Dressage begins every eventing competition. The dressage test comprises a set series of movements performed in an enclosed arena. Precision, smoothness, suppleness and complete obedience is a must. Ideally the horse appears to perform the test moments of its own accord, working in harmony with its rider. Dressage is also very important to the three-day event horse, as it helps to develop the muscular strength and suppleness needed the other two days of competition, endurance day and show jumping, where the horse must be unbelievably fit and strong, and able to lengthen and shorten stride at a gallop.
The purpose of the dressage test is to demonstrate the level of communication between the horse and rider to and display the power and grace required to perform each movement with balance, rhythm, and suppleness. Due to the demands of the sport, the three-day event horse is extremely fit, and only strong and tactful riders possess the skills needed to harness and direct that energy into a both polished and powerful performance.
The cross-country test takes place on the second day of competition. The object of this test is to prove the speed, endurance, and jumping ability of the horse over varied terrain and obstacles. In order to accomplish this task, the horse and rider must be at peak condition. The horse must be brave and obedient, and the rider must use knowledge of pace in order to expend only as much of the horse's energy as necessary.
The cross-country course covers approximately 2.75 to 4 miles, along which sit 24-36 fixed and solid obstacles. This phase is ridden at a gallop, with exact speed requirements depending on the level of competition. Cross-country courses require horses and riders to be bold and smart, while testing their physical stamina. The aim of each combination of horse and rider must complete, on time and with as few penalties as possible. Penalties can be accrued through jumping errors (horse refuses or runs out at an obstacle, rider falls off on course, etc.) or by exceeding the optimum time allowed.
Unlike other sports, where only the human will and body are pitted against the clock, in eventing, two minds and bodies work as one. As an additional attraction, eventing is the only high-risk Olympic sport where men and women compete as equals, with no separate divisions.
The third and final test is show jumping . A show jumping course comprises a series of colored fences usually made up of lightweight rails that are easily knocked down. This final phase tests the stamina and recovery of the horse after the endurance phase and shows that it is fit enough to continue work.
“The test on the third day is not an ordinary show jumping competition…Its sole object is to demonstrate that, on the day after a severe test of endurance, the horses have retained the suppleness, energy and obedience necessary for them to continue in service.” States the words of the FEI (international governing body for equestrian sport) rule book.
The show jumping course requires very exact riding; it consists of between 12 and 15 show jumping obstacles, which normally include at least one combination, two spread fences, and in some cases a ditch.
At the end of the competition, scores for all the competitors are totaled. Each test is scored individually and the penalties accrued are added together for the final results. The lowest score is the winning score.
The USEA Levels of Eventing
Beginner Novice - 2'7"
Novice - 2'11"
Training - 3'3"
Preliminary - 3'7"
Intermediate - 3'9"
Advanced - 3'11"
Eventing could be termed an "equestrian triathlon." It involves working with a horse both on the flat and over fences. The three phases are: dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. Eventing has now evolved into an exciting sport attracting interest from all levels of sports enthusiasts, from weekend hobby riders to professional international stars.