The horse is a large ungulate mammal, one of ten modern
species of the genus Equus. Like few other animals, horses
can be ridden, either with or without a saddle. They can
also be harnessed to pull objects like wheeled vehicles or
plows. Today, in wealthy countries, horses are predominently
kept for leisure and sporting pursuits. However, around the
world they continue to fulfill a wide range of economic
Humans have bred horses for millennia, as with dogs,
resulting in many different breeds. Some are well-known for
particular qualities or abilities; for example,
thoroughbreds for their racing speed.
Warmbloods are a group of sport horse breeds and the term
simply distinguishes this type of horse from the "cold
bloods" (draft horses) and the "hot bloods" (Thoroughbreds
and Arabians). Sport horse refers to the intended use of the
breed -- as a competitive and recreational horse for the
major international equestrian disciplines of dressage, show
jumping, eventing and combined driving.
Most warmblood breeds are continuing to evolve. In fact,
they are not "breeds" in the sense that Thoroughbreds,
Arabians, Morgans and Saddlebreds are breeds. Except for the
Trakehner, they do not have closed studbooks. Other breeds
are often introduced to the gene pool to reap the benefits
of hybrid vigor, and to speed and improve the evolutionary
process of attaining the "Breeding Goal" of the particular
The warmbloods are named for the countries and regions from
which they were bred and where the studbooks are kept. The
original warmbloods were bred to be an all purpose
agricultural, riding, carriage, and cavalry horse. In the
twentieth century, the European breeders began refining
their horses to produce a large framed, correct horse with
superior movement and a willing temperament. The result is
apparent in the principal warmbloods which include the
Hanoverian, Holsteiner, Trakehner, Oldenburger, Selle
Français, the Dutch, Danish, and Swedish Warmbloods. The
main difference in the breeding of warmbloods, is the
rigorous documentation, selection and testing for breeding
stock. There is mandatory performance testing for all stock
with the emphasis placed on temperament and rideability.
Although the warmbloods are still capable to be all around
horses, they excel in dressage and show jumping.
The Thoroughbred is a horse breed developed in 18th century
England when English mares were bred with imported Arabian
stallions to create a distance racer. Also, "thoroughbred"
is an adjective often used by laymen to describe
fully-blooded descendants of a particular breed.
The typical Thoroughbred stands 16 hands (64 inches/1.63 m)
high, and is bay, brown, chestnut, black or gray/roan in
color. The face and lower legs may be marked with white, but
white will generally not appear on the body (although
certain color genes, usually found in chestnuts, result in
white hairs and white patches in the coat—the study of color
genetics in horses is an in-depth one).
All modern Thoroughbreds descend from three stallions
imported to England from the Middle East in the late 17th
and early 18th centuries: the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin
Arabian, also known as the Godolphin Barb, and the Byerly
Turk, together with around 35 mares. (The first part of
these stallions' names refers to the stallion's British
owner, the second part is an indicator of the horse's
Although the Thoroughbred is primarily bred for racing, the
breed is also used for show jumping and combined training
due to its athleticism, and many retired race horses become
fine family riding horses, endurance horses, dressage
horses, and youth show horses. The larger horses are sought
after for hunter/jumper and dressage competitions, whereas
the smaller horses are in demand as polo ponies.
The Thoroughbred is bred primarily for racing under saddle
at the gallop. Some families of Thoroughbreds are known
primarily as sprinters or as distance runners.
Buyers generally select for larger individuals. Longfellow,
Man O' War, Secretariat, Phar Lap, Dr. Fager, Silky Sullivan
and Forego were famous, big horses, but a substantial number
of famous race horses have been small. Aristides, the winner
of the first Kentucky Derby was small. Roamer, Round Table,
Seabiscuit, Northern Dancer, and more recently, Dalakhani
and Smarty Jones, were famous, smaller horses.
Many experts who purchase Thoroughbreds attempt to assess a
young horse's potential by observing its overall structural
balance, the athleticism and willingness of its walk, the
perceived intelligence of its outlook, and the correct
conformation of its legs. Buyers of more expensive horses
often hire veterinary experts to examine and report on the
condition of the horse's breathing apparatus, soundness of
bone structure, and size of heart.
Thoroughbreds that are born in the Northern Hemisphere
technically become a year older on January first; those born
in the Southern Hemisphere turn one on August first. These
artificial dates have been set to enable the standardization
of races for horses in certain age groups.
A natural athlete, with a generally superb work ethic, the
Thoroughbred excels in many equestrian sports. While other
breeds are preferred over the Thoroughbred in both dressage
and show jumping, the breed can occasionally compete at high
levels in dressage, and the Grand Prix ring in show jumping.
The flowing, long stridden gaits and good jumping form makes
the Thoroughbred a top show hunter as well.
Of all the equestrian sports, the Thoroughbred is probably
most suited for events, and dominates the highest levels:
almost all Olympic horses are full or part-Thoroughbred. The
breed is most suited for the cross-country phase, due to its
long stride and natural speed, as well as its athletic jump.
Thoroughbreds are also the favorite breed for use in polo.
They are seen in the hunt field as well.
The English-speaking world measures the height of horses in
hands. One hand is defined in British law as 101.6 mm, a
figure derived from the previous measure of 4 Imperial
inches. Horse height is measured at the highest point of an
animal's withers. Perhaps because of extensive selective
breeding, modern adult horses vary widely in size, ranging
from miniature horses measuring 5 hands (0.5 m) to draft
animals measuring 19 hands (1.8 m) or more. By convention,
15.2 hh means 15 hands, 2 inches (1.57 m) in height.
Horses and ponies
Usually, size alone marks the difference between horses and
ponies. The threshold is 14.2 hh (4 feet 10 inches, 1.47 m)
for an adult. When a horse is 14.2 hh exactly, it is called
borderline and is either a horse or a pony depending on the
breed. Below the threshold an animal is a pony, while above
the threshold it is a horse. Thus normal variations can mean
that a horse stallion and horse mare can become the parents
of an adult pony. However, a distinct set of characteristic
pony traits, developed in northwest Europe and further
evolved in the British Isles, make it less clear whether it
is more appropriate to use the word "pony" to describe a
size or a type. Many people consider the Shetland pony as
the archetypal pony, as its proportions are so different
from those of horses. Several small breeds are mostly
referred to as "horses" but occasionally as "ponies", though
that is generally considered improper by those familiar with
the breeds. These include the Icelandic horse, Fjord horse
and Caspian horse breeds. Breeders of miniature horses
favour that name because they strive to reproduce horse-like
attributes in a much smaller animal, even though their
horses undeniably descend from horses of small stature,
which are thereby classifiable as ponies by size.
All horses move naturally with four basic gaits; these are
referred to as the walk, the trot, the canter and the
A walk is a "four-beat" lateral gait in which a horse must
have three feet on the ground and only one foot in the air
at any time. The walking horse will lift first a hind leg,
then the foreleg on the same side, then the remaining hind
leg, then the foreleg on the same side. A rider on a trained
horse gently squeezes the sides of the animal and releases
the pressure on its reins in order to initiate a walk from a
stationary position. To initiate a walk when a horse is
trotting or proceeding at a faster gait, the rider gently
applies pressure on the reins and sits more firmly in the
saddle (or on the horse's back in the absence of a saddle),
gently gripping the horse's sides with the thighs.
