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If you want to get involved with eventing, you’ve come to the right place. From understanding the three disciplines and rules to getting started at your first event and progressing through the levels, our beginner’s guide to the equestrian sport will explain all the key details you need to know.

Before you know it, you and your horse will have started on an incredibly rewarding journey that will only deepen the bond you share. In this guide, we’ll cover:

What is eventing?

Eventing is an equestrian sport that is made up of three stages: dressage, showjumping, and cross-country riding. Horses and riders must compete in each discipline, for which they are scored, with a combined score from all three areas used to determine the overall winner.

Many people compare eventing to the athletics triathlon, where skills across three areas must be mastered to be successful. A horse and rider combination must show they can work closely in tandem with rhythm and poise in dressage, have precision and timing in showjumping, and display bravery and endurance in cross-country. As they progress through the eventing levels, the challenge in each area increases, as does the standard of competition.

What is one-day and three-day eventing?

You’ve probably heard the terms one-day eventing (often ODE) and three-day eventing (3DE) before, as they’re used to describe the two types of competition in the sport. The names couldn’t really be simpler, as they refer to the length of each event.

One-day events take place over the course of one day. Typically, the dressage stage will be first on the schedule, followed by showjumping and then the cross-country phase.

Three-day events were traditionally held over three days, but it’s now more common for them to last four, with two days allowed for dressage due to entrant numbers. The running order is usually: dressage on days one and two, cross-country on day three, and showjumping on day four.

What is combined training?

Combined training is a similar equestrian sport to eventing, which typically features horses and riders competing in just two disciplines, typically dressage and showjumping. Many riders use this type of competition as training for events or when they’re easing into equestrian sport as a beginner.

It’s also worth noting that, in some horse-riding organisations, eventing is referred to as combined training, so it’s worth checking exactly what the event consists of before signing up.

Affiliated vs unaffiliated eventing

In the UK, events are either affiliated or unaffiliated.

Affiliated events are run by British Eventing, who are the official body for the sport. They benefit from standardised competition rules and levels, as well as impeccably high criteria for safety and regulation, though you do need to be a British Eventing member to enter them.

Unaffiliated events are organised independently and tend to be more focused on local and regional levels of competition. They often adopt British Eventing rules and regulations, but you may also find they have their own individual requirements. Horses and riders often compete at unaffiliated events as an introduction to the sport or to get practice between affiliated events.

Note: As affiliated events are standardised and the most recognised type of eventing in the UK, this guide will provide advice and information centred on the rules and levels of British Eventing.

British Eventing membership

If you wish to enter an affiliated event, you must first become a member of British Eventing. Additionally, any horse you are riding must be registered and have horse membership.

There are some general requirements that you and your horse must meet to apply for membership:

  • You must be in the year of your 12th birthday or older
  • Your horse must be at least five years old (unless entering specific four-year-old class)
  • To compete at the initial levels (BE80 and BE90), your horse must be at least 132cm (13 hands or 52 inches) tall

Choosing rider membership

There are a number of rider membership categories to choose from that will allow you to compete in affiliated events:

  • Full Rider Membership: A membership designed for riders wishing to compete all year round. You can enter an unlimited number of events in the eventing season (March to October) and receive priority entry at balloted events, as well as being able to register a horse in your own name. You will also get discounted training and tickets, free admission to events up to international level CC2, and special access at events.
  • Supporter Membership: A membership for riders looking to attend events and keep up with the sport, competing every now and again. You can enter up to four events each season by buying Day Passes, which are one-off event entry tickets (your horse will also need a Horse Day Pass). You also get some member benefits, like discounted training and tickets to top events, free admission to events up to international level CC2, and special access at events.
  • Day Pass Membership: A membership for riders who wish to ride occasionally, but don’t wish to have the same level of involvement as a Full Rider or Supporter. You are allowed to purchase up to four Rider Day Passes for events from BE80 up to Intermediate Novice level in a season (your horse will also need a Horse Day Pass). You receive fewer member benefits than with a Supporter Membership, but you still get discounts on training and tickets.

Check British Eventing’s membership types page for further details and go to their buy membership page to purchase your desired level of membership.

British eventing horse registration and membership

In addition to becoming a member yourself, the horse you’re riding must be registered with British Eventing and horse membership must be purchased.

