at an extremely fast pace over steeplechase-style fences. Phase C was a slow-paced cool down coming off of Phase B, in preparation for the toughest and most demanding phase, D, or cross-country. Before embarking on Phase D, in the "ten-minute box," horses had to be approved to continue by a vet, who monitored their temperature and heart rate, ensuring that the horse was sound and fit.

Three day events are now offered in the classic format, with endurance day, or short-format, with no steeplechase (phase B) or roads and tracks (phases A and C). The 2004 Olympic Summer Games in Athens, Greece chose the short format, due to lack of facilities, time and financing, which sparked a large debate in the eventing community whether to keep the steeplechase phase or just offer cross-country. Today, most events are run short-format, except for a few one-star competitions.

Due to major injuries at Red Hills and Rolex in 2008, the rules were changed drastically. The change stated that a fall anywhere during the cross-country phase resulted in elimination, even if the rider was galloping on course and not approaching a jump, or in the middle of a combination. Also, a new rule created elimination for riding in jumping phases without a medical arm band carrying information about the rider's medical history, insurance, medications, and blood type.


Tim Price does well to stay on as Vortex refuses at the Dairy Mounds during the cross country phase of Burghley Horse Trials 2009.
  • Refusal, run-out, or circle at an obstacle: 20 penalties
  • Second refusal, run-out, circle at the same obstacle: 40 penalties
  • Third refusal, run-out, circle on cross-country course: Elimination (E)
  • Fall of rider: Elimination (E)
  • Fall of horse (shoulder and hind touch the ground): Elimination (E)
  • Exceeding Optimum Time: 0.4 penalties per second
  • Coming in under Speed Fault Time: 1 penalties per second (lower national levels in some countries only)
  • Exceeding the Time Limit (twice the optimum time): Elimination (E)

Other faults

  • Competing with improper saddlery: Elimination (E)
  • Jumping without headgear or a properly fastened harness: Elimination (E)
  • Error of course not rectified: Elimination (E)
  • Omission of obstacle: Elimination (E)
  • Jumping an obstacle in the wrong order: Elimination (E)
  • Jumping an obstacle in the wrong direction: Elimination (E)
  • Retaking an obstacle already jumped: Elimination (E)
  • Dangerous riding, at determination of the Ground Jury: Elimination (usually with a warning before elimination) (E)
  • Failure to wear medical armband: Elimination (at discretion of Ground Jury) (E)

Types of obstacles

The "direct route" when jumping cross-country
If the rider has a refusal at the direct route, he may jump the other B element without additional penalty than what he incurred for the refusal.

A combination is always considered one obstacle, and the various elements within the combination are lettered "A", "B", "C" and so on. In Cross-country, the rider need only retake the element they refused rather than the whole complex. So a refusal at element B does not require them to jump A again. However, they have the option of retaking the previous elements if they wish. For example, in a bounce type obstacle it may be physically impossible to approach B without first clearing A. Yet for some in and outs, you can go to B and not have to rejump A.

Many cross-country obstacles have several possible routes to take (for example, at obstacle 5 there may be two A, two B, and two C elements), with one route usually being faster but requiring a more skillful ride or more physical effort from the horse. A rider may take any of the possible routes as long as they pass over each letter once. Additionally, after a refusal, they may jump a different obstacle in its place, as long as it is the same letter. For example, if a refusal occurs at B, the rider may jump an alternative obstacle that is marked B to help avoid a second refusal, but may not jump a second A element in place of the B element.

A refusal at A is a first refusal, and would receive 20 penalties. Whether the rider retakes A or not, a subsequent refusal at B is a second refusal and so on. Three refusals at any one obstacle results in elimination, as does 4 refusals on the entire course.

Veterinary inspection, or "Trot Up"/"Horse Inspection"

Before the beginning of a three-day event, and also before the last phase, horses are inspected by a vet to ensure that they are fit to compete further. It is usually a very formal affair, with well-groomed and braided horses, and nicely dressed riders. It is also a very nerve-racking time, as the "pass" or "fail" determines whether the horse may continue with the competition. A vet can request that a horse is sent to the holding box, when it will then be re-assessed before being allowed to continue.