A trot is a "two beat" diagonal gait in which a foreleg and
opposite hindleg (often called "diagonals") touch the ground
at the same time. In this gait, each leg bears weight
separately, making it ideal to check for lameness or for
stiffness in the joints. A rider on a walking horse
initiates a trot by reducing tautness on the reins and
applying more leg pressure. There are three types of trot a
rider can perform; these are called posting trot, in which
the rider stands up slightly in the saddle each time the
animal's outside front leg goes forward, sitting trot, in
which the rider sits in the saddle and matches the horse's
movement, and two point, when the rider lifts slightly out
of the saddle and leans foward from the hips. A jog is only
used in western riding and is slower than the trot. When
jogging the horse the rider sits deeply in the saddle moving
along with the horse's movement.
A canter is a "three beat" gait in which a foreleg and
opposite hindleg strike the ground together, and the other
two legs strike separately. A cantering horse will first
stride off with the outside hind leg, then the inside hind
and outside fore together, then the inside front leg, and
finally a period of suspension in which all four legs are
off the ground. the rhythm should be 1-2-3, 1-2-3, etc. When
cantering in a straight line, it does not usually matter
which foreleg (or leading leg) goes first, but both leads
should receive equal practice time, as otherwise the horse
may become "one-sided" or develop a reluctance to canter on
a specific lead. In the arena, the horse should canter on
the inside lead, unless performing counter-canter, a
dressage movement in which cantering with the outside lead
is required. In making a fairly tight turn, the inside leg
(the one nearest to the centre of the turn) should lead, as
this prevents the horse from "falling in". To get a horse to
canter on the correct leg from trot, the rider must go into
sitting trot, place the outside leg slightly behind the
girth and squeeze with the inside leg. To get a horse to
canter from gallop, the rider must alter the position of the
body slightly back in the saddle, then place the outside leg
behind the girth to allow the horse to canter on the correct
leg, and apply pressure on the reins. This is also called
"lope" when riding in a Western show class at a slower pace.
At the gallop, with all four feet off the ground. The gallop
is another "four beat" gait which follows a similar
progression to the canter, except the two paired legs land
separately, the hind leg landing slightly before the
foreleg. The gallop also involves having a leading leg. In
turning at a very rapid rate, it is even more important that
the horse use the appropriate lead, leading with the left
leg if making a left turn, and the right leg if making a
right turn, since the faster the turn the more the horse
needs to lean into the turn. Horses that usually are
galloped in a straight line need to be changed to alternate
leads so that they do not suffer a muscular imbalance and
subsequent difficulty making turns in one direction or the
other. To get a horse into gallop, the rider must alter
their position so they are slightly more forward in the
saddle, then they should allow the horse its head and gently
nudge the horse's sides. The gallop is usually used in races
or fox hunting. However, a horse should not be galloped
during training in a ring or enclosed area, due to the fact
that the horse may slip in attempting to gallop in such an
area. Although a race track is an enclosed area, it is large
enough for a horse to gallop safely.
Some horses, called Gaited Horses, have gaits other than the
most common four above.
The highest point of the shoulder seen best with horse
standing square and head slightly lowered. The tops of the
two shoulder blades and the space between them define the
withers. Should be even with the croup, otherwise a
"sway-back" may be present. The height of the horse is
measured at the withers in "hands."
Mane and Forelock
Long and relatively coarse hair growing from the dorsal
ridge of the neck, lying on either the left or right side of
the neck, and the continuation of that hair on the top of
the head, where it generally hangs forward.
The point where the tail connects to the rear of the horse.
Where the hind legs and the stomach of the horse meet.
The connection between the coronet and the fetlock. Made up
of the middle and proximal phalanx.
Resembles the ankle of the horse. Known to anatomists as the
The part of the hoof that connects the hoof to the pastern.
Resembles the shin of the horse. Consists of metacarpal III.
The chin, mouth, and nostrils make up the muzzle on the
The point on the neck where the mane grows out of.
The portion of the horse's neck right behind the ears.
Equivalent to the Heel, the main joint on the hind leg.
Corresponds to the elbow of a horse, except on the hind
Known as the "second thigh," the large muscle on the hind
leg, just above the hock, below the stifle.
The cheek bone under the horses ear on both sides
The inside of every leg
The highly elastic wedge-shaped mass on the bottom of the
hoof, which normally makes contact with the ground first.
Horse coat colours and markings
Horses exhibit a diverse array of coat colours and
distinctive markings, and a specialized vocabulary has
evolved to describe them. In fact, one will often refer to a
horse in the field by his or her coat colour rather than by
breed or by sex.
Leopard or Appaloosa
There are a group of coat patterns caused by the leopard
gene. There are several distinct leopard patterns:
Blanket: white over the hip that may extend from the tail to
the base of the neck. The spots inside the blanket (if
present) are the same color as the horse's base coat.
Varnish roan: a mix of body and white hairs that extends
over the entire body--no relation to true roan
Snowflake: white spots on a dark body. Typically the white
spots increase in number and size as the horse ages.
Leopard: dark spots of varying sizes over a white body.
Few spot leopard: a nearly white horse from birth that
retains colour just above the hooves, the knees, 'armpits',
mane and tail, wind pipe, and face.
Frost: similar to varnish but the white hairs are limited to
the back, loins, and neck.
From light brown to very dark brown with black points and
intermingling red or blue hairs in some cases. (Points refer
to the main, tail, muzzle, lower legs, and tips of the
ears). Four types - Dark bay (mixed blue hair), blood bay
(mixed red hair), light bay and just bay.
There are two types of black, fading black and jet black.
Ordinary black horses will fade to a rusty brownish colour
if the horse is exposed to sunlight on a regular basis, this
though would be considered brown as soon as any black coat
gets any brown. Jet black is a blue-black shade that is
fadeproof. Black foals are usually born a mousy grey color.
As their foal coat begins to shed out, their black color
will show through, but jet black foals are born jet black.
Usually for a horse to be considered black it must be
completely black with no brown at all, only white markings.
One of the rarest colours of horse. Characterisics are any
colour with "zebra-like" stripes.
A bay without any black points.
A bay horse with a gene that 'dilutes' the coat colour to a
yellow, cream, or gold while keeping the black points (mane,
tail, muzzle, ears, legs).
A reddish body colour with little or no black. There are
many different variations of chestnut.
Dark red coat with black hairs in the mane and tail.
Lighter orange coat with pale mane and tail.
Light brown-cream coat with flaxen mane and tail.
A chestnut horse with two dilute genes that washes out
almost all colour. Often called pseudo albinos, they have
blue eyes. There are no true albino horses.
A gray colored horse with lighter gray spots, or dapples,
Yellowish brown with a dorsal stripe along the back and
occasionally zebra stripings on the legs.
Refers to usually red hairs flecked in the coat of a gray
A horse with black skin and clear hairs. Gray horses can be
born any color, and eventually most will turn gray or white
with age. If you would define the horse as white it is still
grey unless it is albino. Some gray horses that are very
light must wear sunscreen.
A black horse with a dun gene. It is often a grayish/silver
colored horse with dark dun factors
A multi-colored horse with large patches of brown, white,
and/or black and white. Piebald is black and white, while
Skewbald is white and brown. Specific patterns such as
tobiano, overo, and tovero refer to the orientation of white
on the body.
In 1962, the American Paint Horse Association began to
recognize pinto horses with known Quarter Horse and/or
Thoroughbred bloodlines as a separate breed. Today, Paint
horses are the world's fifth most popular breed.
