Formerly known as “combined training” in the United States, eventing is the most complete test of horse and rider, requiring proficiency in three separate phases: dressage, cross-country and show-jumping. .
Dressage on the first day of the competition tests the gaits, suppleness and obedience of the horse through a series of prescribed movements. Dressage, which means “training”, is basically an evaluation of the horse’s movement, suppleness and relaxation, and obedience to his rider.
Held over a set track on open terrain, cross-country tests the horse and rider’s bravery and proves their speed, stamina, courage, boldness and jumping ability over obstacles including ditches, banks, water and solid obstacles.
Show jumping, on the final day, takes place in an arena and provides the final test of the horse's athletic ability, conditioning and training, illustrating the horse's fitness and willingness to listen to his rider. The obstacles are not solid and will fall down, and a single rail down can make the difference between winning and losing an event.
In the United States eventing is governed by the US Eventing Association (USEA). Upper-level events can also be recognized by the US Equestrian Federation (USEF) and the International Equestrian Federation (FEI). Unrecognized events at the lower levels tend to have lower entry fees and are a popular means of gaining mileage for inexperienced horses and riders.
Recognized national levels range from beginner novice to advanced horse trials, and international levels range from the one-star to four-star level. Dressage tests are specialized for each level and in the US the maximum height of jumps are as follows: beginner novice: 2’6”; novice: 3’11”; training: 3’3”; preliminary: 3’7”; intermediate: 3’9”; advanced: 3’11”. The rate of speed and number of jumping efforts also increases as the levels become more difficult.
Traditionally the upper levels included roads and tracks and steeplechase, now know as “long-format” events, but a highly debated movement in recent years removed the roads and tracks and steeplechase from internationally recognized competitions, including the Olympic Games and World Equestrian Games.
Today the “Classic Long Format” exists only at a few CCI* events (equivalent to preliminary level) and at the popular new “training level three-day event” which is considered an “educational test” and includes steeplechase.
The four-star is the highest level of eventing; there are only a few in the world, including the Rolex Kentucky three-day event in Lexington, Badminton and Burghley in England, and a fairly new CCI**** in Pau, France.
The three-star level is more common and major events in the US include but are not limited to The Fork (NC), Galway Downs (CA), Maui Jim (IL), Rebecca Farm (MT), Richland Park (MI), Poplar Place (GA), Ocala (FL), Plantation Field (PA) and Fair Hill (MD), which is the national USEF three-star fall championship.
For riders under 21 years old the North American Junior/Young Rider Championships are a popular annual goal. The American Eventing Championships (AEC) has championships from beginner novice to advanced level and also boasts a championship for young event horses, a program which is continuously developing.
Major championships include the Olympic and World Equestrian Games, each held every four years and with two years between them (the Olympics, for example, were last held in 2008; the next WEG will take place in Lexington, Kentucky in 2010). The Eventing World Cup series is also a popular and fairly recent addition to the calendar, with qualifying events held around the world and a World Cup Final, held at various locations.
Many talented horses and riders are involved in eventing. A few “living legends” include Bruce Davidson, Sr., Mike Plumb, Denny Emerson and Jim Wofford. Davidson continues to compete at the international levels.
Karen and David O’Connor dominated the eventing scene for many years; Karen still competes at the highest levels and David retired from competition to act as President of the USEF and technical advisor to the Canadian team. The couple also coaches numerous successful riders.
Currently dominating the American eventing scene is Phillip Dutton, who has been Rider of the Year for the past ten years running. Other major players include Dutton’s 2008 Olympic teammates Gina Miles, Amy Tryon, Becky Holder, as well as Stephen Bradley, Bruce “Buck” Davidson, Jr. and many more.
Eventing has received criticism for safety issues in recent years following the deaths of several horses and riders from cross-country falls. Rule changes and safety measures have been taken to make the sport safer and eventing continues to be a fun and popular sport, with thousands of participants across the Unites States and around the world.
The USEA: www.useventing.com
The USEF: www.usef.org
Rolex Kentucky CCI****: www.rk3de.com