In lower levels of competition the horse's movement may be analyzed as they finish the cross-country, where they will be asked to trot briefly after crossing the finishing line to satisfy the vet of their soundness.

Show jumping

Show jumping phase at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day.

Show jumping tests the technical jumping skills of the horse and rider, including suppleness, obedience, fitness and athleticism. In this phase, 12–20 fences are set up in a ring. These fences are typically brightly colored and consist of elements that can be knocked down, unlike cross country obstacles. This phase is also timed, with penalties being given for every second over the required time. In addition to normal jumping skills, eventing show jumping tests the fitness and stamina of the horse and rider, generally being held after the cross-country phase in higher level and international events.


  • Knocking down an obstacle: 4 penalties
  • First Disobedience (refusal, run-out, circle, moving backwards): 4 penalties
  • Second Disobedience in the whole round: 4 penalties
  • First Fall of rider: Elimination
  • Fall of horse: Elimination
  • Exceeding the time allowed: 1 penalty per second
  • Jumping an obstacle in the wrong order: Elimination
  • Error of course not rectified: Elimination

An obstacle is defined as having been knocked down if any part of it is lowered. It is therefore possible to knock out a pole below the top pole and receive no penalties.

The winner is the horse and rider with the fewest penalties. Awards are usually presented while mounted, before the placed riders take a lap of honor around the arena.

The Olympic beginning

Eventing competition that resembles the current three-day were first held in 1902, at the Championnat du Cheval d'Armes in France, but were not introduced into the Olympic Games until 1912. 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 stadium 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. In 1924, the event was open to male civilians, although non-commissioned Army officers could not participate in the Olympics until 1956. Women were first allowed to take part in 1964; equestrian sports are one of the few Olympic sports in which men and women compete against one another.


The original format, used in the 1912 Olympics, was spread over several days:

  • Day 1: Endurance Test – 55 km (34 mi) of roads and tracks (with a time allowed of 4 hours, giving a speed of approx. 230 meters per minute) immediately followed by 5 km of a flagged cross-country course at a speed of 333 meters per minute. Time penalties were given for exceeding the time allowed, but no bonus points were given for being fast.
  • Day 2: Rest Day
  • Day 3: Steeplechase test of 3.5 km with 10 plain obstacles, at a speed of 600 mpm, with time penalties but no time bonus points
  • Day 4: Jumping Test ("Prize Jumping"), which was considered easy by most of the spectators
  • Day 5: Dressage Test ("Prize Riding")

The Paris Games in 1924 introduced a format very similar to the one of today: with Day 1 Dressage, Day 2 the Endurance Test, and Day 3 the Jumping Test. The Endurance Test has changed the most since that time. Originally, bonus points could be earned for a fast ride cross-country (less than the optimum time). This helped competitors make up for a poor dressage ride, with a clean, fast cross-country ride. This system, however, was dropped in 1971. The format for the endurance test occurred as below:

  • Phase A: Short roads and tracks (with five penalties per 5 seconds over time)
  • Phase B: Steeplechase, decreased in speed from 600 mpm to 550 mpm (with 10 penalties added per 5 seconds over the time, 3 bonus points per 5 seconds under time)
  • Phase C: Long roads and tracks (with 5 penalties per 5 seconds over time)
  • Compulsory Halt (now the 10-minute halt)
  • Phase D: Cross-country (with 10 penalties added per 5 seconds over the time, 3 bonus points per 10 seconds under time)
  • Phase E: 1¼ mile run on the flat (with 5 penalties per 5 seconds over time).

(Note: Phase E was abolished in 1967.)

In 1963, 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.

