What Is Eventing?

Horse Trials, or ‘Eventing’ as it is most commonly known, is a comprehensive test of all round horsemanship involving three phases; dressage, cross country and show jumping. The sport was originally developed as a military event, drawing on the requirements for an Officer’s charge – steadiness on parade, the ability to cross the country at speed in battle and the fitness needed to carry on duties the following day.

The modern sport has evolved over the years; in order to succeed, both horse and rider must be skilled in all three of these modern-day disciplines.


Dressage is the first element of eventing, the skills needed forming part of the basic training of any horse. Their skills are equally important for the cross county and show jumping phases, therefore dressage is a vital part of eventing.The object of dressage is to develop the physique and suppleness of the horse. Ridden in a rectangular arena, the dressage judges or ground jury (for International classes) are looking for balance, suppleness, fluency and ‘free forward movement’.

The horse and rider combination will perform a set dressage test, which will be given marks out of ten; these are then converted to penalties. The leader after the dressage phase is the horse and rider with the lowest mark on the scoreboard.

Show Jumping

The next phase is the show jumping (except in three-day International classes when this comes last). Completing the course of knock-down poles, the show jumping element requires carefulness, precision and flexibility.

Show Jumping Penalties

  • Knockdown: 4 penalties
  • 1st Disobedience: 4 penalties
  • 2nd Disobedience: 8 penalties
  • 3rd Disobedience: Elimination
  • Fall of competitor: Elimination
  • Every second over the time limit incurs 1 penalty
  • Eliminations is incurred for: Taking the wrong course / Exceeding the time limit

Cross Country

The final phase is the cross country, designed to test the rider’s judgment of speed, and the horse’s boldness, stamina and athleticism. The combination must tackle a course consisting of a wide variety of fixed cross country obstacles. Penalties are awarded for mistakes at fences and mistakes are only penalised when they occur whilst a horse is jumping or attempting to jump a numbered obstacle. Time penalties are given for exceeding the optimum time.

Cross Country Penalties

  • 1st refusal, run out or circle at an obstacle: 20 penalties
  • 2nd refusal, run out or circle at an obstacle: 40 penalties
  • 3rd refusal, run out or circle at an obstacle: Elimination
  • Fall of rider at an obstacle: Elimination
  • Fall of horse at an obstacle: Compulsory retirement
  • Taking the wrong course: Elimination
  • Every second over the optimum time: 0.4 penalties
  • Exceeding the time limit: Elimination

Summary of Courses

1800 – 2800
2000 – 2800
2600 – 3620
3250 – 4000
(in metres per minute)
Number of jumping efforts18 – 2520 -2826 – 3230 – 40
Maximum height of obstacles1.00m1.10m1.15m1.20m
Maximum top spread1.10m1.40m1.60m1.80m
Maximum base spread1.80m2.10m2.40m2.70m
Maximum drop1.40m1.60m1.80m2.00m

Final Score

The total of penalties incurred in the dressage, show jumping and cross country added together gives the competitor’s final score. The competitor with the lowest score is the winner. In the event of a tie, the combination that has finished closest to the cross country optimum time is the winner.

Great Britain’s History of Eventing

Great Britain is one of the most successful nations in the history of the sport, winning more than 230 medals over the 80 years of Olympics, World and European Championships. Indeed, some of the world’s greatest riders base themselves here in the UK because of the strength of the sport and quality of competition.

Team GBR was unbeaten at European Championships from 1995-2009, and regained the team gold medal at the 2017 Europeans in Strzegom. Olympic years are always special and never more so that at London 2012 London. The Games exceeded all expectations and will go down in history as the most successful Olympics for the equestrian disciplines. Eventing Team GBR (William Fox-Pitt, Mary King, Zara Phillips, Nicola Wilson & Tina Cook) won the Silver medal.

Eventing is one of the few sports where spectators can get really close to the action and enjoy a full day or weekend of family entertainment. Visitors can wander in the beautiful settings of the cross-country courses as well as spending time looking around the various trade stands and enjoying the entertainment in the main arenas. This gives sponsors and traders plenty of scope to promote products, develop dialogue and secure sales in this relaxing, picturesque, countryside atmosphere.

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