Eventing: The Triathlon of the Equestrian World

August 05, 2021 7 min read

Eventing: The Triathlon of the Equestrian World

Eventing is not for the faint of heart. It’s not called the ultimate test of horse and rider for nothing!

Once reserved as a test for those in the cavalry, eventing is known as the “triathlon” of equestrian competitions. It combines the disciplines ofDressage, Cross Country, and Show jumping, wherein an equestrian and their riding partner do all three events in days. Often, eventing days are spread out throughout three to four days, but it is compressed into merely a day.

Why is Horse Grooming Important?

Dressage, Cross Country, and Show jumping are separate competitions in themselves, and Eventing came around and combined all three, creating a one-of-a-kind challenge for equestrians.

Known before as “Combined Training,” Eventing was called because training under the three disciplines was only for members of the cavalry, who needed to master different types of horseback riding.

Dressage primarily shows the equine’s demeanor, elegance, obedience, and ability to take and follow aids. Cross Country needs to test your riding pal’s strength, endurance, and stamina to overcome challenging cross-country travel or terrain. Show jumping was also due to necessity.  

Eventing has been an Olympic sport since 1912. It was only by 1956 when non-military men could take part in eventing. Women could compete in the sport only after eight years, in 1964. Unlike other Olympic sports, men and women can compete against each other in eventing. It is both a team and an individual effort.

Eventing is as exciting to watch as it sounds. Days of high energy from both the equestrians and their riding partners, and spectators, even if they are not horse enthusiasts, will easily understand if the athletes did well or not, based on what they see from the movements and performance of the equine and equestrian.

The Three Disciplines, Explained

The ultimate test for horse and rider comes in three phases: Dressage, Cross Country, and Show jumping.

Dressage is all about how you and your horse move as one. Your horse needs to train to follow a sequence of movements through aids and performed in an enclosed arena. Basics such as walking, trotting, and cantering are necessary to learn in this discipline. Derived from the French word “training,” Dressage is like “dancing” for horses.

Cross Country has obstacles and different terrains that mimic how it used to be for the rider and the riding pal when they would rough it out in the countryside. Considered the longer course out of the three events, it differs from show jumping because it also has other obstacles besides jumping over fences.

Show jumping is like Cross Country in that it also has a course and obstacles. However, it focuses on the equine clearing a round, meaning jump through fences as cleanly, effortlessly, and within the time limit.

Want to Try Eventing?

Mastering three disciplines is no easy feat for a casual rider and their horse. That is why only seasoned equestrians who are usually masters at one of the three disciplines are those who eventually go into eventing competitions.

The first step to eventing is training with your equine pal. Since eventing requires the rider to have the same riding partner for all three disciplines, thebond between you and your horse must be unshakeable.

If you have your sights set on joining international eventing competitions, you will need a suitable horse that will be in it for the ride. Remember that those three disciplines all have different goals. Dressage requires discipline on the flat, along with obedience and training to take on cues. Cross country and show jumping equines need stamina, technique, and scope. Because of their size, demeanor, and stamina, Thoroughbreds or larger equines are currently the horse of choice for international eventing competitions. Any breed is alright for local competitions.

You also need a certified instructor or coach who is both familiar and experienced in all three disciplines and can see your strengths and pain points, as well as your equine’s. Teaching three disciplines will not be easy or quick, for that matter—you need a coach who is patient and experienced, and both of you need to be in it for the long haul.

Your coach will probably begin you with Dressage since it will help you master the basics of horse riding and needs minimal equipment. Afterward, you will move on to show jumping, then to cross country.

Your First Eventing Competition: What To Expect

Eventing has undergone many format changes throughout the years, and the current short format is used now in the Olympics and most international competitions. Dressage usually comes first, then cross country and show jumping afterward, but are interchangeable, depending on the number of days allotted for the competition, which can last from one to four days.

All competitions, whether local or international, have a rule book that you must adhere to. The rule book is the first thing you must reach for and know by heart before setting foot on the grounds.

Once you’ve chosen your local competition and sent in your entry, ensure that you chose the right level and division that matches your expertise. All the details of what to expect in all three events are there. This includes the rider's age, horse age, and additional qualifications. Take note of each level’s Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MERs) also. Each event will have an event checklist, so it’s best to pour over the entire checklist over and over again.