The format of the sport underwent major changes in 2004 and 2005, with the creation of the "short" or "modified format," which excluded phases A, B, and C from endurance day. The primary reason for excluding these phases was that the Olympic Committee was considering dropping the sport of eventing from the Olympics because of the cost and large area required for the speed and endurance phase with a steeplechase course and several miles of roads-and-tracks. To prevent the elimination of the sport from the Olympics program, the "short format" was developed by the FEI. 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 international competition, such as the Olympics and World Equestrian Games.

The change in format has brought about controversy. Some riders[who?] support the continuation of the classic format, believing it is the "true test of horse and rider". Others believe the classic format is superior because it teaches horsemanship, due to the extra preparation needed to condition the horse and the care required after the several miles of endurance day. However, some upper-level riders claim to prefer the short format, as they believe it saves wear-and-tear on their horses and allows the horse not only to compete in more three-day events each season, but decreases the chance of injury to the horse. However, this claim has not held true in several recent studies that compared injuries sustained in classic and in short format competitions over equivalent courses. Further, some research indicates that horses are more stressed by the short format than by the careful warm-up inherent in the classic format. Regardless, many upper-level riders prepare their horses for the short format using the same conditioning and training as for the long format. The short format has also been widely urged by breeders of heavier, warmblood-type horses. The long format has remained popular at the Preliminary, or one star, level in the United States, and with riders who feel it maximizes horsemanship.[citation needed]

Penalty point system

In 1971, the penalty point system was first introduced into eventing. This system converts the dressage score and all jump penalties on cross-country and show jumping into penalty points, with the horse and rider with the fewest number of points winning the event. Different weight is given for each phase, with the cross-country — the heart of eventing — being the most important, followed by the dressage, and then the show jumping. The intended ratio of cross-country:dressage:show jumping is theoretically 12:3:1. Therefore, an error in cross-country counts heavily. This prevents horses that are simply good in dressage (for example) from winning the event with a poor cross-country test.

In 1971, the following penalty system was instituted:

  • Phase A and C: 1 penalty per second over the optimum time
  • Phase B: 0.8 penalties per second over
  • Phase D: 0.4 penalties per second over

In 1977, the dressage scoring was changed, with each movement marked out of ten rather than out of six. This increased the maximum number of dressage marks from 144 to 240. This number later increased to 250 marks in 1998, after additional movements were added. To keep the correct weight, a formula is used to convert good marks in dressage to penalty points. First, the marks of the judges (if there is more than one) are averaged. Then the raw mark is subtracted from the maximum points possible. This number is then multiplied by 0.6 to calculate the final penalty score.

Show jumping rules were also changed in 1977, with a knock-down or a foot in the water awarded only 5 penalties rather than ten. This prevented the show jumping phase from carrying too much weight, again, to keep the ratio between the phases correct.

Non-Olympic competition

In its early days, the sport was most popular in Britain, and the British gave the competition a new name, the "Three-Day Event," due to the three day time span of the competition. In America, the sport was also called "combined training," due to the three different disciplines and types of training methods needed for the horse. In the United Kingdom, "combined training" competition includes only the dressage and show jumping phases.

The first annual, Olympic-level event developed was the Badminton Horse Trials, held each year in England. First held in 1949, the Badminton event was created after a poor performance by the British Eventing Team at the 1948 Olympic Games, with the purpose of being a high-class preparation event, and as extra exposure for the military horses, who very rarely had the chance to compete. Initially, only British riders were allowed to compete (although women were allowed, despite being banned from riding in the Olympics), but the competition is now an international open to all riders from around the world who have qualified for this level of competition. Badminton is the most prestigious events to win in the world. Currently, the Olympic event is consider a CCI***, a rank lower than Badminton which is a CCI****.

The second three-day competition to be held at Olympic level each year was the Burghley Horse Trials, first held in 1961. Burghley is the longest running international event.

The first CCI held outside of Britain on an annual basis is the Rolex Kentucky Three Day, held each year in Lexington since 1978.

