Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Thought of the Day: Eventing

 Since we all seem to be trapped in our sports, I thought it might be fun to do a little horse sport 101 for the next posts.  Since racehorses of all breeds seem to be finding themselves in various sports after racing, why not explore those sports and talk about what a horse needs to compete (or even have fun and train).

Today I am doing a sport very near and dear to my heart- three day eventing.  I fell head over heels with eventing as a wee tyke watching the 1984 Olympics on TV.  But I digress-so what exactly IS eventing anyway? 
Eventing started sometime around the early 1900's.  It was originally a test for military mounts and the early days, it was quite brutal.  It was only open to members of the military. 
If you are really interested in the history see the Rolex Three Day event website at

Spread out over consecutive days, the same horse and rider combination compete in three distinct phases.  Dressage, Cross Country, and Showjumping.  Horses can compete at various levels from unrecognized "baby" classes to Olympic and World Championship.  The organizing body of eventing is the United States Eventing Association (USEA), previously known as the US Combined Training Association (USCTA), which can be found at: . The upper levels (Preliminary to Advanced) may also be governed by the stricter rules of the FEI (the governing body of international equestrian sports), found at  The various levels are: Green/ Baby/ Intro (depending on where it is offered)- simple dressage test, jumps not to exceed 18", generally no "scary" cross country jumps like ditches or water.  Pre-Novice- slight jump up, jumps are no bigger than 2'6" and may have a trot through water option.  Novice- another small step up, usually mandatory water, dressage starts to get harder, fences 2'11".  Training - A bigger step up, depending on the competition, this may be the first major step up.  Dressage gets harder, the jumping questions get more complex (for example, this is the first time triple combinations are allowed in show jumping, may have jump into or out of water, etc), fences 3'3".  Preliminary (FEI * Level)- this is a major step up.  This is the introduction to the "upper levels." Dressage gets much harder, as do all the jumping questions, more distance on cross country day, speeds required are much faster- this is the first time horses must truly gallop on cross country. Jumps are 3'6", spreads can be around 4'.  Intermediate (FEI ** Level)- a step up, but not as big of a jump as seen from Training to Preliminary. Dressage continues to get harder, jumping questions get more complex as well.  Jumps 3'8", spreads upwards of 4'6".  Advanced (FEI *** or **** Level)- the highest level.  Depending on the competition, dressage much harder, jumps near 4', spreads can be around 6' or greater.  Cross Country speeds near racing speeds.

The horses at the upper levels must pass a veterinary/ ground jury inspection (jog) before the competition begins, and again after cross country, before show jumping.  Like all things- eventing is continuously changing and this format may change.  Back when- Cross Country day was MUCH longer, but much of it has been cut out.

Horses must be four years old to compete, of any breed.  Riders may have lower age limits at some levels

The phases:
Dressage- from archaic French meaning "to train", dressage has been around as long, if not longer than mounted military.  The test takes place in an arena with letters spaced around it on the outside (put flowers or funny decorations for better spooking).  The test is a written test with mandatory movements that take place at the letters.  These movements are supposed to stem from military maneuvers and things the horse does naturally.  It is supposed to be a picture of harmony and training. Riders are scored on their seat and position, the horse is scored on suppleness, relaxation, etc. Each movement is scored individually and results in an overall score.  If you are really curious- check out a the tests here: .  Through the magic of math, the scores are converted into a score.  The whole goal of eventing is that the lowest score at the end wins.  Finishing on your dressage score is an accomplishment to be proud of.  So is not breaking 100 penalties on a freshly let down thoroughbred only off the track 3 months at his first few shows.....  Also a lot of fun on an upper level thoroughbred that knows he is there to run and jump the next day.

Endurance Day- aka Cross Country aka the Fun Stuff aka Run and Jump Day.  In the old days, the upper levels started with Roads and Tracks (Phase A and C) where you went out and trotted through the country side for anywhere for 2-20 kilometers (everything in eventing is metric) on each phase.  After Phase A was Steeplechase, where you galloped at racing speed over 4-12 brush fences, immediately into phase C, which was double the length of phase A.  At the end of C, was the Vet Box.  During the mandatory 10 minute hold, a veterinary crew examines the horse and determines if it is fit and okay to continue.  Then you went out on cross country-phase D.  Cross country is where you run over a course on uneven terrain, jumping solid, immovable jumps.  Generally, there is at least one water complex, banks, ditches, skinny jumps, etc.  Way back when there also used to be a phase E as well.  This was a flat gallop over about 1000 meters (to stimulate charging into battle).  Today, most competitions just have a phase D only.  There are a few competitions our there that celebrate this long format, but they are few and far between.  Fall of horse or rider is elimination, refusals are 20 penalties for the first one, 40 penalties for the second, and I believe the third is elimination.  Time penalties are assessed for going too fast or too slow.

Show Jumping- Back in the arena, over jumps that fall when hit.  Penalties are assessed for knocking down any rail, refusals, and time. 

Thoroughbreds and Quarterhorses (appendix) used to dominate, but with the rise of the warmblood breeds and the shortened format (especially with greater demands of dressage), thoroughbreds have fallen out of favor. 

The ideal eventer needs to be very sound, level headed, brave, with excellent gaits and movement.

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