Chestnut horse that has one cream dilute gene that turns the
horse to a golden, yellow, or tan shade with a flaxen
(white) mane and tail. Often cited as being a color "within
three shades of a newly minted coin", palominos actually
come in all shades from extremely light, to deep chocolate.
Normally referred to as "blonde" horses.
Exactly like a cremello but a bay horse with two dilute
A color pattern that causes white hairs to be sprinkled over
the horse's body color. Red roans are chesnut and white
hairs, blue roans are black/bay with white hairs. Roan can
happen on any body color; for example, there are palomino
roans and dun roans. Roans are distinguishable from greys
because roans typically do not change colour in their
lifetimes, unlike gray that gradually gets lighter as a
horse ages. Roans also have solid colored heads that do not
A gray horse with a pinkish tinge to its coat. This color
occurs while the horse is "graying out."
A genetically controlled horse coat variation.
A genetic trait among horses which produces a characteristic
white pattern in the coat.
Any non-albino white horse is called a gray, even though
they appear white. All white, may be the result of
overlapping pinto, appaloosa, or sabino markings. Rarely
there are true white horses born and are documented to have
a dominant white gene (see Gray (horse) for a discussion of
these). These horses have normal eye colour, and they stay
white for life.
On the face:
* Star (a white patch between the eyes)
* Snip (a white patch on the muzzle)
* Stripe (narrow white stripe down the middle of the face)
* Interrupted Stripe (a narrow white stripe down the middle
of the face that is interrupted and not continuous)
* Blaze (broad white stripe down the middle of the face)
* White Face (sometimes called Bald Face)
* Glass Eye (blue eye, having a glassy look to it, also
called China Eye)
* Mascara (the effect of a horse in contact with the Santa
Cruz Tarweed or other sticky plant, which comes in contact
with soil and creates a temporary mascara)
On the legs:
* Ermine marks (black marks on the white just above the
* Sock (white marking that does not extend as high as the
knee or hock but is taller than a pastern)
* Stocking (white marking that extends as high as the knee
* Pastern (white marking that extends only a few inches
above the top of the hoof)
Whorls, coloquially known as "cow licks" - are divergent or
convergent patches of hair found anywhere on the body but
mostly on the head, neck and just in front of the stifles.
For horse color and marking genetics see Equine coat color
genetics. Another good resource for horse color is: Horse
color, markings, and genetics. Another that has numerous
photographs of various colors and markings is Equine color.
Muscular and heavy draft horses are known as "coldbloods",
as they have been bred to be workhorses and carriage horses
with calm temperaments. Harnessing a horse to a carriage
requires some level of trust in the horse to remain calm
when restrained. The best known coldbloods would probably be
the Budweiser Clydesdales
Warmblood breeds began in much the same way as the
Thoroughbred. The best of the European carriage or cavalry
horses were bred to Arabian, Anglo-Arabian and Thoroughbred
sires. The term "warmbloods" is sometimes used to mean any
draft/Thoroughbred cross although this is becoming less
common. The warmblood name has become the term to
specifically refer to the sporthorse breed registries than
began in Europe, although now worldwide. These registries,
or societies, such as the Hanoverian, Oldenburg, Trakehner,
and Holsteiner have dominated the Olympics and World
Equestrian Games in Dressage and Show Jumping since the
The list of horse breeds provides a partial alphabetical
list of breeds of horse extant today, plus a discussion of
rare breeds' conservation.
Arabian horses, whether originating on the Arabian peninsula
or from the European studs (breeding establishments) of the
18th and 19th centuries, gained the title of "hotbloods" for
their temperament, characterised by sensitivity, keen
awareness, athleticism, and energy. It was these traits,
combined with the lighter, aesthetically refined bone
structure, which was used as the foundation of the
thoroughbreds. The European breeders wished to infuse some
of this energy and athleticism into their own best cavalry
The Thoroughbred is unique to all breeds in that its muscles
can be trained for either fast-twitch (for sprinting) or
slow-twitch (for endurance), making them an extremely
versatile breed. Arabians are used in the sport horse world
almost exclusively for endurance competitions. Breeders
continue to use Arabian sires with Thoroughbred dams to
enhance the sensitivity of the offspring for use in
equestrian sports. This Arabian/Thoroughbred cross is known
as an Anglo-Arabian.
True hotbloods usually offer greater riding challenges and
rewards than other horses. Their sensitivity and
intelligence enable quick learning, and greater
communication and cooperation with their riders. However,
they sometimes decide that a new flowerpot is really a
dragon, and the rider must spend the next five minutes
calming them down.
Dressage (a French term meaning "training") is a path and
destination of competitive horse training, with competitions
held at all levels from amateur to Olympic. Its fundamental
purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive
training methods, a horse's natural athletic ability and
willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as
a riding horse. At the peak of a dressage horse's gymnastic
development, it can smoothly respond to a skilled rider's
minimal aids by performing the requested movement while
remaining relaxed and appearing effortless. For this reason,
dressage is occasionally referred to as "Horse Ballet."
Although the discipline has its roots in classical Greek
horsemanship, dressage was first recognized as an important
equestrian pursuit during the Renaissance in Western Europe.
The great European riding masters of that period developed a
sequential training system that has changed little since
then and is still considered the basis of modern dressage.
Early European aristocrats displayed their horses' training
in equestrian pageants, but in modern dressage competition,
successful training at the various levels is demonstrated
through the performance of "tests," or prescribed series of
movements within a standard arena. Judges evaluate each
movement on the basis of an objective standard appropriate
to the level of the test and assign each movement a score
from zero to ten - zero being "not executed" and 10 being
"excellent." A score of 9 (or "very good") is considered a
particularly high mark.
The Dressage Arena
There are two sizes of arenas: small and standard. The small
arena is 20 m by 40 m, and is used for the lower levels of
dressage and three-day eventing dressage. The standard arena
is 20 m by 60 m, and is used for upper-level tests in both
dressage and eventing. Since the combination of CEF and USDF
tests in 2003, the small size arena is no longer utilized in
rated shows in North America.
Dressage arenas have a lettering system around their outside
in the order (clockwise) A-K-E-H-C-M-B-F (small arena) and
A-K-V-E-S-H-C-M-R-B-P-F (standard arena). It is currently
unknown who began the lettering system or why the
arrangement was chosen. At the start of the test, the horse
enters at A. There is always a judge sitting at C (although
for upper-level competition, there are up to five judges at
different places around the arena). There are also invisible
letters along the centerline, D-X-G (small arena) and
D-L-X-I-G (standard arena), X always being in the center of
the dressage arena. The dressage arena also has a centerline
(from A to C, going through X in the middle), as well as two
quarter-lines (halfway between the centerline and long sides
of each arena).
Levels of Dressage
The levels of dressage are progressive, building on the
training of the horse. They emphasize the training scale and
the qualities needed by the horse as it works its way up. So
a horse at the lowest level of dressage would not be judged
on its collection (a more advanced concept), but most marks
would be judging that the basics are solid: the horse has
impulsion, is moving freely forward, starting to come up
through its back, and is accepting the rider's aids.
Later tests will ask that the horse be supple, asking for
movements such as shoulder-in, haunches-in, and half-pass.
The horse will also be asked to lengthen the walk, trot, and
canter, preparing it for the more advanced movements of
extended trot (which requires more impulsion than lengthened
trot). The tests are designed to build upon each other. If
short-cuts are taken at the lower levels (for example, the
horse is forced into a frame with its head pulled into the
vertical position, rather than correctly ridden up through
its back into the bridle), the errors in training will
become readily apparent in the upper levels.