Importance of dressage training

In the early years, the dressage phase was fairly inconsequential in determining the final standings. It was quite possible for a horse to have a terrible dressage test, then run a clean cross-country and show jumping, and still finish near the top of the standings. Since then, correct dressage training has become increasingly important should a horse and rider wish to be placed (complete all sections, and finish in the top 12). This can be traced back to Sheila Willcox who took a particular interest in dressage, becoming abundantly clear when she won Badminton three years running in the 1950s. She had a strong influence on Mary King and Lucinda Green amongst others.

After the 2000 Olympic Games, the FEI hired British eventer and dressage rider Christopher Bartle to write new dressage tests for the upper level events, which would include a greater deal of collection. This has since raised the standard even further in the dressage phase.

Additionally, the cross-country phase has become more technical, asking the horse to be adjustable and supple through combinations. A horse can no longer just be brave and athletic, but must have a good deal of dressage training should his rider wish to successfully negotiate odd distances or bending lines at a gallop. Also, in show jumping, a horse is asked to move with impulsion and engagement; this makes the jump more fluent, brings the horse to bascule more correctly, and is less jarring for both horse and rider.


Between 1997 and December 2008, at least 37 eventing riders died as a result of injuries incurred while competing in the cross-country phase of eventing at national or international level or at Pony Club. Of these, 18 riders died in the period 2006–2008. These 37 fatal falls have been at all levels of the sport, from domestic one-day events up to regional championships level, and they have occurred in most of the recognized eventing countries around the world, with concentrations in the United Kingdom (14) and the United States (8). At least 25 of these 37 deaths have resulted from a somersaulting (rotational) fall of the horse, with 11 of the 16 deaths in 2007 and 2008 being reported as having resulted from a rotational horse fall. [1]

Information about horse fatalities is difficult to locate, but at least 19 eventing horses, many of them top-level performers, died in 2007 & 2008, most of them in the US. [1]

Over time, course design has become increasingly more focused on the safety of the horse and rider. Fences are built more solidly than in the earlier days, encouraging a bold jump from the horse, which actually helps prevent falls. The layout of the course and the build of the obstacles encourage the horse to have a successful run. This includes a greater use of precision fences, such as corners and "skinny jumps," that are very good tests of the rider's ability and the horse's training, but allow the horse to simply run around the jump if the rider misjudges it. Safety measures such as filling in the area between corner-shaped jumps on cross-country or rails of a fence help prevent the entrapment of the legs of the horse decrease the number of serious falls or injuries.

The newest improvement in cross-country safety is the frangible fence, which uses a pin and other techniques which allow the fence to "break or fall" in a controlled manner to minimize the risk of injury to horse and rider. This can help to prevent the most dangerous situation on cross-country, when the horse hits a solid fence between the forearm and chest, and somersaults over, sometimes falling on the rider. This type of fall has caused the deaths of several riders and horses.[2]

Leg protection for horses has also improved. Very little was used in the early days, even on cross-country. Leg protection is now seen on nearly every horse at all levels. Boots have increased technologically, and include materials that either help absorb shock or are very hard and strong to prevent a serious injury.

Rules protecting riders have improved as well. Riders are now required to wear a safety vest (body protector) during cross-country, as well as an ASTM/SEI or ISO approved equestrian helmet equipped with a retention harness,[3][4][5][6] which must be fastened while on the horse. Eventing was one of the first sports to require the use of a helmet with harness when jumping. As of 2010, more riders were wearing air bag vests, which automatically inflate if a rider falls off the horse.[7]

Despite these measures, eventing remains a very dangerous sport, in which horse and rider fatalities do occur occasionally.

