“Riding this way is like playing a finely tuned instrument, at times delicate, at other times powerful...The true artist can play with equal dexterity a soft ballad or a crashing march.”
Eventing is a tremendously popular horse sport that incorporates the three disciplines of dressage, cross country and show jumping within one competition, and thus is the ultimate test of all round horsemanship. The sport is governed by British Eventing, and its competitions are held in three formats; one day events, otherwise known as Horse Trials, require competitors to complete all three phases within the same day, whilst two and three day events are held over the determined period, with some higher level three day eventing competitions stretching over four days. In eventing, scoring is done on a cumulative penalty basis and at the end of the competition the partnership with the least penalties is deemed the winner.
The dressage phase is always held first during any eventing competition, and it is assessed by a panel of judges who mark each combination of horse and rider on their ability to carry out an exact sequence of movements with harmony, suppleness, rhythm and balance. The scoring throughout the test is performed in the same way as that seen in a standard dressage competition, only the overall score is then converted into penalty points. The dressage tests performed within eventing competitions are similar to those seen in British Dressage events, if slightly less demanding. The challenge in eventing, however, is to ride a relaxed and obedient dressage test on a horse that is super fit and thus has the energy, speed and heart to complete the forthcoming cross country course!
The cross country is the second phase in three day eventing, yet may run after the show jumping (and thus as the third discipline) in one and two day events. However, regardless of the order of the latter two phases, it is always the cross country that is the biggest crowd puller in the horse sport of eventing! Set over a course of natural obstacles (described in the cross country category of this website), this gruelling phase of the eventing competition requires horse and rider to tackle between 12 to 20 fences at the lower levels and 30-40 at the more advanced events, all within an optimum time. Penalties are occurred for going over the time allowed as well as for any disobediences and refusals, whilst any fall of horse and/or rider results in mandatory retirement from the eventing competition. Whilst cross country fences seem solid and imposing, the frangible pin system - introduced in recent years due to the rising number of rider fatalities in eventing - ensures that the jumps give way when hit with force.
In three day eventing, all horses have to pass the ‘trot-up’ before being allowed to take part in the final show jumping phase. This takes place in the form of an inspection by one or multiple horse vets, during which each horse is thoroughly checked to ensure it is fit enough to continue in the eventing competition. Such an inspection is also carried out at the very beginning of the three day event, and is a stressful time for the rider as any unsoundness results in immediate elimination.
The show jumping phase within eventing is made up of one round that takes place within an arena and consists of between 12 and 20 brightly coloured fences made up of fillers and poles, all of which may be knocked down easily. Whilst these fences are not as high as those seen in top level show jumping competitions, one has to remember that, in the three day event, the horse will have tackled the cross country course only the day before, and thus is likely not only to be tired, but also in the mindset of taking fences at speed! Indeed, the show jumping phase within eventing is designed to test the technical jumping skills of both horse and rider, as well as suppleness, obedience and athleticism.
There is no doubt that eventing creates a truly versatile horse. There are no rules that define which breed of horse may take part, but speed for the cross country phase is essential. Therefore thoroughbreds and thoroughbred crosses are popular in eventing, and many horses once used for teamchasing or horse racing go on to make good eventers. It is also common to find eventers on the hunting field, as this horse sport offers good preparation for the cross country. Horses that have been used for eventing also offer a dependable ride for those just wishing to go hacking, due to their boldness and sensibility.