Registering a horse

If you have Full Rider Membership, you can register a horse in your own name. However, if your horse is owned by someone else, they must hold British Eventing owner membership and register the horse in their name before it can enter events.

Horse registration is free and only needs to be done once. If you’re riding a horse that’s never been registered with British Eventing, the owner can do so by logging onto the horse registration portal. Should you be riding a horse that’s already registered in the past, the owner needs to log into My BE to purchase horse membership or a pass.

Should your horse have been registered in the past with a different owner and the new owner wants to purchase membership, they have to complete a change of ownership form.

Choosing horse membership

Once you’ve registered your horse or confirmed it has already been registered, you’ll need to decide what British Eventing horse membership you will need (or discuss this with the owner). There are a number of options available to suit your requirements:

  • Full Season Ticket: This horse membership ensures that your horse can enter competitions all through the year and has priority for balloted events. Only Full and Owner British Eventing members can purchase one of these tickets.
  • Part Season Ticket: This horse membership provides the same entry benefits as a Full Season Ticket but is only valid July to December. They can be purchased as early as May by a Full or Owner British Eventing member to allow early entries to be made for events in July.
  • Day Pass: A Day Pass provides one-off entry for a horse into an event at BE80 through to Intermediate Novice levels. At BE80 level, a Day Pass (and Rider Day Pass) will cover you for an entire event, even if it’s across multiple days. At BE90 level and above, a Day Pass (and Rider Day Pass) must be purchased for each day the event takes place. Unlimited Horse Day Passes can be purchased in a season, but only four Rider Day Passes can be purchased.

Visit British Eventing’s horse membership page for full details about each horse membership option.

When does the eventing season start?

In the UK, the British Eventing affiliated eventing season runs from March until October, with the fixtures revealed in advance of a new season. There’s also an indoor-based Winter Series that takes place in the winter months. You can find the latest fixtures on the British Eventing calendar.

What are the eventing disciplines?

If you’re going to compete at events, you will need to practise and master the three disciplines that make up each competition: dressage, showjumping, and cross-country. To help you get started, you will find an overview of each of these phases below.

Dressage

In the dressage phase of an event, you will need to perform a sequence of movements on your horse within an enclosed arena. At lower levels, these will be basic moves, such as walking, trotting, and cantering, while elite levels require actions like piaffe, passage, tempi changes, and canter pirouettes.

As each movement is completed, a panel of judges will award a score out of ten depending on how well it was performed. They are looking for you and your horse to show a high degree of balance, rhythm, suppleness, and co-operation.

Dressage is generally viewed as the cornerstone of equestrian sport. This is because the all the skills and movements are essential for mastering showjumping and cross-country, as is the high degree of co-operation you and your horse will develop.

For a more in-depth look at what will be required when competing in dressage, be sure to read our beginner’s guide to dressage.

Showjumping

When competing in the showjumping section of an event, you and your horse will have to jump over a series of fences without knocking them down and within a time limit. The course you have to tackle is arranged around an arena, where each jump needs to be cleared in a certain order.

Your ride around the course will be overseen by one or more judges, who will assign any penalties to you for fence knockdowns, disobedience from your horse, falling off the horse, or if you go over the time limit. The aim is to ride a clear round, with no penalties, but any you do pick up will be applied to your time when calculating an overall score.

This discipline requires teamwork between you and your horse. It will be a true test of your balance, poise, and horsemanship, as well as being an examination of your horse’s power, scope, athleticism speed, and carefulness. As you improve, you will be able to tackle higher and more complex fences.

You will need to demonstrate the control learned in dressage training while developing your horse’s jumping skills, which will also help you in the cross-country phase of the competition.

To find out more about this discipline, it’s worth reading our beginner’s guide to showjumping.

Cross-country

In the cross-country phase of the event, you and your horse will need to complete a ride around a longer course, complete with a variety of jumps and other obstacles. This discipline is designed to simulate countryside riding and is primarily a test of your and your horse’s endurance. Your horse will need to be fit enough to maintain the pace, and you must be able to stay focused for a long course.

The cross-county course must be completed within a time window that is neither too slow, where you have not maintained the pace, nor too fast, where you have dangerously overworked your horse. A time on either side will result in a penalty. There are also jumping penalties if your horse refuses, does not complete, or circles an obstacle.