The Weight Rule

From the beginning, event horses had to carry a minimum weight of 165 lb (75 kg) (including rider and saddle) during the endurance test, since military horses were expected to be able to carry such weight. Lead weights were carried on the saddle, and the competitor had to be weighed-in with tack immediately following cross-country. The weight was reduced to 154 lb (70 kg) for the 1996 Olympic Games, after a study demonstrated that both the horse's arc over a fence became shallower and the leading leg took a great deal of extra force on landing when the horse was carrying dead weight than when free from the burden. The rule was eventually abolished January 1, 1998. By removing this rule, the stress on the joints and soft-tissue, as well as the chance of a fall, were decreased.[8]

International competition

Burghley is one of the most prestigious international events.

International events have specific categories and levels of competition and are conducted under the rules of the FEI. CCI (Concours Complet International, or International Complete Contest) is one such category and defines a three-day event that is open to competitors from any foreign nation as well as the host nation.

  • CCI : International Three-day event (Concours Complet International)
  • CIC: International One-day event (Concours International Combiné)
  • CCIO: International Team Competitions (Concours Complet International Officiel). Includes the Olympics, the World Championships, the Pan Am Games, and other continental championships

The levels of international events are identified by the number of stars next to the category; there are four levels in total. A CCI* is for horses that are just being introduced to international competition. A CCI** is geared for horses that have some experience of international competition. CCI*** is the advanced level of competition.

The very highest level of competition is the CCI****, and with only six such competitions in the world (Badminton, Burghley, Rolex Kentucky, Adelaide, Luhmuhlen Horse Trials, and the Stars of Pau) it is the ultimate aim of many riders. The World Championships are also considered CCI****. Rolex offer a financial prize for any rider who can win three of the biggest competitions in succession. These are Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky. So far, Pippa Funnell is the only rider to do this. Andrew Hoy did come close, however, and in 2010 Oliver Townend was competing for this coveted "Grand Slam" at Rolex Kentucky when he suffered a fall at obstacle #20 which eliminated him from competition.

One, two and three-star competitions are roughly comparable to the Novice, Intermediate and Advanced levels of British domestic competition, respectively, and to the Preliminary, Intermediate, and Advanced levels of American domestic competition, respectively.

Domestic competition

Eventing rules and the recognized levels in various nations are similar, but not always identical. While rules usually follow the FEI to some degree, history and tradition of various nations has also influenced competition rules within a given country.

In addition to recognized events that prepare the best riders for international competition, many nations also offer eventing for beginner, youth, and amateur riders through organizations such as Pony Club, 4-H or other riding clubs, where most riders begin their competitive careers. At the most elementary levels, fence heights begin at around 18 inches to 2 ft (0.61 m).


In the United States, Eventing is broken down into the following levels, all of which are recognized by the USEA and are run in accordance to their rules:

  • Beginner Novice: X-C fences: 2 ft 7 in (0.79 m), 14–18 efforts XC, ditch 4 ft (1.2 m), drops 3 ft 3 in (0.99 m), 300–350 m/min (meters per minute) on cross country; Stadium fences: 2 ft 7 in (0.79 m), 9–11 efforts.
  • Novice: X-C fences 2 ft 11 in (0.89 m), 16–20 efforts, ditch 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m), drops 3 ft 11 in (1.19 m), 350 to 400 m/min; Stadium fences 2 ft 11 in (0.89 m), 9–11 efforts.
  • Training: X-C fences 3 ft 3 in (0.99 m), 20–24 efforts, ditch 7 ft 11 in (2.41 m), drops 4 ft 7 in (1.40 m), 420 to 470 m/min; Stadium fences 3 ft 3 in (0.99 m), 10–12 efforts.
  • Preliminary: X-C fences 3 ft 7 in (1.09 m), 24–28 efforts, ditch 9 ft 2 in (2.79 m), drops 5 ft 3 in (1.60 m), 520 m/min; Stadium fences 3 ft 7 in (1.09 m), 11–13 efforts.
  • Intermediate: X-C fences 3 ft 9 in (1.14 m), 28–32 efforts, ditch 10 ft 6 in (3.20 m), drops 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m), 550 m/min; Stadium fences 3 ft 11 in (1.19 m), 12–14 efforts.
  • Advanced: X-C fences 3 ft 11 in (1.19 m), 32–40 efforts, ditch 11 ft 10 in (3.61 m), drops 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m), 570 m/min; Stadium fences 4 ft 1 in (1.24 m), 13–15 efforts.


