Eventing is an equestrian event which comprises dressage, cross-country and show-jumping. This event has its roots as a comprehensive cavalry test requiring mastery of several types of riding. It has three main formats, the one day event (ODE), two day event and the three day event (3DE). It can also be called Militaire, Horse Trials, and Combined Training.
The dressage phase (held first) comprises 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 and 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 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 executed terribly, it is still possible for a rider to get a good score if he reorganizes and does well in the following movements. The good marks are added together and any errors of course deducted - to convert this score to penalty points the average marks of all judges is converted to a percentage of the maximum possible score, multiplied by a co-efficient decided by the governing body then subtracted from 100.
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), 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 wouldn't normally occur in nature. However, these are still just as solid as other jumps. Safety regulations mean that many jumps have a frangible pin system, allowing part or all of the jump to collapse if hit with enough impact. Speed is 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 a speed fault time, incurring penalties for horse and rider pairs completing the course too quickly. Penalties are also incurred if the horse refuses to jump a fence or has a run out. Should the rider fall off, they are eliminated. 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.
Horse trials, which may be held over one or two days, have only one phase of cross country. If the trial is held over the course of two days, dressage and show jumping are usually held the first day, with cross country on the second.
Recent years has seen the controversy 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 traditional format, with endurance day, or short-format, with no Steeplechasing (phase B)or roads and tracks (phases A & 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 Steeplechase or just offer Cross Country. Today, most events are run short-format, except for a few one-star competitions.
Due to the major injuries at Red Hills and Rolex in 2008, the rules have been changed drastically. Now if you fall off anywhere during the cross country phase you are eliminated, even if you are just galloping through a field not approaching a jump, or in the middle of a combination. Also the new rule especially for younger eventers is a $250 fine if you ride cross country without a medical arm band.
In lower levels of competition the horse's movement may be analysed 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 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.
An obstacle is defined as having been knocked down if any part of it has had its height 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. Ribbons and prizes are usually presented while mounted, before the placegetters take a lap of honour around the arena.
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, and equestrian sports are one of the only Olympic sports in which men and women compete against one another.
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 endurace test occurred as below:
(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", 3-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. Many want 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. 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 warmup 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 very, very popular at the Preliminary, or one star, level in the United States, and with riders who feel it maximizes horsemanship.
In 1971, the following penalty system was instituted:
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.
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 open to all. To this day, Badminton is one of the most prestigious events to win in the world. Nowadays, 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 longest running international event.
The first CCI held outside of Britain on an annual basis was the Rolex Kentucky Three Day, held each year in Lexington since 1978.
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.
The newest improvement in cross-country safety is the frangible fence, which uses a pin to hold the log of an obstacle up. Should a horse hit the obstacle, the pin breaks and the obstacle falls to the ground. This technique helps 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 death of several riders, as well as horses.
Leg protection for horses has also improved. Very little was used in the early days, even on cross-country. However, it is now seen on every horse at almost every level. Boots have increased in technology, 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 with fastened harness when jumping. Eventing was one of the first sports to require the use of a helmet with harness when jumping.
Despite these measures, Eventing remains a very dangerous sport, in which Horse and Rider fatalities occur regularly.
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.
The levels of inteational 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 Pau Three Day Event) 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, although Andrew Hoy did come close.
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.
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 , and generally do not exceed 3f, 6 inches.
Because larger horses are favoured, animals with some draft horse breeding are also seen, notably the Irish Draught and Clydesdale crossbreds. However, smaller horses can also excel; for example, in the 2007 Rolex Kentucky Three Day CCI competition, the third place competitor was a 14.1 hand gelding that was a cross of Thoroughbred, Arabian and Shetland pony breeding.
An event horse must be very rideable 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.
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 hunt coat (shadbelly coats are not permitted) with a white shirt and choker or (preferably) stock tie with pin. If a rider wishes to stay within norms 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 may be worn, although many riders use an equestrian helmet. Boots may be field or dress style, black or brown in color. Gloves and spurs give a polished, professional appearance, but are not required at this level.
Breeches may be any color, with some riders coordinating it with their shirt or vest color. All shirts must have sleeves, and light-weight polo shirts are most commonly worn, usually without a stock tie. Black 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 tye dye and even zebra stripes or fluorescent colors.
Lastly, most riders also wear a 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.
As in cross-country, riders wear a medical armband.
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.
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.
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 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.