Plan your ride time by working backward. Do a run-through from the time you get dressed, groom your horse, all the way up to warm up, with 15 minutes or more to spare. As you may know from previous competitions, horse competitions are very punctual, so if you don’t make it to your ride time, you’re out. Each penalty that you receive from one event gets carried over to the next, so be careful out there.

Riding Attire for Eventing, for Horse and Rider

The rules for attire for all three disciplines that fall under eventing competitions still apply.

Attire for Dressage and show jumping means traditional, conservative, and not distracting to other riders or their equines. The basics are a white shirt and tie, gloves, riding breeches, tall boots, and a helmet. Additional pieces, such as a jacket, might be required for international competitions.

Going cross country means more casual attire for the comfort of the equestrian. A rugby or polo shirt and riding breeches, plus boots and a helmet, are essential. The equestrian also needs to wear a body protector along with a medical armband. The medical armband is, in case, the rider gets knocked off their horse and is unconscious, and the rider can receive medical assistance right away. A medical armband may also be a requirement for show jumping riders.

For your riding partner, horse riding gear is essential. It’s required to have the proper tack. For local competitions, a jumping saddle is alright when doing all three events. But for international competitions, you need to have a separate jumping saddle and a dressage English saddle, sometimes even a different saddle required for cross country.

A dressage tack is a black English saddle, a white square pad, girth, and a bridle with snaffle bits. Tacks used for Show jumping and cross-country are similar, with a black saddle, square pads like gel pads, and bridling and biting are alright to use. The difference between show jumping and cross country attire for your riding partner is footwear. Cross-country boots are made for these horses to prevent injuries, along with horseshoe studs to stop your equine from slipping.

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Middle Riser Anti-Slip Gel Pad - Kavallerie

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Rear Riser Anti-Slip Gel Pad - Kavallerie

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Common eventing injuries and how to avoid them

Because of the grueling nature of the sport, Eventing has caused accidents and life-threatening moments throughout the years.

Because of this, adjustments to the sport have been made, and are constantly being reviewed. For instance, some of the fences used in the designing courses are now “frangible fences”. The fences, should these be hit by the equine, will fall or break in a controlled manner, so that it will minimize the injury to the equestrian or their riding partner.

During cross-country eventing, riders are required to wear body protectors or safety vests, in addition to an approved helmet with a retention harness.

Show jumping and cross country take a toll on an equine’s legs, which is whyleg protection for horses in the form ofboots and horse leg wraps are now commonplace in competitions.

Eventing Riders You Should Know About

These riders are up for the challenge of Eventing, and have gone on to reign on top of the game!

Michael Jung

A German rider, Michael Jung was the first German to win the FEI World Cup Eventing Final. He has won 1 silver medal and three gold medals in team and individual games in the Olympics. He is the only rider who has received the Olympic title, European title, and the world championship title in 2012. He is also the second male equestrian to win the “Grand Slam” of Eventing, winning the Badminton Horse Trials, the Kentucky Three Day Event, and the Burghley Horse Trials in 2016.

Oliver Townend

The 39-year-old hails from Great Britain and currently ranks as the world’s number 1, according to the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI). His parents passed on their love for eventing to their child, with Townend’s dad also into eventing, and his mother did side-saddle. He began riding at 7 years old and has gone on to be at the top of the World Ranking for three years. He currently belongs to the Great Britain Equestrian Olympics team in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and will be competing in the Eventing Individual Event.

Tim Price

Ranking second is 42-year-old Tim Price of New Zealand, who, along with his wife Jonelle Price, went to the 2012 Olympic Games and won a bronze medal for the team. Together, the Prices made history in the 2016 Rio Olympics as the first husband and wife who belong to the same Olympic team. Tim is currently with the New Zealand Equestrian Olympic team in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Piggy French

Coming in 3rd in the world is Piggy French, from Great Britain. She grew up exposed to eventing, so much so that her older sister and mother both used to compete in eventing. French eventually married Tom March, who is also into eventing. She received the gold medal, finishing first in the Badminton Horse Trials competition back in 2019.

Eventing has captivated the Equestrian world since its inception. It has called only a selected few to take part in the ultimate test of horse and rider. Do you think you have what it takes to try it out? It’s worth a shot.