British Eventing (BE) levels of eventing are as follows:

  • BE80(T) : max fence height 0.80m
  • BE90 (formerly Introductory): maximum fence height 0.90 m
  • BE100 (formerly Pre-Novice): max fence height 1.00 m
  • Novice (comparable to the USEA's Preliminary level): max fence height 1.10 m XC, 1.15 m SJ
  • Intermediate Novice: max fence height 1.10 XC; 1.20 m SJ
  • Intermediate: max fence height 1.15 m XC; 1.25 m SJ
  • Advanced Intermediate: max fence height 1.15 m XC; 1.30 SJ
  • Advanced: max fence height 1.20 m XC; 1.30 m SJ


In Australia, where the Equestrian Australia governs eventing competition the levels are as follows:

  • Introductory: XC: fences maximum height 0.80 m ditch 1.40 m drops 1.0 m 400 m/min; Stadium fences: 0.8 m
  • Preliminary: XC: fences maximum height 0.95 m ditch 2.00 m drops 1.2 m 450 m/min; Stadium fences: 0.95 m
  • Pre Novice: XC: fences maximum height 1.05 m ditch 2.40 m drops 1.4, 500 m/min; Stadium fences: 1.05 m
  • 1 Star: XC: fences maximum height 1.10 m ditch 2.80 m drops 1.6 m 520 m/min; Stadium fences: 1.15 m
  • 2 Star: XC: fences maximum height 1.15 m ditch 3.20 m drops 1.8 m 550 m/min; Stadium fences: 1.20 m
  • 3 Star: XC: fences maximum height 1.20 m ditch 3.60 m drops 2.0 m 570 m/min; Stadium fences: 1.25 m


The Irish levels, governed by Eventing Ireland are as follows:

  • Intro: X-C – max height with spread 0.90 m, max spread at highest point 1.00 m, max spread at base 1.50 m, max spread without height 1.20 m, max spread over water 2.0 m, max drop 1.20 m. Stadium – 0.90 m
  • Pre-Novice Training CNCP*: X-C – max height with spread 1.10 m, max spread at highest point 1.40 m, max spread at base 2.10 m, max spread without height 2.80 m, max spread over water 3.05 m, max drop 1.60 m . Stadium – 1.00 m
  • CNC* CNCP**:X-C – max height with spread 1.10 m, max spread at highest point 1.40 m, max spread at base 2.10 m, max spread without height 2.80 m, max spread over water 3.05 m, max drop 1.60 m . Stadium – 1.10 m
  • CNC**: X-C – max height with spread 1.15 m, max spread at highest point 1.60 m, max spread at base 2.40 m, max spread without height 3.20 m, max spread over water 3.65 m, max drop 1.8 m . Stadium – 1.20 m
  • CNC***: X-C – max height with spread 1.20 m, max spread at highest point 1.80 m, max spread at base 2.70 m, max spread without height 3.60 m, max spread over water 4.0 m, max drop 2.0 m . Stadium – 1.25 m


The Canadian levels, under the rules of Canadian Eventing, are as follows:

  • Pre-Entry
  • Entry (equatable to USEA Beginner Novice)
  • Pre-Training (equatable to USEA Novice): XC: fences maximum height 0.91 m ditch 1.50 m drops 1.10 m; Stadium fences: 0.96 m
  • Training: XC: fences maximum height 1.00 m ditch 1.80 m drops 1.40 m; Stadium fences: 1.05 m
  • Preliminary: XC: fences maximum height 1.10 m ditch 2.80 m drops 1.60 m; Stadium fences: 1.15 m
  • Intermediate: XC: fences maximum height 1.15 m ditch 3.20 m drops 1.80 m; Stadium fences: 1.20 m
  • Advanced: XC: fences maximum height 1.20 m ditch 3.60 m drops 2.00 m; Stadium fences: 1.25 m

The horse

In the lower levels, it is possible for any breed of horse, if it has the talent for it, to do well in eventing. Thoroughbreds and part-thoroughbreds currently dominate the sport at the top levels because of their stamina and athletic ability, although many warmbloods and warmblood-thoroughbred crosses also do well. In the UK, Irish sport horses have been popular for many years.

