Eventing 101

What is Eventing?

Eventing is best described as an equestrian triathlon. Each horse and rider pair must complete three tests: dressage, cross-country and show jumping. Ultimately, the horse and rider pair with the fewest penalty points after dressage, cross-country and show jumping is the winner of the division.

History: These tests developed from the training regime of horses used in military combat up through World War I. War horses were required to be fit yet agile, obedient, brave and determined. As their usefulness in combat diminished with the development of mechanized tools of war, these highly trained and greatly respected horses became repurposed for competitions between nations during peaceful times. These competitions became known as Horse Trials, and the sport known as Eventing.

Levels:  The three phases of the Horse Trial test the ability, versatility and preparedness of the horse and rider. Horse Trials have varying degrees of difficulty depending on the competitive level, which may range from Beginner Novice to Preliminary on the National levels, and 1* through 5* in international competitions. Red Hills runs six divisions of competition: Preliminary and the international parallel of CCI2-S *, Intermediate and its international parallel of CCI3-S *, and Advanced and its international parallel of CCI4-S *. The international divisions are referred to as FEI divisions, or Federation Internacional Equestre. CIC is the acronym for Concourse International Complete.

The Tests


Description: The first phase of a Horse Trial is always dressage, a series of suppling and strengthening exercises performed on a flat, enclosed arena.  “Dressage” comes from the French word meaning ‘training.” Dressage training develops the horse’s submission and responsiveness to the rider’s aids…his seat, legs and hands… and the horse’s strength and agility to perform the intricate movements required for cavalry exercises. This is the fundamental training of the sport upon which the two jumping phases are built as it develops the strength and balance the horse must have for the rigors of the cross-country phase and the precision of show jumping.  Dressage is always the first test of horse and rider, followed by the jumping phases. In a CIC event, either jumping phase may follow dressage.

Penalty Points: During a Horse Trial, one or more judges score the execution of prescribed movements based upon the horse’s and rider’s demonstration of balance, rhythm, suppleness, and the horse’s obedience to the rider’s aids. Each movement is scored on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the lowest mark and 10 the highest and best. The sum of these scores is combined with overall collective marks for gaits, impulsion, submission and the rider’s performance for a total score. That score is converted to a penalty score, which represents the possible number of points the pair was not able to earn in the dressage phase. Penalty points carry into the jumping phases. Ultimately, the pair (horse and rider) with the lowest number of penalty points wins.


Description:  The cross-country phase always takes place after dressage. Cross-country is the cornerstone of Eventing, and tests the speed, endurance, boldness and jumping ability of the horse over varied terrain and solid obstacles. These obstacles may be large, solid fences as well as natural obstacles such as water, banks, ditches and drops. Cross-country is ridden at a gallop with speed requirements dependent upon the level of difficulty of the division.

Penalty Points:   Penalty points are awarded if a horse stops at an obstacle or runs past a jump. A refusal or a run out earns 20 penalty points. A second refusal or run out at the same fence earns an additional 40 points. A third results in elimination from competition. Speed also counts. Penalty points are earned for every second over the specified optimum time on the course.

Stadium Jumping

 Description:   The third phase, stadium jumping, tests the same horse and rider pair’s precision over a series of brightly painted fences made of lightweight rails that can easily be knocked down. As the final phase, show jumping tests the stamina and recovery of the horse after the tiring cross-county test.

Penalty Points:   Knocking a rail or having a refusal or run out costs four penalty points. Show jumping is also timed; every second over the maximum allowed time accumulates additional points.


How is dressage scored?

