Eventing – Not For the Faint of Heart



Three-Day Eventing is an Olympic and international equestrian sport that originated in Europe as a competition to demonstrate the fitness of cavalry horses. In those days, the armies wanted horses that looked impressive on the parade grounds, could travel across any kind of terrain at speed and for long distances, and then be ready and able to continue the next day. To test these abilities they developed a three day competition—in essence an equestrian triathlon.

The first day the horses demonstrate their dressage skills, performing intricate movements requiring high levels of training and obedience. The second day they show their courage, endurance, and ability to handle all kinds of difficult situations by completing a challenging cross-country course. The last day they prove their fitness by doing a precise and demanding stadium jumping round.

These tests developed into national competitions, culminating in becoming an Olympic sport in 1912. Initially, only military officers were allowed to compete. In 1952 male civilians became eligible, but women weren’t allowed into the club until 1964. Equestrian sports are among the few where men and women compete head-to-head. With a couple of exceptions—rodeo and racing—male strength is not a particular advantage and both sexes can be equally successful.

Eventing has become a popular activity for all levels of riders. You can start out on very easy Beginner Novice, Novice or Training courses, then move up to Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced. You can also take part in one day events known as Horse Trials.

A horse and rider compete either as individuals or, at the international level, also as members of a team. Scores are computed on the numbemedium_2568292756r of faults a pair collects. As in golf, the lowest score wins. You acquire faults through mistakes in the dressage test and refusals, course mistakes or taking too long in the two jumping portions. Three refusals or a fall of horse or rider will result in elimination. Horses are also eliminated if they don’t pass the daily vet inspections.

The most important qualifications for the horse and rider are courage and fitness. The horse has to trust her rider and be willing to go where asked, sometimes jumping blindly, not knowing what is on the other side. Of course, the rider has to be equally brave, trusting that the horse can do what he asks and will keep him safe.

One year I served as a jump judge at a local Intermediate championship. This involved sitting by a large wood pile jump and watching to see if any horse refused, totally missed the jump, or fell. While I had done some cross-country for fun, I’d never tried anything the size of that wood pile. The sight of those horses tearing downhill and then having to slow and gather themselves to jump had my heart in my throat a good part of the time. Unfortunately, one rider did not get her mount back enough so the pair did not make it and fell hard. The rider got up sooner than the horse. There was no question of it doing anything more that day. That was the inspiration for a similar incident in my book Forewarning. My heroine Kasey Edwards is a former Three Day competitor.

Just as vital is the athletic ability of both. Top ranked riders cross-train, ride multiple horses daily and are extremely fit. They also put in long hours conditioning their horses to be able to finish the grueling second day.

medium_8123864734Unlike most other Olympic sports, Three-Day Eventing started as an Olympic event and then developed as a more general contest. The Badminton Horse Trial in Great Britain was the first major non-Olympic event and is still considered the most prestigious. The premier Three-Day in the US in the Rolex, held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

While the limited TV coverage of Eventing in the Olympics used to concentrate on jumping falls, the increased public interest has resulted in actually being able to see portions of all three events. Below are a couple of videos.


Three Day Eventing:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Fqjo9EST8I
2012 Rolex:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfYJjdggyq0
The Cross-Country Ride to London: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8aShtqmJ_o



photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/21795222@N06/2568292756/”>clickerjac</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/zlatko/8123864734/”>Zlatko Unger</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Categories: dressage, Horse Trials, Horses, Kentucky, nature, Olympics, outdoors, riding, Three Day Eventing, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “Eventing – Not For the Faint of Heart

  1. Horses are magnificent!

  2. As equestrians in Switzerland are skilled and participate in different kinds of competitions, I followed some of them on TV when I still lived in Geneva. Eventing is one form I’ve not seen, but it must be fascinating from the way you describe it. Good post.

    • I couldn’t find any info on Swiss Eventing. They won the Show Jumping Gold medal at the last Olympics, nothing was said about them in Eventing. The cross-country takes quite a bit of land. Maybe it doesn’t work in hilly Switzerland?

  3. I love watching the Olympic eventing trails. So cool. Thank you for telling us the background of this sport. I had no idea. Loved the videos.

    • I forgot to mention the old, not-terribly-good movie, International Velvet. It gives a pretty good picture of the eventing scene, and a not-quite-accurate Olympic contest. (Nowadays, a fall disqualifies you.) But it’s got pretty horses and Christopher Plummer and Anthony Hopkins, no less. You should rent it sometime.

    • I have never even schooled on a cross country course, let alone competed, but my heart starts to race whenever my coaches set up fences outside the ring!

      However, I served as a jump judge myself once and the bug got to me. Hopefully will gather the nerve and skill to school cross country next summer!

      Great post on the history of the sport.

      • I hope you do get to try it next summer. Keep in mind that Beginner Novice fences are at most 2’7″. So they’re not too scary. Of course your horse may have opinions about water hazards and ditches that you’ll have to work through. Have fun!

  4. Kate,
    I’d be a nervous wreck just watching these competitions!

    • Of course the cross-country is the most popular because of the possibility of thrills and spills. But serious injuries are rare, thank goodness. They really are fun to watch. 🙂

  5. I loved this post, and most especially the pictures! i got goose bumps while reading and looking at those beautiful horses!

  6. I admire you and the horses!

  7. Pingback: Jumping For Fun or Ribbons | Conversations with Horses and Others by Kate Wyland

  8. Pingback: Dressage | Conversations with Horses and Others by Kate Wyland

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