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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 two main formats, the one day event (1DE) and the three day event (3DE). It has previously been known as The Military, Horse Trials, and Combined Training.



Cross country eventing


The cross-country phase. The rider will land from this drop fence 

before jumping into the water



Governing bodies


The International governing body of the sport is the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) [1]. Individual countries have their own national governing bodies, including:


  • The United States Eventing Association (USEA, formerly the USCTA)

  • British Eventing [2] (BE, formerly BHTA, the British Horse Trials Association)

  • The Equestrian Federation of Australia [3]


The phases


Eventing is commonly seen as an equestrian triathlon, in that it combines different disciplines in one competition.





The dressage phase (held first) comprises an exact sequence of movements ridden in an enclosed arena (usually 20 x 60 meters). 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 may ask for half-pass, shoulder-in, haunches-in, collected, medium and extended gaits, 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. 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, minus any errors on course, and rounded to two decimal digits. The scores of all the judges (if more than one judge is present) are averaged to two decimal points. To convert this score to penalty points, the average is subtracted from 100 and the final figure is multiplied by 1.5.


  • All four feet of the horse exit the arena during the test: Elimination

  • The horse resists more than 20 seconds during the test: Elimination

  • Errors on course:

    • 1st Error = minus 2 marks

    • 2nd Error = minus 4 marks

    • 3rd Error = elimination




The next phase, cross-country, requires both horse and rider to be in excellent 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 - based on objects that would commonly occur in the countryside. This phase is timed, with the rider required to cross the finish line within a certain time frame (optimum time). Crossing the finish line after the allowed time results in penalties for each second late. At lower levels, there is a speed fault time, incuring penalties for horse and rider pairs completing the course too quickly. Penalties are also incurred if the horse refuses to jump a fence or if the rider falls off. The penalties for disobendiences 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 consists of 4 Phases, A, B, C and D. Phase A and C are 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 is 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 must be approved to continue by a vet who monitors their temperature and heartrate, ensuring that the horse is sound and fit.


Three day events are now offered in traditional format, with endurance day, or short-format, with no Steeplechasing (Phase B). Short format offers a shortened roads and tracks phase as a warm up for cross country. 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. International competitions offering the traditional format are rated in level by stars, with one being the lowest level, and four being the highest. CCI* is an international three day event offering Phases A-D at a relatively low level, where CIC*** would be an international three day event not offering steeplechase.





  • 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 at the same obstacle: Elimination

  • First fall of rider: 65 penalties

  • Second fall of rider: Elimination

  • Fall of horse (shoulder touches the ground): Mandatory Retirement

  • Exceeding Optimum Time: 0.4 penalties per second

  • Coming in under Speed Fault Time: 0.4 penalties per second

  • Exceeding the Time Limit (twice the optimum time): Elimination


Other Faults:'


  • Competing with improper saddlery: Elimination

  • Jumping without headgear or a properly fastened harness: Elimination

  • Error of course not rectified: Elimination

  • Omission of obstacle: Elimination

  • Jumping an obstacle in the wrong order: Elimination

  • Jumping an obstacle in the wrong direction: Elimination

  • Retaking an obstacle already jumped: Elimination


Veterinary Inspection


Before the last phase, horses are inspected by a vet to ensure that they have not incurred any injuries as a result of their exertions on the previous day. It is usually a very formal affair, with the horses braided and well-groomed, and the riders dressing up. It is also a very nerve-racking time, as the "pass" or "fail" determines whether the horse may continue on to the final phase.

Show Jumping


The last phase, showjumping, tests the technical jumping skills of the horse and rider, including suppleness, obedience, finess, 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. If the horse and rider are not in adequate shape or do not have the technical skill, then they will knock down the poles, incurring penalties. 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.



  • Knocking down an obstacle: 4 penalties

  • First Disobedience (refusal, run-out, circle): 4 penalties

  • Second Disobedience in the whole test: 8 penalties

  • Third Disobedience in the whole test: Elimination

  • First Fall of rider: 8 Penalties

  • Second Fall of rider: Elimination

  • Fall of horse: Mandatory Retirement

  • Exceeding the time allowed: 1 penalty per second

  • Jumping an obstacle in the wrong order: Elimination

  • Error of course not rectified: Elimination

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 History of the Three Day Event


First called the "Militaire," the Three Day Event has its roots as a test for horses used as cavalry mounts. The predecessor to eventing originally began as a form of endurance riding, without jumping or galloping. Such competitions included a ride in 1892, travelling a 360 mile distance from Berlin to Vienna (the winner completed the ride in 71 hours and 26 minutes). However, these competions did little to prepare horses and riders for actual combat, and so around the end of the 1800's, the French began raids militaires, which was the true forerunner to the three-day event.


The Olympic beginning


Eventing competition that resembles the current three-day were first held in 1902, but were not introduced into the Olympic Games until 1912. The 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 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.





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


  • Day 1: Endurance Test- 55 km (33 miles) of roads and tracks (with a time allowed of 4 hours, giving a speed of approx. 230 meters per mintue) 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, which was consided easy by most of the spectators

  • Day 5: Dressage Test


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:


  • Phase A: Short roads and tracks (with 5 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-minulte 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: 1 1/4 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 "modified" or "short format" (see below) is the standard for international competition, with the Badminton Horse Trials and Burghley Horse Trials running their last "long format" three-day in 2005. The fate of the Rolex Kentucky Three Day is still being discussed. However, all Championship and Olympic Events will be held short format, without phases A, B, or C.



