Everything You Need to Know About Eventing
Eventing is known as one of the most thrilling and challenging horseback riding disciplines in the world. Within eventing, you can watch horses dance and float smoothly through a dressage test and you can also see them gallop towards massive intimidating jumps both in the showjumping and cross country portions.
So, what is eventing? Eventing is a horseback riding discipline that encompasses three different events that both horse and rider will compete in: dressage, cross country, and showjumping. Each event exhibits a different quality about the horse and rider competing; dressage exhibits training and control, cross country exhibits endurance and bravery, and show jumping exhibits speed and finesse.
Teams are judged across the three events; in the end, the horse and rider with the highest overall score win. Eventing is known as one of the most challenging horseback riding disciplines in the world, as horse and rider must be trained and skilled in all three phases. If you’re interested in eventing, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the three phases.
The Phases of Eventing
Eventing can be considered the ultimate test for many horses as it requires their skills, stamina, and training throughout three different phases.
Depending on the specific competition, you can see eventing competitions that last three days, two days, or one day. Dressage is usually the first phase that horse and rider will compete in, followed by cross country then showjumping.
Here’s what you can expect out of each phase:
Dressage is an event where horse and rider must perform a predetermined test or pattern on the flat in front of judges. This showcases the horse and rider’s ability to communicate as they go through each maneuver.
The judges are looking for a horse that demonstrates responsiveness, willingness, suppleness, and rhythm. From the rider, the judges look for effective communication and the ability to control the horse and help the horse go correctly.
It can take years for horse and rider to master dressage at the upper levels of eventing. It is known as the riding discipline of the highest level of horse training there is.
Each maneuver of the dressage test is rated on a scale of 0-10, 0 being a bad score and 10 is a good score. You’ll get your overall dressage score from the judges, but this doesn’t mean you’ve won or lost quite yet. Each horse and rider will still have to compete in cross country and show jumping to determine who the final winner will be.
If you want to know more about dressage, check out our article Dressage for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know.
Cross country is usually the second phase of eventing where the horse and rider must gallop a course over a long distance of varied terrain and clear intimidating jumps, banks, ditches, and water features. They must complete the course in an allotted amount of time set for each level of competition.
This phase tests the horse and rider’s endurance, stamina, and bravery over more intimidating obstacles. Cross country jumps are usually solid and large, which can be scary to a horse. Depending on the level you’re competing at will determine the number of obstacles you come across on your course. Lower levels will have fewer jumps than the upper levels.
Another aspect of cross country is that the course is to be completed in an allotted amount of time. Most courses are to be ridden at a steady and controlled gallop in order to make up the time. It’s up to the rider to track their time and adjust the horse’s speed as necessary. Penalties will be given if you cannot finish the course in the allotted time and if your horse refuses the obstacles.
Show jumping is the last phase of eventing where the horse and rider compete over a complex jumping course in an arena.
This phase of eventing is to showcase the horse and rider’s finesse and control as they complete the jumping course. Show jumping courses are known to be a bit more complex than your average jumping course. These courses can include jump combinations and rollbacks with bright colored jumps that can easily spook a horse.
To do well in the show jumping phase, your goal is to complete the jumping course in the fastest time with the fewest faults or penalties. A fault may be given if you can’t complete the course in the allotted amount of time or if your horse refuses or knocks down a jump.
Once all three phases of eventing have been completed, each team’s points that they have accumulated throughout the different events will be added together to determine the winner.
To learn more about show jumping, check out our article Show Jumping for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know.
The Levels of Eventing
Before you attend your first event, you’ll need to know the different levels that you and your horse could compete in. Levels vary on difficulty and training. These are the recognized levels of eventing and what they consist of according to the USEA Rulebook:
Beginner Novice Level
The beginner novice level would be the perfect level to compete in if you’re new to eventing or if you’re working a green horse. It’s considered the entry-level to eventing.
Dressage: In a beginner novice dressage test, you can expect to walk, trot, canter, halt, and perform circles.
Cross Country: A beginner novice cross country course will have fewer jumps, usually less than 20. Solid jumps will not exceed the height of 2’7″, or .78 meters. You may have to cross banks, ditches, brush fences, and water features.
Show Jumping: In show jumping, the beginner novice course jump height will not exceed 2’7″ (.78 meters.). You’ll have about 10-13 jumps to clear, from verticals to oxers.
