Eventing is a triathlon for horses. It was originally designed to test military chargers who needed to be fearless and fast across the battlefield as well as elegant and obedient on the parade ground. Modern eventing has evolved into an exciting sport that attracts interest and participation from all levels of sports enthusiasts from weekend hobby riders to professional horsemen and Olympic stars.
In a modern eventing competition, commonly known as a ‘horse trials’ or simply as an ‘event’, horse and rider compete in a three-part test, each part called a ‘phase’. Penalty points from each of the three phases are totaled, and at the end of all three phases, the lowest score wins the division. Competitors enter their horses in different levels based on the horse and rider’s ability and past performance.
CIC/CCI divisions are international divisions that are run under FEI rules (Federation Equestre Internationale). An individual must obtain qualifying scores at a number of competitions in order to compete in these international divisions.
The Three Phases of Eventing
The objective for the dressage phases is for the horse to move through the required patterns of their particular level without any appearance of effort on the rider’s part. All of these tests are performed individually with each specific movement scored from 0 to 10.
The cross-country phase of the event is the heart of the sport and counts most in the scoring. The rider gallops the horse over a set course, jumping fences that have been built to blend into the land so they seem like natural obstacles. The fences ask questions and, in doing, test the horse’s ability to jump uphill or downhill, drop into or out of water, go through differing light conditions, or deal with changes of footing and terrain.
While all of the fences present challenges to the horse and rider; some, particularly water and ditch fences, are tougher tests for the horse and riders courage and confidence. It takes a brave horse to jump into water it has never seen. Because the horse cannot inspect the course before he is asked to negotiate it, he has no way to know how deep the water is or what monsters might lurk under its surface. He must trust his rider and go forward without question. It also takes great bravery on part of the rider. Horses can sense the rider’s apprehension and misread it as a sign to stop. To excel in this sport, the horse and rider must have courage and confidence with each other. The higher the level, the more demanding and challenging the course becomes. The height and widths increase as well as the technicality of the questions being asked. This requires a stronger partnership between horse and rider.
Penalties are given in this phase for refusing to jump, or running out of either side of the fence and also for a fall of rider. If the horse falls it results in automatic elimination and also if the horse and rider have too many refusals on course. If the horse and rider come in after the optimum time, time penalties will be given. Penalties will also be given if riders come in well before the buffer zone of 30 seconds.
This phase tests the horse’s obedience and athleticism over a timed course of typical show jumps. The height and technicality of the courses increase with the level. Penalties are given for knocking down rails, refusing jumps and for being too slow.