The levels of dressage proceed as follows:
* Introductory: designed to introduce novice horses and
riders to the sport of dressage. Free-walk is expected.
* Training: developing the purity of the gaits is of utmost
importance, horse should move freely forward, accept contact
with the bit, and remain supple. Horse must reach down for
the contact at the trot on 20-meter circles.
* First: Horse should develop thrust (pushing power), and
have developed a degree of balance and throughness. Trot
lengthenings are introduced, as are changes of lead through
the trot, leg-yield, and 15-meter circles.
* Second: Horse is asked to carry more weight on the
hindquarters (develop collection), medium paces are
developed (trot). Horse is expected to have a greater degree
of straightness, bending, suppleness, and throughness, as
well as self-carriage. Counter-canter is introduced, as is
shoulder-in, haunches-in, turn on the haunches, and the
rein-back. 10-meter circles.
* Third: Horse should have consistent rhythm, suppleness,
throughness, impulsion, straightness, and collection in each
movement, while remaining on the bit and accepting of the
aids. Introduces the half-pass at the trot and canter,
single flying changes, and collected and extended paces are
* Fourth: Horse must have a high degree of suppleness,
impulsion, throughness, balance, and lightness. He should
always remain on-the-bit. Transitions should be smooth and
precise, movements should be straight and energetic with
great cadence. Introduces 8-meter circles, counterchange of
hands in half-pass (zig-zags), three-tempi changes. Full
walk pirouettes, and quarter and half pirouettes at the
FEI Dressage Tests
* PSG (Prix Saint Georges): Requiring high degree of
collection by horse, and refinement of aids by rider.
Introduces 5 flying changes of leg every 3rd stride.
* I-1 and I-2 (Intermediate 1 and 2): Fairly advanced, both
are used as a stepping stone to help the horse reach the
Grand Prix level. I-2 is more advanced than I-1, preparing
the horse for Grand Prix, and introduces piaffe, passage and
one- and two-tempi changes.
* Grand Prix: The highest level of dressage, requiring a
very advanced horse. Includes: Stationary piaffe for 12-15
steps, trasitions from passage - extended trot - passage,
and 15 flying changes of leg every stride.
In Britain, the tests are:
* Preliminary - walk/trot
* Novice - similar to first level USDF tests
* Elementary - similar to second level USDF tests
* Medium - similar to third level USDF tests
* Advanced - similar to fourth level USDF tests
In the United States, equitation classes are also given in
dressage. They judge the rider, as opposed to the horse,
focusing on the position and effectiveness of the
The dressage tests performed at the Olympic Games, which
were accepted as sport in 1912, are those of the highest
level-Grand Prix. This level of test demands the most skill
and concentration from both horse and rider.
Gaits and movements performed at this level include
collected and extended walk, trot, and canter; trot and
canter half-pass (a movement where the horse travels on a
diagonal line keeping its body almost parallel with the
arena wall while making both forward and sideways steps in
each stride); passage (a slow-motion trot); piaffe (an
approach to "trot in place"); one and two tempi changes
(where the horse changes from one lead to the other in the
canter, when all four legs are in the air); canter
"zigzags"; and pirouettes (a 360-degree circle that is
almost in place).
Rider preforming the passage. Note the great collection of
the horse, and the limbs that are positioned to advance the
Tests ridden at the Olympic Games are scored by a panel of
five international judges. Each movement in each test
receives a numeric score and the resulting final score is
then converted into a percentage, which is carried out to
three decimal points. The higher the percentage, the higher
Olympic team medals are won by the teams with the highest,
second highest, and third highest total percentage from
their best three rides in the Grand Prix test.
Once the team medals are determined, horses and riders
compete for individual medals. The team competition serves
as the first individual qualifier, in that the top 25
horse/rider combinations from the Grand Prix test move on to
the next round. The second individual qualifier is the Grand
Prix Special test, which consists of Grand Prix movements
arranged in a different pattern. For those 25 riders, the
scores from the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special are
then combined and the resulting top 15 horse/rider
combinations move on to the individual medal competition-the
crowd-pleasing Grand Prix Freestyle.
For their freestyles, riders and horses perform specially
choreographed patterns to music. At this level, the
freestyle tests may contain all the Grand Prix movements, as
well as double canter pirouettes, pirouettes in piaffe, and
half-pass in passage. For the freestyle, judges award
technical marks for the various movements, as well as
artistic marks. In the case of a tie, the ride with the
higher artistic marks wins. 
Apart from competition, there is a tradition of Classical
Dressage, in which purists pursue the tradition of dressage
as an art form, for its own joy and beauty. Dressage is also
a part of the Portuguese and Spanish bullfighting
exhibitions. The traditions of the Old Masters who
originated Dressage are kept alive by the Spanish Riding
School in Vienna, Austria and the Cadre Noir in Saumur,
Breeds commonly used for competitive dressage are normally
in the warmblood category, as these breeds have the
vigorous, extended movement and strength necessary for the
sport. However, Dressage is an egalitarian sport in which
all breeds are given an opportunity to compete successfully.
Iberian horses such as the Andalusian, Lusitano and
Lipizzaner are particularly popular among practitioners of
classical dressage. These breeds excel in the collected
movements of classical dressage.
The Training Scale
The dressage training scale is arranged in a pyramid
fashion, with “rhythm and regularity” at the bottom of the
pyramid and “collection” at the top. The training scale is
used as a guide for the training of the dressage horse (or
any horse, for that matter). Despite its appearance, the
training scale is not meant to be a rigid format. Instead,
each level is built on as the horse progresses in his
training: so a Grand Prix horse would work on the refinement
of the bottom levels of the pyramid, instead of focusing on
only the highest level: “collection.” The levels are also
interconnected. For example, a crooked horse is unable to
develop impulsion, and a horse that is not relaxed will be
less likely to travel with a rhythmic gait.
Rhythm and Regularity (Takt)
Both rhythm and regularity should be the same on straight
and bending lines, through lateral work, and through
transitions. Rhythm refers to the sequence of the footfalls,
which should only include the pure walk, pure trot, and pure
canter. The regularity, or purity, of the gait includes the
evenness and levelness of the stride.
The second level of the pyramid is relaxation (looseness).
Signs of looseness in the horse may be seen by an even
stride that is swinging through the back and causing the
tail to swing like a pendulum, looseness at the poll, a soft
chewing of the bit, and a relaxed blowing through the nose.
The horse will make smooth transitions, be easy to position
from side to side, and will willingly reach down into the
contact as the reins are lengthened.
Contact—the third level of the pyramid—is the result of the
horse’s pushing power, and should never be achieved by the
pulling of the rider’s hands. The rider drives the horse
into soft hands that allow the horse to come up into the
bridle, and should always follow the natural motion of the
animal’s head. The horse should have equal contact in both
The pushing power (thrust) of the horse is called
“impulsion,” and is the fourth level of the training
pyramid. Impulsion is created by storing the energy of
engagement (the forward reaching of the hind legs under the
body). It is a result of:
* Correct driving aids of the rider
* Relaxation of the horse
The flow of energy through the horse from front to back and
back to front. The musculature of the horse is connected,
supple, elastic, and unblocked, and the rider’s aids go
freely through the horse. Impulsion only occurs in the trot
and canter—not the walk—because it is associated with the
moment of suspension found in these two gaits.
A horse is straight when his hind legs follow the path of
his front legs, on both straight lines and on bending lines,
and his body is parallel to the line of travel. Straightness
causes the horse to channel his impulsion directly toward
his center of balance, and allows the rider’s hand aids to
have a connection to the hind end.