Novice is still considered one of the lower levels of eventing, great for green horses, but it’s also where the horse and rider can start to be challenged and step into their eventing groove.
Dressage: In a novice dressage test, you can expect to walk, trot, canter, and halt. These tests are more challenging than beginner novice because more maneuvers are required from horse and rider, from transitions to circles, and even a change of rein.
Cross Country: This is where cross country obstacles can become a bit more intimidating to horse and rider. Solid jumps will not exceed 2’11”, or about .90 meters. You may have to clear jumps into or out of the water as well as down banks. There will be around 18 obstacles you’ll have to clear.
Show Jumping: In a novice show jumping course, horse and rider can expect a few more jumps than a novice course. You’ll have to clear verticals, oxers, and even triple bars. Jump height will not exceed 2’11” or .90 meters.
The training level is the last lower level of eventing. Any horse and rider competing in levels beyond training level will have to qualify to compete. That being said, the training level is the perfect test to see if you have what it takes to join the upper levels of eventing.
Dressage: In a training level dressage test, you can expect to walk, trot, canter, halt, and complete circles. You’ll also be called to do an extending trot or canter.
Cross Country: In training level cross country, you’ll have between 20-24 obstacles you’ll need to clear. Solid jumps will not exceed 3’3″, or about 1 meter. Expect to clear jumps going into the water and jumps that are wider and more intimidating.
Show Jumping: Jumps will not exceed 3’3″. You may have to clear a liverpool jump as well as complete a triple combination.
Once you get to the preliminary level of eventing, you’ll need to qualify to compete. This level is also considered the first upper level of eventing. Tests and courses will be more technical as they challenge the horse and rider’s training and ability.
Dressage: A preliminary level dressage test will have more maneuvers and will showcase your horse’s balance and responsiveness. You can expect to walk, trot, canter, do simple changes, serpentines, circles, halting and backing in this test.
Cross Country: The preliminary cross country course is noticeably more difficult than the lower levels. Solid jumps will not exceed 3’7″, or about 1.10 meters. There will be between 25-30 obstacles, which will include some challenging combinations. It’s important to make sure your horse can complete such a course before you enter a preliminary event.
Show Jumping: A preliminary show jumping phase will test you and your horse’s boldness and finesse. Jumps won’t exceed 3’7″ (1.10 meters) but you can expect challenging combinations and spots that will test your skills.
The intermediate level of eventing is where amateur riders are starting to be weeded out. The amount of time, effort, and money it takes to keep a horse fit and trained for intermediate are drastically increased from even the preliminary level. Horse and rider must qualify to compete at this level.
Dressage: In an intermediate level dressage test, you can expect to exercise all of your normal gaits as well as incorporating extensions and lateral movements.
Cross Country: An intermediate level cross country course will have between 30-34 obstacles with solid jumps not exceeding 3’9″, or 1.14 meters. These courses will be designed to test horse and rider’s technical skill, ability, and endurance. The horses will have to cover a long distance in a short amount of time while completing challenging and intimidating combinations and obstacles.
Show Jumping: When it comes to show jumping at the intermediate level, the horse is being tested to see how in shape they truly are. Can they come back from completing a grueling cross country course to then go and clear a challenging and technical show jumping round? Jumps will not exceed 3’11”, or 1.2o meters.
When you’ve reached the advanced level of eventing, you’ve truly made it. Horse and rider must be in peak physical condition, meeting all qualifications, rules, and regulations to compete. This is where eventing becomes somewhat scary to watch 😂
Dressage: An advanced dressage test will incorporate lateral movements, canter serpentines, flying changes, and possibly even a pirouette.
Cross Country: Cross country at the advanced level can be nerve-wracking to watch. Solid jumps will not exceed 3’11”. or 1.20 meters. Horse and rider are challenged by a long-distance demanding a fast time. There can be anywhere between 35-40 obstacles.
Show Jumping: Much like the intermediate level, the advanced show jumping level is simply a test of how fast a horse can bounce back from a grueling cross country run. Jump height will not exceed 4’1″, or 1.24 meters.
The Gear for Eventing
Having the proper tack and equipment for eventing is important to be able to compete at your full ability. Many riders may find eventing financially intimidating since there are three separate disciplines that each require different equipment.
The good news is that if you’re competing in some of the lower levels, it is perfectly acceptable to not switch tack between phases; however, once you get to the upper levels, it will be necessary.