One or more judges placed strategically on the outside of the dressage arena evaluate a series of prescribed movements of the horse and rider. In addition to marks for the prescribed movements, the judge(s) will award four collective marks: for freedom and regularity of the paces; the impulsion of the horse; the submission of the horse; and the position and form of the rider. If the competitor commits an error in executing a movement, the judge(s) will assess penalty points for the errors. Errors are penalized according to the following scale:

1st time:  2 points

2nd time: 4 points

3rd time: Elimination

Here is the way the competitor’s score is calculated:

  1. Good marks from 0-10 awarded by each judge to a competitor for each numbered movement of the dressage test are added to the collective marks, deducting any error of course or test.
  2. For each judge the percentage of maximum possible good marks obtainable is then calculated by dividing the total good marks received (minus any error of course or test) by the maximum possible good marks obtainable and then multiplying by 100 and rounding the result to two decimal digits. This value is shown as the individual mark for that judge. If there is more than one judge, the average percentage for the competitor is obtained by adding together the percentage for each judge and dividing by the number of judges, always rounding the result to two decimal digits.
  3. In order to convert percentage into penalty points, the percentage if there is only one judge or the average percentage if there is more than one judge must be subtracted from 100. The result, rounded to one decimal digit, is the score in penalty points for the test.

Please see the 2015 FEI 3* Star Test A,  which the C* Divisions will ride at Red Hills on March 8, 2019. This test was developed in 2015 by a committee of dressage professionals for Eventing, and will remain one of two tests used in competition of the CCI4-S * level for several years.

You will see letters in the second column of the score sheet. These letters correspond to point in the dressage arena at which the prescribed movement must be executed. Accuracy of execution of the movement at the prescribed point heavily influences the score a competitor received from the judge(s).

The lower the penalty score after dressage, the better for a competitor moving into the jumping phases of the Event.

How is cross country scored?

The focus of the cross-country test is to prove the speed, endurance and jumping ability of the true cross-country horse when it is well trained and conditioned. At the same time it demonstrates the competitor’s knowledge of pace and the use of his horse across country. It consists of a cross-country course with big, fixed obstacles designed not to fall down, normally carried out at the gallop.

Riders are penalized 0.4 points per second they finish after the optimum time, which is calculated by dividing the specified distance by the specified speed, both of which depend on the division, or level of difficulty of the competition.  Riders must complete the course inside of twice the optimum time in order to avoid elimination.  The jumping penalties for the cross-country event are as follows:

  1. 1st disobedience: 20 penalties
  2. 2nd disobedience: (at the same obstacle): 40 penalties
  3. 3rd disobedience on course: Elimination
  4. Fall of horse, rider, or both: Elimination

Zero is the perfect score a rider can tally from the cross-country test.

Cross-country penalty points for the horse and rider are added to the penalty points from dressage and stadium jumping to determine the competitor’s final score. The competitor with the lowest combined number of penalty points is the winner of the division of the event.

How is stadium jumping scored?

In the stadium jumping competition, the same horse and rider pair that has ridden its dressage test must jump a prescribed course of jumps within a specified length of time. The rider is permitted to walk the course to familiarize himself with the track and the questions asked by the jump, but the horse may not see the course prior to competition.

The pair will accumulate penalty points, or faults, for the following:

  1. Knocking down an obstacle or part of the obstacle;
  2. A disobedience, which means refusing a jump or running out of a jump
  3. A deviation from the course
  4. A fall of a horse and/or rider
  5. Unauthorized assistance
  6. Exceeding the time allowed or the time limit.

All faults made between the starting line and the finishing line must be taken into consideration.  Disobediences committed during the time when the round is interrupted for any reason are not penalized. Disobediences, falls etc., occurring between the signal to start and the moment the competitor crosses the starting line in the correct direction, are not penalized. Faults are penalized in penalty points or by elimination:

  1. Obstacle knocked down while jumping 4 penalties
  2. First disobedience 4 penalties
  3. Second disobedience at Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced – Elimination
  4. Exceeding the time allowed – 1 penalty for each second or commenced fraction of a second.

Penalties for the disobediences accumulate, not just at the same obstacle, but throughout the entire round. These penalty points are added to the pair’s dressage score, as are the penalty points from the cross-country course. Ultimately, the horse and rider with the fewest penalty points is the winner of the division.