At the apex of the training scale, collection may be used
occasionally to supplement less vigorous work, but is only
focused on (through the collected gaits and more difficult
movements, such as flying changes) in more advanced horses.
Collection requires greater muscular strength, so must be
When a horse collects, he naturally takes more of his weight
onto his hindquarters. The joints of the hind limbs have
greater flexion, allowing the horse to lower his
hindquarters, bring his hind legs further under his body,
and lighten the forehand. A collected horse is able to move
more freely. When collected, the stride length should
shorten, and increase in energy and activity.
Airs above the ground
These are a series of higher-level dressage maneuvers where
the horse leaps above the ground. These include the
capriole, courbette, croupade, and levade. None are
typically seen in modern competitive dressage, but are
performed by horses of various riding academies, including
the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and the Cadre Noir in
In the capriole, the horse jumps from a raised position of
the forehand straight up into the air, kicks out with the
hind legs, and lands more or less on all four legs at the
same time. It requires an enormously powerful horse to
In the courbette, the horse raises his forehand off the
ground, tucks up his forelegs evenly, and then jumps
forward, never allowing the forelegs to touch down, in a
series of "hops". Extremely strong and talented horses can
perform five or more leaps forward before having to touch
down with the forelegs. It is more usual to see a series of
three or four leaps.
In the levade, the horse rises on his haunches to an angle
of approximately 35 degrees from the ground, with both
forelegs tucked up evenly, and balances in that position. At
the beginning of the movement, the hind feet come under the
horse's center of gravity with the hocks coming lower to the
ground, so that the horse appears to sink down in back and
rise in front. The position is held for a number of seconds,
and then the horse quietly puts the forelegs back on the
ground and proceeds at the walk, or stands at the halt. The
purpose of the levade was to raise the rider out of reach of
an enemy's sword. It is also a transition movement between
work on the ground and the airs above the ground, and it
requires enormous strength of the horse — not many horses
are capable of a good quality levade.
The croupade is similar to the capriole, but the horse does
not kick out at the height of elevation, but keeps his hind
legs tucked tightly under.
The ballotade is similar to the croupade, but the horse's
hind hooves are positioned so one can see its shoes if
watching from behind. It appears as if the horse is ready to
kick. The back of the horse is almost parallel to the
ground. This is a transition movement to the more difficult
In the mezair, the horse rears up and strikes out with its
forelegs. It is similar to a series of levades with a
forward motion (not in place), with the horse gradually
bringing its legs further under himself in each successive
movement and lightly touching the ground with his front legs
before pushing up again.
Dressage horses are shown in minimal tack. They are not
permitted to wear boots (including hoof boots) or wraps
(including tail bandages) in competition, nor are they
allowed to wear martingales or training devices. Due to the
formality of dressage, tack is usually black, although dark
brown is seen from time to time.
An English-style saddle is the preferred piece of tack for
riding dressage. It is designed with a long and straight
saddle flap, mirroring the leg of the dressage rider, which
is long with a slight bend in the knee. The dressage saddle
usually has a deeper seat than a jumping saddle, to help
hold the rider in a deep seat. However, many dressage
masters shun the deep seat, believing that a rider should
not need the saddle to help them stay in place. The saddle
is usually placed over a square, white saddle pad. A
dressage saddle is required in FEI classes.
At the lower levels of dressage, a bridle should use a plain
cavesson, drop noseband, or flash noseband. As of 2006, drop
nosebands are relatively uncommon, with the flash more
common. At the higher levels, the flash and drop are not
used, and a plain cavesson or a crank noseband is permitted.
The dressage horse is only permitted to use a mild snaffle
bit, and the rules regarding bitting vary from organization
to organization. The loose-ring snaffle with a mild single-
or double-joint is most commonly seen. Upper level dressage
horses are ridden in a double bridle, using both a mild
bradoon and a stronger curb bit.
Turn-out of the dressage horse
Dressage horses are turned out to a very high standard, as
competitive dressage is descended from royal presentations
in Europe. It is traditional for horses to have their mane
braided. In eventing, the mane is always braided on the
right. In competitive dressage, however, it is occasionally
braided on the left, should it naturally fall there. Braids
vary in size depending on the conformation of the horse, but
Europeans tend to put in fewer, larger braids, while horses
in the United States usually have more braids per horse
(possibly from the influence of hunter-style riding in the
country). Braids are occasionally accented in white tape,
which also helps them stay in throughout the day. The
forelock may be left unbraided; this style is most commonly
seen on stallions. Horses are not permitted to have bangles,
ribbons, or other decorations in their mane or tail. Tail
extensions are permitted in the United States.
The tail is usually not braided (although it is permitted),
because it may cause the horse to carry the tail stiffly.
Because the tail is an extension of the animal's back, a
supple tail is desirable as it shows the horse is supple
through his back. The tail should be "banged," or cut
straight across (usually above the fetlocks but below the
hocks when held at the point where the horse naturally
carries it). The dock is pulled or trimmed to shape it and
give the horse a cleaner appearance.
Excellent dressage turn-out, with braided mane, banged and
pulled tail, trimmed legs and polished hooves. Rider wears a
shadbelly and top hat, with white gloves, tall boots, and
The bridle path is clipped or pulled, usually only 1-2
inches. The animal may or may not be trimmed. American
stables almost always trim the muzzle, face, ears, and legs,
while European stables do not have such a strict tradition,
and may leave different parts untrimmed.
Hoof polish is usually applied before the horse enters the
arena. The horse should be incredibly clean, with a bathed
coat and sparkling white markings. Foam should not be
cleaned off the horse's mouth before he enters the arena.
Quarter marks are sometimes seen, especially in the dressage
phase of eventing however they are not currently in style
for competitive dressage.
The rider's clothing
Dressage riders, like their horses, are dressed for
formality. In competition, they wear white breeches, that
are usually full-seat to help them "stick" in the saddle,
with a belt, and a white shirt and stock tie with a gold
pin. Gloves are usually white, although less-experienced
riders or those at the lower levels often opt for black, as
their hand movement will not be as noticeable. The coat worn
is usually solid black, although solid navy is also
occasionally seen. For upper-level classes, the rider should
use a shadbelly, rather than a plain dressage coat.
Riders usually wear tall dress boots, although field boots
may be worn at the lower levels. Spurs are required to be
worn at the upper-levels. If the dressage rider has long
hair, it is typically worn in a hair net. Lower-level riders
may use a hunt cap, or helmet with a safety harness.
Upper-level riders are required to wear a more formal top
hat, matching their coat.
Show jumping or "jumpers" is a member of a family of
English-discipline equestrian events that includes hunters
and equitation. Events that include these sports are called
hunter/jumper horse shows.
Jumping courses are held over a course of show jumping
obstacles, including verticals, spreads, double and triple
combinations, and many turns and changes of direction. The
more professional the class, such as a Grade A class, the
more technical the strides between each fence becomes. For
example they would make a related combination with the
normal horse canter stride of six strides between each fence
and change it to six and a half strides to make it more
complicated for the rider. The purpose is to jump cleanly
over a twisting course within an allotted time; jumping
faults are incurred for knockdowns only (as compared to
ticks), disobedience, and time faults for exceeding time
allowance. Tied entries jump over a raised and shortened
course; if entries are tied in the jump-off, the fastest
time wins. Riders walk both course and the jump-off course
before competition, to plan their ride.