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 caluculate 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 called "combined training," due to the three different disciplines and types of training methods needed for the horse.


The first annual, Olympic-level event developed was the Badminton Horse Trials, held each year in England. First held in 1949, Badminton 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 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.


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.





Since the first few events, 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 greatest success from the horse. Safety measures such as filling in the area between corners on cross-country or rails of a fence help prevent the entrapment of the legs of the horse, decreasing the number of serious falls or injuries.


The newest improvement in cross-country safety is the frangable fence, which uses a pin to hold the log of an obstacle up. Should a horse hit the obstacle, the pin would break, and the obstacle would simply fall 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 fall has indeed 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.


Rules protecting riders have improved as well. Riders are now required to wear a safety vest (body protector) during cross-country, as well as a showjumping helmet with fastened harness when jumping.



Other Notes


From the beginning, event horses had to carry a minimum weight of 165 lb (75 kg) (including rider and saddle) during the endurance test. This rule was dropped in 1997.



Short vs. classic format


Recently, the phases A, B, and C have been excluded on cross-country day from 3-day events. 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, which excluded the phases A, B, and C on endurance day, while retaining phase D. The last Olympic Games that included the long, or "classic", 3-day format was the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, where American David O'Connor won the individual gold medal aboard 16 year old Custom Made.


The change in format has brought about controversy. Many wanted the continuation of the classic format, believing it was the "true test of horse and rider". Others believed the classic format was superior because it taught 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 3-days each season, but decreases the chance of injury to the horse. Despite this purported belief, many upper riders prepare their horses for the short format using the same conditioning and training as for the long format, thus undermining the basis for their rationale. Breeders of heavier horses with more outcrosses than the traditional thoroughbred have also supported the short format, perhaps as a way to showcase their breeding programs.


In the United States, one- and two-star level events usually will offer "with steeplechase" (the classic format). However, three-star events will now only offer the short format. The Rolex Kentucky Three Day, the only four-star in the United States, plans to alternate years between the short format and the classic format. In Britain, however, most plan to switch to the short format. This includes the 2 four-star 3-day events that are run in Britain, Badminton and Burghley, which will begin running the short format in 2006.



International Competition


International events have specific categories and levels of competition. 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 five such competitions in the world (Badminton, Burghley, Kentucky, Adelaide, and Luhmuhlen Horse Trials) it is the ultimate aim of many riders. The Olympics and World Championships are also considered CCI****.


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


In the United States, Eventing is broken down into the following levels:


  • Beginner Novice: X-C and Stadium fences 2 ft 7 in, ditch 4 ft, drops 3 ft 3 in, 300-350 m/min (meters per minute) on cross country.

  • Novice: X-C fences 2 ft 11 in, ditch 6 ft 7 in, drops 3 ft 11 in, 350 to 400 m/min; Stadium fences 2 ft 11 in

  • Training: X-C fences 3 ft 3 in, ditch 7 ft 11 in, drops 4 ft 7 in, 420 to 470 m/min; Stadium fences 3 ft 3 in

  • Preliminary: X-C fences 3 ft 7 in, ditch 9 ft 2 in, drops 5 ft 3 in, 520 m/min; Stadium fences 3 ft 7 in

  • Intermediate: X-C fences 3 ft 9 in, ditch 10 ft 6 in, drops 5 ft 11 in, 550 m/min; Stadium fences 3 ft 11 in

  • Advanced: X-C fences 3 ft 11 in, ditch drops 11 ft 10 in, 570 m/min; Stadium fences 4 ft 1 in


(Beginner Novice through Advanced is recognized by the USEA).


BE Levels of eventing:

  • Introductory: maximum fence height 0.90 m

  • Pre-Novice: max fence height 1.00 m

  • Novice (equatable to USEA Preliminary level): max fence height 1.10 m

  • Intermediate Novice: max fence height 1.10 X-C; 1.15 m Stadium

  • Intermediate: max fence height 1.15 m

  • Advanced Intermediate: max fence height 1.15 m X-C; 1.20 Stadium

  • Advanced: max fence height 1.20 m


In Australia, 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: 0.8m

  • 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

  • Novice: XC: fences maximum height 1.10 m ditch 2.80 m drops 1.6 m 520 m/min; Stadium fences: 1.15 m

  • Intermediate: XC: fences maximum height 1.15 m ditch 3.20 m drops 1.8 m 550 m/min; Stadium fences: 1.20 m

  • Advanced: XC: fences maximum height 1.20 m ditch 3.60 m drops 2.0 m 570 m/min; Stadium fences: 1.25 m


The Canadian Levels are as follows:

  • 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: 0.96m

  • 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 required


Thoroughbreds and part-thoroughbreds usually dominate the sport because of their stamina and athletic ability, although many warmbloods and warmblood-thoroughbred crosses excel. In the UK, Irish sport horses have been popular for many years. In the lower levels, it is possible for any breed, if well-trained and conditioned, to do well.


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. 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 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 on the last day.



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