Because larger horses are favored, animals with some draft horse breeding are also seen, notably the Irish Draught and Clydesdale crossbreds. However, smaller horses can also excel; for example, the third place competitor in the 2007 Rolex Kentucky Three Day CCI competition was Teddy O'Connor, a 14.1 hand gelding that was a cross of Thoroughbred, Arabian and Shetland pony breeding.[9]

An event horse must be very responsive to succeed, as a horse that will not listen to a rider on the cross-country phase may end up taking a fall at a jump. The horse should be calm and submissive for the dressage phase, with good training on the flat. For cross-country, the horse must be brave, athletic, and (especially at the higher levels) fast with a good galloping stride and great stamina. The horse does not have to possess perfect jumping form, but should be safe over fences and have good scope. The best event horses are careful over jumps, as those who are not tend to have stadium rails knocked down on the last day. The horse also needs to have sound conformation and good feet.

Riding attire

Riding attire is different for the three phases. Dressage and show jumping require very conservative attire, following the traditional turnout for each of those disciplines. Cross-country is much less formal, with many riders wearing clothing of personalized colors and the emphasis very much on safety equipment.


For the intermediate and advanced levels, dressage attire is similar to that of Grand Prix Dressage. The rider must wear a dark coat (usually black or navy blue), with a shirt, stock tie, and pin. If the rider is riding at FEI level, only then can they wear a shadbelly tailcoat and a top hat. Riding breeches are usually white, although any light colour is permitted.

Gloves are usually white, although other colors are permitted. Spurs of certain lengths and types are required. Riding boots such as field or dress tall boots are usually black, in normal or patent leather.

The lower levels have less restrictive rules on dress. Though navy and black coats are preferred, riders may wear any conservatively colored dark or tweed hunting coat (shadbelly/tail coats are not permitted) with a white shirt and choker or, preferably, stock tie with pin. If a rider wishes to stay within normal requirements for higher-level competition, breeches should be white, but beige or another conservative light color is permissible. A black or navy hunt cap or derby hat may be worn, although many riders use an equestrian helmet, which are considered safer. Boots may be field or dress style, black or brown in color. Gloves and spurs give a polished and professional appearance, but are not required at this level.


Cross-country attire is less formal, and many riders choose "eventing colors," to which they match some of their horse's tack.

The rider is required to wear a protective vest, as well as a ASTM/SEI/BS approved equestrian helmet, properly fastened at all times when jumping (and may be eliminated if this is not done). A medical armband, containing the rider's medicinal history, is required. This is for safety purposes, allowing access to the information should the rider fall, be knocked unconscious, and require medical treatment.

Breeches may be any color, with some riders coordinating it with their shirt or vest color. All shirts must have long sleeves, and light-weight rugby or polo shirts are the most commonly worn type, usually without a stock or tie. Black and/or brown boots may be worn. Riding coats are not worn. This is the event where riders may choose anything from traditional hunter green or navy blue to tie-dye, zebra stripes, or fluorescent colors.

Lastly, many riders also wear a stop-watch to track their time as they go cross-country so that they may adjust their speed as needed to come in as close as possible to the optimum time, if not faster. However, in the UK this is only permitted at novice level or above.

Show jumping

Show jumping attire is similar to that of dressage. However, a protective equestrian helmet with harness is required, and riders always wear a short hunt coat, except when weather is unreasonably warm, when, at the discretion of the technical delegate, jackets may be considered optional. If helmet covers are used, they are required to be black or dark blue though some now include national colors where they are entitled to be worn.