Jumper courses are highly technical, requiring boldness,
scope, power, accuracy, and control; speed is also a factor,
especially in jump-off course and speed classes (in which
time counts in the first round). A jumper must jump big,
bravely, and fast, but he must also be careful and accurate
to avoid knockdowns, and must be balanced and rideable in
order to rate and turn accurately. A jumper rider must ride
the best line to each fence, saving ground with well-planned
turns and lines, and must adjust his horse's stride for each
fence and distance, while avoiding knockdowns. In a jumpoff,
he must balance the need to go as fast as possible and turn
as tight as he can, against his horse's ability to jump
The horses are allowed a certain number of refusals to take
a jump or other obstacle, but fault points are added to
their score for each one. Until recently, it was 3 faults,
but was changed to 4 faults by the FEI (Federation
Equestrian International) as it was decided that it is
better for the horse to attempt the jump rather than to
refuse it and should therefore not be penalized less for a
more severe fault. If they take more than the time allowed
for the course, they earn one fourth fault for each extra
second. For every pole that is knocked down, four faults are
The final rankings are based on the lowest number of points
accumulated. In case of a draw, the horse with the fastest
time ranks higher.
Grand Prix show jumping
Show jumping is a relatively new equestrian sport. Until the
Enclosures Acts which came into force in England in the
eighteenth century there had been no need for a horse to
jump fences as there had been none. But with this act of
parliament came new challenges for those followers of fox
hounds. The enclosures act brought fencing and boundaries to
many parts of the country as common ground was dispersed
amongst the wealthy landowners. This meant that those
wishing to pursue their sport now needed horses which were
capable of jumping these obstacles.
In the early shows held in France there was a parade of
competitors who then took off across country for the
jumping. This sport was, however, not popular with
spectators as they could not watch the jumping. Soon after
the introduction of these parades fences began to appear in
the arena. This became known as ‘Lepping’. Fifteen years
later, ‘Lepping’ competitions were brought to Britain and by
1900 most of the more important shows had ‘Lepping’ classes
although they rarely attracted more than 20 competitors. The
ladies, riding side-saddle, had their own classes.
At this time, the principal cavalry schools of Europe at
Pinerolo and Tor-di-Quinto in Italy, the French school in
Saumur and the Spanish school in Vienna preferred to use a
backward seat when jumping for safety purposes with long
length stirrups. The Italian Instructor Captain Fiederico
Caprilli heavily influenced the forward seat with his ideas
that the forward position would not impede the balance of
the horse negotiating obstacles. It is this latter style
which is commonly used today.
The first big showjumping class to be held in England was in
the Horse of the Year Show at Olympia in 1907. Most of the
competitors were servicemen and it became clear at this
competition and in the subsequent years that there was no
uniformity of rules for the sport. Judges marked on their
own opinions. Some marked according to the severity of the
obstacle and others marked according to style. Before 1907
there were no penalties for a refusal and the competitor was
sometimes asked to miss the fence to please the spectators.
The first courses were built with little imagination; many
consisting of only a straight bar fence and a water jump. A
meeting was arranged in 1923 to rectify it and this led to
the formation of the BSJA in 1925.
Show jumping events
* CHIO Aachen
* The British Open Show Jumping Championships
* Horse of the Year Show
Show Jumping Jumps
A jump that consists of poles right above each other with no
spread, or width, to jump.
Basically two verticals close together, to make the jump
wider. Also called a spread.
* Square Oxer: Both top poles are of an equal height.
* Ascending Oxer: The furthest pole is higher than the
* Descending Oxer: The furthest pole is lower than the
Three bars across, making a wide spread.
This type of jump is usually made to look like a brick wall,
but the "bricks" and constructed of a lightweight material
and fall easily when knocked.
A type of jump where the tallest pole is in the center.
This is not a type of fence but is a solid part below the
poles, such as flower boxes or a rolltop. It can alse be a
Any number of jumps in a row, with a certain number of
strides in between.
Four jumps stratigiclly placed in a row
Eventing is an equestrian event which comprises dressage,
cross-country and show-jumping. This event has its roots as
a comprehensive cavalry test requiring mastery of several
types of riding. It has two main formats, the one day event
(1DE) and the three day event (3DE). It has previously been
known as The Military, Horse Trials, and Combined Training.
The International governing body of the sport is the
Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI).
Individual countries have their own national governing
The United States Eventing Association (USEA), formerly the
British Eventing (BE), formerly BHTA, the British Horse
The Equestrian Federation of Australia (EFA).
Eventing is commonly seen as an equestrian triathlon, in
that it combines different disciplines in one competition.
The dressage phase (held first) comprises an exact sequence
of movements ridden in an enclosed arena (usually 20 x 40
meters). The test is judged by one or more judges who are
looking for balance, rhythm and suppleness and most
importantly, obedience of the horse and its harmony with the
rider. The challenge is to demonstrate that a supremely fit
horse, capable of completing the cross country phase on
time, also has the training to perform in a relaxed and
At the highest level of competition, the dressage test may
ask for half-pass, shoulder-in, haunches-in, collected,
medium and extended gaits, flying changes, and
counter-canter. The tests may not ask for Grand Prix
movements such as piaffe or passage.
Each movement in the test is scored on a scale from 0 to 10,
with a score of "10" being the highest possible mark.
Therefore, if one movement is executed terribly, it is still
possible for a rider to get a good score if he reorganizes
and does well in the following movements. The good marks are
added together, minus any errors on course, and rounded to
two decimal digits. The scores of all the judges (if more
than one judge is present) are averaged to two decimal
points. To convert this score to penalty points, the average
is subtracted from 100 and the final figure is multiplied by
All four feet of the horse exit the arena during the test:
The horse resists more than 20 seconds during the test:
Errors on course:
* 1st Error = minus 2 marks
* 2nd Error = minus 4 marks
* 3rd Error = elimination
The next phase, cross-country, requires both horse and rider
to be in excellent shape and to be brave and trusting of
each other. This phase consists of approximately 12-20
fences (lower levels), 30-40 at the higher levels, placed on
a long outdoor circuit. These fences consist of very solidly
built natural objects (telephone poles, stone walls, etc.)
as well as various obstacles such as ponds and streams,
ditches, drops and banks - based on objects that would
commonly occur in the countryside. This phase is timed, with
the rider required to cross the finish line within a certain
time frame (optimum time). Crossing the finish line after
the allowed time results in penalties for each second late.
At lower levels, there is a speed fault time, incuring
penalties for horse and rider pairs completing the course
too quickly. Penalties are also incurred if the horse
refuses to jump a fence or if the rider falls off. The
penalties for disobendiences on cross country are weighted
severely relative to the other phases of competition to
emphasize the importance of courage, endurance and
athleticism. Fitness is required as the time allowed will
require a strong canter at the lower levels, all the way to
a strong gallop at the higher events.
Horse trials, which may be held over one or two days, have
only one phase of cross country. If the trial is held over
the course of two days, dressage and show jumping are
usually held the first day, with cross country on the
Recent years has seen the controversy of short and long
format three day events. Traditionally, three day events had
dressage, endurance and show jumping. Endurance day consists
of 4 Phases, A, B, C and D. Phase A and C are roads and
tracks, with A being a medium paced warm up to prepare the
horse and rider for Phase B, a steeplechase format at an
extremely fast pace over steeplechase-style fences. Phase C
is a slow paced cool down coming off of Phase B, in
preparation for the toughest and most demanding phase, D, or
Cross Country. Before embarking on Phase D, in the
"ten-minute box," horses must be approved to continue by a
vet who monitors their temperature and heartrate, ensuring
that the horse is sound and fit.