To start your eventing tack collection, here’s a list of items you’ll need:
While some low-level riders can get away with using an all-purpose saddle or jumping saddle in the dressage phase, once you advance to entry-level, you’ll want to invest in a dressage saddle.
If you’re looking for a dressage saddle, check out the Wintec 250 Dressage Saddle on Amazon.
Dressage Saddle Pad
For your dressage saddle, you’ll need a dressage saddle pad. These pads are made to account for the longer dressage saddle flap and billets.
Check out the LeMieux Prosport Suede Dressage Saddle Pad, which is reasonably priced and very popular among riders.
If you’re getting a dressage saddle, you’ll need a girth to go with it. Dressage girths are shorter than normal English girths since the dressage saddle has longer billets.
Check out the popular StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth.
Cross Country/Show Jumping
Cross country and show jumping incorporate much of the same gear. You’ll want tack that allows for both the horse and the rider’s mobility. You’ll also want the proper protective equipment. Some of the protective gear is required while others are an option.
You’ll want to use an all-purpose or jumping saddle to provide you with the mobility you need in the saddle as you steer over obstacles and gallop through the terrain.
A good first choice saddle to look into would be the AceRugs Premium English Saddle.
A breast collar will help hold your saddle in the proper place as you clear jumps or gallop through the cross country course. These “collars” are pieces of leather that go around your horse’s chest and attach to the front of the saddle.
Check out the Dover Saddlery Brass Fitted Breastplate on Amazon.
Since cross country is known to be a little bit more risky with big solid jumps and complicated obstacles, you’re required to wear a protective vest when competing. This will help to soften the blow if you were to fall off or have another mishap.
The Zerone Equestrian Protector, Adults Equestrian Protective Vest is a great first protective vest to invest in.
For both cross country and show jumping, you’ll want to invest in boots for your horse’s lower legs. These are velcro boots that go around the horse’s fetlock or lower leg to offer more support from the trauma that the horse’s legs experience during jumping.
Check out the Prettyia Horse Boots.
Bell boots wrap around the outside of your horse’s hooves to form a protective barrier. You’ll want to get some bell boots to protect your horse from 1) reaching to far forward with their hind leg and kicking themselves in the front leg, and 2) to protect the hoof wall if the horse knocks a jump.
The Tough 1 Performers No Turn Bell Boots are some highly-rated bell boots that are worth the investment.
Preparing Your Horse for Their First Event
If you’re going to your first event or horse trial, preparing ahead of time can ensure that you’re ready when it comes to competition day. Here are some things I recommend to help you get ready for your first event:
Practice Ahead of Time
In eventing, you have three phases you’ll need to practice for: dressage, cross country, and show jumping. Each is different in technicality and skill. Take time to practice all three phases to make sure you’ll feel comfortable competing through the events.
When you practice ahead of time, you can prepare for the specific level you plan on entering. Make up a dressage test that incorporates all the movements and maneuvers of the certain level you want to compete in. Set your jump height to the height designated for the specific level.
Get Your Horse in Shape
It’s no exaggeration to say that eventing is a test of endurance and stamina. Horse and rider must complete three phases, one of which demands the horse to gallop over a few miles and clear intimidating jumps.
Start getting your horse in shape before you go to your first event. The last thing you want to happen is for your horse to tire out on the cross country course. Practice galloping your horse over a certain distance and seeing how fast they recover.
When a horse is pushed to do something that they aren’t in shape for, there’s a greater risk for injury. Don’t enter your horse in an event if they’re not physically prepared to face it.
Attend a Combined Test
If you want to get into eventing but you don’t know what to expect, a great way to ease into it is by first entering a combined test. A combined test is a competition where horse and rider compete in dressage and show jumping, but not cross country.
Combined tests are a great introduction to a multi-phase competition; if you have a green horse or if you’re a green rider, a combined test can be your first step towards eventing. Combined tests follow the eventing levels, so whichever level you enter will follow the same outline and regulations as the eventing levels.
You’ll also be scored as you would in eventing; your dressage test score show jumping score will be combined to determine the overall winner.
I hope this article was helpful to you as you prepare for your first event! A little interesting fact is that many eventers fox hunt during the winter months to keep their eventing horses in shape. To know more about foxhunting, check out our article Fox Hunting for Beginners: Dress Code, Terminology, and Gear.
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