As in cross-country, riders wear a medical armband.

Turn-out of the horse and tack

Turn-out and grooming

Event horses are turned out similarly to dressage horses, with the legs and face (muzzle, jaw, sides of ears, bridle path) neatly clipped. The tail is usually "banged" (cut straight across), usually to a length between the fetlock joint and lower hock. Additionally, most event riders clip the sides of their mount's tails, to give them a finer appearance. The braiding of tails is fairly uncommon, probably because the tail can not be braided if the hairs along the sides of the dock are clipped.

The mane is pulled to about 4 inches in length and is usually braided for dressage as well as the show jumping phase. However, most riders prefer to leave it loose for cross-country in case they need to grab it for security. Some riders also place quarter marks (decorative stenciling) on the hindquarters, although it is not particularly common as of 2007.


A horse on cross-country, showing the "eventer's grease" on his legs to help him slide over obstacles.

Most event riders have a jumping saddle as well as a dressage saddle, since each places them in a position better-suited for its purpose. At the lower levels, however, a rider can ride all three phases without difficulty in a well-fitted jumping saddle. At the upper levels, riders usually have a saddle specifically designed for cross-country, giving them more freedom for such fences as banks and drops.

Dressage tack is usually black in color, with a white square pad, giving a formal look. Except for the upper levels, where a double bridle is permitted, horses may only be ridden in snaffle bits. There are strict guidelines as to what type of snaffle may be used, and the more severe types (such as any twisted bit) are prohibited. If a double bridle is used, a plain cavesson or crank noseband must be worn. With a snaffle bridle, the rider is also free to use the drop, flash, or figure-eight noseband, with the flash and plain cavesson being the most common. Breastplates are also fairly common in dressage at an event, despite the fact that they are not seen at regular dressage shows. Other forms of equipment, such as martingales, protective boots, gadgets/training devices, bit guards, polo wraps, or tail wraps are not allowed during the test.

Horse and rider well turned-out for the stadium jumping phase. Note the rider wears a medical armband.

In show jumping, the rider uses a jumping saddle, usually with a square or fitted white pad. Rules on tack are less-stringent, and most forms of bridling and bitting are allowed, including the use of gag bits, hackamores, and any type of noseband. Breastplates and protective boots are usually worn. Running martingales are also allowed, but must be used with rein stops. Standing and Irish martingales are not allowed.

For the cross-country phase, the rider usually uses similar tack as for the show jumping. However, protective boots are taped for extra security, to help prevent them from slipping as the horse jumps into water. Most horses that wear shoes are also fitted with horse shoe studs, to prevent slipping. At the upper levels, riders may also apply a grease or lard to the front of the horse's legs, to help the horse slide over fences if they hang a leg. Riders also tend to color-coordinate their cross-country tack to their colors. For example, using the same color saddle pad and tape for their boots, to match their shirt and protective vest.


  1. ^ a b Horsetalk – Eventing in crisis? 19 December 2008
  2. ^ Eventing Safety
  3. ^ Barakat, Christine. "Riding Helmet Safety Standards Explained" Equisearch. Web page accessed September 23, 2009
  4. ^ Pony club educational materials, referring to helmet retention system as a "harness"
  5. ^ UK Site calling the helmet attachment a "Harness"
  6. ^ USA site using term "retention harness"
  7. ^ Thomas, Katie. "Added Safety in the Saddle", The New York Times, August 23, 2010. Accessed August 25, 2010.
  8. ^ Bryant, Jennifer O. Olympic Equestrian, A Century of International Horse Sport. Lexington, KY: Blood-Horse Publications, 2008.
  9. ^ "Karen O'Connor and 'The Pony' Theodore O'Connor Wow The Crowd, Finishing Third" Accessed June 21, 2007 at http://www.horsesdaily.com/news/eventing/2007/07rolex/04-29-oconnor.html

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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