Three day events are now offered in traditional format, with
endurance day, or short-format, with no Steeplechasing
(Phase B). Short format offers a shortened roads and tracks
phase as a warm up for cross country. The 2004 Olympic
Summer Games in Athens, Greece chose the short format, due
to lack of facilities, time and financing, which sparked a
large debate in the eventing community whether to keep
Steeplechase or just offer Cross Country. International
competitions offering the traditional format are rated in
level by stars, with one being the lowest level, and four
being the highest. CCI* is an international three day event
offering Phases A-D at a relatively low level, where CIC***
would be an international three day event not offering
* Refusal, run-out, or circle at an obstacle: 20 penalties
* Second Refusal, run-out, circle at the same obstacle: 40
* Third Refusal, run-out, circle at the same obstacle:
* Fifth Refusal, run-out, circle on the entire Cross-Country
* First fall of rider: 65 penalties
* Second fall of rider: Elimination
* Fall of horse (shoulder touches the ground): Mandatory
* Exceeding Optimum Time: 0.4 penalties per second
* Coming in under Speed Fault Time: 0.4 penalties per second
* Exceeding the Time Limit (twice the optimum time):
* Competing with improper saddlery: Elimination
* Jumping without without headgear or a properly fastened
* Error of course not rectified: Elimination
* Omission of obstacle: Elimination
* Jumping an obstacle in the wrong order: Elimination
* Jumping an obstacle in the wrong direction: Elimination
* Retaking an obstacle already jumped: Elimination
See also: Cross-country equestrianism, Indoor cross-country.
Before the last phase, horses are inspected by a vet to
ensure that they have not incurred any injuries as a result
of their exertions on the previous day. It is usually a very
formal affair, with the horses braided and well-groomed, and
the riders dressing up. It is also a very nerve-racking
time, as the "pass" or "fail" determines whether the horse
may continue on to the final phase.
The last phase, showjumping, tests the technical jumping
skills of the horse and rider, including the suppleness,
obedience, finess, and athleticism, as well as their
fitness. In this phase, 12-20 fences are set up in a ring.
These fences are typically brightly colored and consist of
elements that can be knocked down, unlike cross country
obstacles. If the horse and rider are not in adequate shape
or do not have the technical skill, then they will knock
down the poles, incurring penalties. This phase is also
timed, with penalties being given for every second over the
required time. In addition to normal jumping skills,
eventing show jumping tests the fitness and stamina of the
horse and rider, generally being held after the cross
* Knocking down an obstacle: 4 penalties
* First Disobedience (refusal, run-out, circle): 4 penalties
* Second Disobedience in the whole test: 8 penalties
* Third Disobedience in the whole test: Elimination
* First Fall of rider: 8 Penalties
* Second Fall of rider: Elimination
* Fall of horse: Mandatory Retirement
* Exceeding the time allowed: 1 penalty per second
* Jumping an obstacle in the wrong order: Elimination
* Error of course not rectified: Elimination
The winner is the horse and rider with the fewest penalties.
Ribbons and prizes are usually presented while mounted,
before the placegetters take a lap of honour around the
The History of the Three Day Event
First called the "Militaire," the Three Day Event has its
roots as a test for horses used as cavalry mounts. The
predecessor to eventing originally began as a form of
endurance riding, without jumping or galloping. Such
competitions included a ride in 1892, travelling a 360 mile
distance from Berlin to Vienna (the winner completed the
ride in 71 hours and 26 minutes). However, these competions
did little to prepare horses and riders for actual combat,
and so around the end of the 1800's, the French began raids
militaires, which was the true forerunner to the three-day
Eventing competition that resembles the current three-day
were first held in 1902, but were not introduced into the
Olympic Games until 1912. The dressage originally
demonstrated the horse's ability to perform on the parade
ground, where elegance and obedience were key. Cross-country
began as a test of stamina, courage, and bravery over
difficult terrain, important for a charger on long marches
or if the horse was asked to carry a dispatch across
country. The stadium jumping phase sought to prove the
horse's continuing soundness and fitness after the difficult
The Olympic eventing competition was originally open only to
military officers in active duty, mounted only on military
charges. In 1924, the event was open to male civilians,
although non-commissioned Army officers could not
participate in the Olympics until 1956. Women were first
allowed to take part in 1964.
The original format, used in the 1912 Olympics, was spread
over several days:
* Day 1: Endurance Test- 55 km (33 miles) of roads and
tracks (with a time allowed of 4 hours, giving a speed of
approx. 230 meters per mintue) immediately followed by 5 km
of a flagged cross-country course at a speed of 333 meters
per minute. Time penalties were given for exceeding the time
allowed, but no bonus points were given for being fast.
* Day 2: Rest Day
* Day 3: Steeplechase test of 3.5 km with 10 plain
obstacles, at a speed of 600 mpm, with time penalties but no
time bonus points
* Day 4: Jumping Test, which was consided easy by most of
* Day 5: Dressage Test
The Paris Games in 1924 introduced a format very similar to
the one of today: with Day 1 Dressage, Day 2 the Endurance
Test, and Day 3 the Jumping Test. The Endurance Test has
changed the most since that time. Originally, bonus points
could be earned for a fast ride cross-country (less than the
optimum time). This helped competitors make up for a poor
dressage ride, with a clean, fast cross-country ride. This
system, however, was dropped in 1971. The format for the
endurace test occurred as below:
* Phase A: Short roads and tracks (with 5 penalties per 5
seconds over time)
* Phase B: Steeplechase, decreased in speed from 600 mpm to
550 mpm (with 10 penalties added per 5 seconds over the
time, 3 bonus points per 5 seconds under time)
* Phase C: Long roads and tracks (with 5 penalties per 5
seconds over time) Compulsory Halt (now the 10-minulte halt)
* Phase D: Cross-country (with 10 penalties added per 5
seconds over the time, 3 bonus points per 10 seconds under
* Phase E: 1 1/4 mile run on the flat (with 5 penalties per
5 seconds over time).
(Note: Phase E was abolished in 1967.)
In 1963, the 10 minute halt was introduced, to occur after
the completion of phases A, B, and C. It took place in a
marked out area (the 10-minute box), where the horse was
checked by two judges and one veterinary official who would
make sure the horse was fit to contiune onto phase D. If he
was unfit, the panel would pull the horse from the
The "modified" or "short format" (see below) is today the
norm for international competition, with the Badminton Horse
Trials and Burghley Horse Trials running their last "long
format" three-day in 2005. The fate of the Rolex Kentucky
Three Day is still being discussed. However, all
Championship and Olympic Events will be held short format,
without phases A, B, or C.
Penalty point system
In 1971, the penalty point system was first used. This
system converts the dressage score and all jump penalties on
cross-country and show jumping into penalty points, with the
horse and rider with the fewest number of points winning the
event. Different weight is given for each phase, with the
cross-country — the heart of eventing — being the most
important, followed by the dressage, and then the show
jumping. The intended ratio of cross-country:dressage:show
jumping is theoretically 12:3:1. Therefore, an error in
cross-country counts heavily. This prevents horses that are
simply good in dressage (for example) from winning the event
with a poor cross-country test.
In 1971, the following penalty system was instituted:
* Phase A and C: 1 penalty per second over the optimum time
* Phase B: 0.8 penalties per second over
* Phase D: 0.4 penalties per second over
In 1977, the dressage scoring was changed, with each
movement marked out of ten rather than out of six. This
increased the maximum number of dressage marks from 144 to
240. This number later increased to 250 marks in 1998, after
additional movements were added. To keep the correct weight,
a formula is used to convert good marks in dressage to
penalty points. First, the marks of the judges (if there is
more than one) are averaged. Then the good marks are
subtracted by the maximum number possible. This number is
then multiplied by 0.6 to find the final penalty score.
Show jumping rules were also changed in 1977, with a
knock-down or a foot in the water costing only 5 penalties
rather than ten. This prevented the show jumping phase from
carrying too much weight, again, to keep the ratio between
the phases correct.
In its early days, the sport was most popular in Britain,
and the British gave the competition a new name, the
"Three-Day Event," due to the three day time span of the
competition. In America, the sport was called "combined
training," due to the three different disciplines and types
of training methods needed for the horse.
The first annual, Olympic-level event developed was the
Badminton Horse Trials, held each year in England. First
held in 1949, Badminton was created after a poor performance
by the British Eventing Team at the 1948 Olympic Games, with
the purpose of being a high-class preparation event, and as
extra exposure for the military horses, who very rarely had
the chance to compete. At first, only allowed British riders
to compete (although women were allowed, despite being
banned at this time to ride in the Olympics), but the
competition is now open to all. To this day, Badminton is
one of the most prestegious competitions to win in the
The second three-day competition to be held at Olympic level
each year was the Burghley Horse Trials, first held in 1961.
Burghley is longest running international event. The first
CCI held outside of Britain on an annual basis was the Rolex
Kentucky Three Day, held each year in Lexington since 1978.
Since the first few events, course design has become
increasingly more focused on the safety of the horse and
rider. Fences are built more solidly than in the earlier
days, encouraging a bold jump from the horse, which actually
helps prevent falls. The layout of the course and the build
of the obstacles encourage the greatest success from the
horse. Safety measures such as filling in the area between
corners on cross-country or rails of a fence help prevent
the entrapment of the legs of the horse, decreasing the
number of serious falls or injuries.
The newest improvement in cross-country safety is the
frangable fence, which uses a pin to hold the log of an
obstacle up. Should a horse hit the obstacle, the pin would
break, and the obstacle would simply fall to the ground.
This technique helps to prevent the most dangerous situation
on cross-country: when the horse hits a solid fence between
the forearm and chest, and somersaults over, sometimes
falling on the rider (this fall has indeed caused the death
of several riders, as well as horses). Leg protection for
horses has also improved. Very little was used in the early
days, even on cross-country. However, it is now seen on
every horse and almost every level. Rules protecting riders
have improved as well. Riders are now required to wear a
safety vest (body protector) during cross-country, as well
as a showjumping hat with fastened harness when jumping.
From the beginning, event horses had to carry a minimum
weight of 165 lb (75 kg) (including rider and saddle) during
the endurance test. This rule was dropped in 1997.
Short vs. classic format
Recently, the phases A,B, and C have been excluded on
cross-country day from 3-day events. This is mainly due to
the fact that the Olympic Committee was considering dropping
the sport of eventing from the Olympics, due to the cost and
large area required for the speed and endurance phase with a
steeplechase course and several miles of roads-and-tracks.
To save the sport, the "short format" was developed by the
FEI, which excluded the phases A, B, and C on endurance day,
while retaining phase D. The last Olympic Games that
included the long, or "classic," 3-day format was the 2000
Summer Games in Sydney, where American David O'Connor won
the individual gold medal aboard 16 year old Custom Made.
The change in format has brought about controversy. Many
wanted the continuation of the classic format, believing it
was the "true test of horse and rider." Others believed the
classic format was superior because it taught horsemanship,
due to the extra preparation needed to condition the horse
and the care required after the several miles of endurance
day. However, some upper-level riders claim to prefer the
short format, as they believe it saves wear-and-tear on
their horses and allows the horse not only to compete in
more 3-days each season, but decreases the chance of injury
to the horse. Despite this purported belief, many upper
riders prepare their horses for the short format using the
same conditioning and training as for the long format, thus
undermining the basis for their rationale. Breeders of
heavier horses with more outcrosses than in the traditional
thoroughbred also have supported the short format, perhaps
as a way to showcase their breeding programs.
In the United States, one- and two-star level events usually
will offer "with steeplechase" (the classic format).
However, three-star events will now only offer the short
format. The Rolex Kentucky Three Day, the only four-star in
the United States, plans to alternate years between the
short format and the classic format. In Britain, however,
most plan to switch to the short format. This includes the 2
four-star 3-day events that are run in Britain, Badminton
and Burghley, which will begin running the short format in
International events have specific categories and levels of
competition. CCI (Concours Complet International, or
International Complete Contest) is one such category and
defines a three-day event that is open to competitors from
any foreign nation as well as the host nation.
* CCI : International Three-day event (Concours Complet
* CIC: International One-day event (Concours International
* CCIO: International Team Competitions (Concours Complet
International Officiel). Includes the Olympics, the World
Championships, the Pan Am Games, and other continental
The levels of international events are identified by the
number of stars next to the category; there are four levels
in total. A CCI* is for horses that are just being
introduced to international competition. A CCI** is geared
for horses that have some experience of international
competition. CCI*** is the advanced level of competition.
The very highest level of competition is the CCI****, and
with only five such competitions in the world (Badminton,
Burghley, Kentucky, Adelaide, and Luhmuhlen Horse Trials) it
is the ultimate aim of many riders. The Olympics and World
Championships are also considered CCI****.
One, two and three star competitions are roughly comparable
to the Novice, Intermediate and Advanced levels of British
domestic competition, respectively, and to the Preliminary,
Intermediate, and Advanced levels of American domestic
The Eventing Horse
Thoroughbreds and part-thoroughbreds usually dominate the
sport because of their stamina and athletic ability,
although many warmbloods and warmblood-thoroughbred crosses
excel. In the UK, Irish sport horses have been popular for
many years. In the lower levels, it is possible for any
breed, if well-trained and conditioned, to do well.
The horse should be calm and submissive for the dressage
phase, with good training on the flat. For cross-country,
the horse must be brave, athletic, and (especially at the
higher levels) fast with a good galloping stride and great
stamina. An event horse must be very rideable to succeed, as
a horse that will not listen to a rider on the cross-country
phase may end up taking a fall at a jump. The horse does not
have to possess perfect jumping form, but should be safe
over fences and have good scope. The best event horses are
careful over jumps, as those who are not tend to have
stadium rails knocked on the last day.
Three day events
* Adelaide Horse Trials: CCI****
* Saumur Three Day Event: CCI***
* Luhmuhlen Three Day Event: CCI****
* Badminton Horse Trials: CCI****
* Blenheim Horse Trials: CCI***
* Bramham Horse Trials: CCI***
* Burghley Horse Trials: CCI****
* Boekelo Three Day Event: CCI***
* Fair Hill Horse Trials: CCI***
* Radnor Horse Trials: CCI**
* Red Hills Horse Trial
* Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event : CCI****
Famous "Three-Day Eventers"
* Jan Thompson
* Beale Morris
* Phillip Dutton
* David O'Connor
* Karen O'Connor
* Adrienne Lorio-Borden
* Kimberly Severson
* Bruce Davidson
* Bruce "Buck" Davidson Jr.
* Will Faudree
* James C. Wofford
* Pippa Funnell
* Jil Walton
* Leslie Law
* William Fox-Pitt
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