As you progress through the levels of eventing, the cross-country course you will face will become more challenging. Not only will the course get longer and the obstacles more difficult, but the pace you’re expected to match will become more demanding. This will require you to build your horse’s conditioning and jumping ability, as well as improving your own technical riding and pacing skills.

Want to know more about this phase of eventing? Be sure to read our beginner’s guide to cross-country riding for detailed advice on getting started.

What are the eventing rules?

In the UK, affiliated eventing is overseen and regulated by British Eventing, who also decide upon the rules for the sport. Unaffiliated events can often have their own rules, but, usually, they don’t tend to stray too far from the standards set in affiliated competitions.

British Eventing compiles all of its eventing rules in its Member’s Handbook, which provides an in-depth breakdown and is updated each year. Generally, the organisation follows British Dressage and British Showjumping rules for dressage and showjumping (with a few exceptions) but has its own rules for cross-country.

How is eventing scored?

Eventing is scored using a penalty points system. The horse and rider with the lowest combined penalty points from dressage, showjumping, and cross-country disciplines is the winner.

While the showjumping and cross-country phases have penalty points in their scoring that can be used, a dressage score is a percentage. To get the penalty points for dressage, the percentage is subtracted from 100, and the result is rounded.

Here’s a quick example of a typical eventing score:

Dressage  The rider scored 65.67%. This is converted to penalty points (100-65.67=34.33).  34 penalty points
Cross-country  Two refusals at a single obstacle (first refusal 20 points, second refusal 40 points)  60 penalty points
Showjumping  A single fence knocked down  4 penalty points
   Total  98 penalty points

Once these penalties have been totalled, the British Eventing steward will apply any extra penalties required to the score. These are typically for other infractions, like unacceptable conduct (10 points) or dangerous riding (25 points). Then, the final totals are announced, and a winner is declared.

The rest of the riders are placed in the order of their penalty point scores and prize money is awarded (see the Member’s Handbook for details on how this is calculated).

What are the eventing levels?

Eventing is an equestrian sport that offers something for all stages of expertise, from beginner right through to Olympic standard. To help make things competitively balanced and offer a sense of true progression, British Eventing operates ten national levels that riders can work through as they improve. Events up and down the country host competitions for riders at different levels, so it is not unusual to see both novices and experts take to the field within hours of each other.

Each level has its own degree of difficulty that horse and rider will be expected to deal with as they improve. For example, more complex movements are required in advanced dressage, while the length and required pace of an advanced cross-country course will increase.

The British Eventing national levels are:

Level Difficulty of dressage test Max fence height for showjumping Max fence height for cross-country
BE80 BE80 85cm 80cm
BE90 BE90 95cm 90cm
BE100 BE100 105cm 100cm
BE100 Plus Novice 110cm 100cm
BE105 Novice 110cm 105cm
Novice Novice 115cm 110cm
Intermediate Novice Intermediate 120cm 110cm
Intermediate Intermediate 125cm 115cm
Advanced Intermediate Advanced 130cm 115cm
Advanced Advanced 130cm 120cm

Note: The BE100 Plus, Intermediate Novice, and Advanced Novice levels are intended to give riders a taste of the next level up without increasing the demands of the cross-country phase.

How do you progress through the levels?

To progress through the British Eventing levels, you must achieve Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MERs), which are the results a rider needs to get in order to qualify for the next tier.

At the national level, a single MER is awarded for getting the following result at an event:

  • Not more than 50 penalty points in dressage
  • Not more than 16 penalties in showjumping
  • Zero cross-country penalties and not more than 30 cross-country time penalties

While BE80 and BE90 require no MERs and can be entered at any point, from BE100 upwards, each full level requires a certain number of MERs at the level below for qualification.

  • BE100: Must have two MERs at BE90
  • BE100 Plus: Must have two MERs at BE90
  • BE105: Must have two MERs at BE100 or BE100 Plus
  • Novice: Must have three MERs at BE100, BE100 Plus, or BE105
  • Intermediate Novice: Must have three MERs at BE100, BE100 Plus, or BE105
  • Intermediate: Must have five MERs at Novice
  • Advanced Intermediate: Must have five MERs at Novice
  • Advanced: Must have five MERs at Intermediate

Note: Because BE100 Plus, Intermediate Novice, and Advanced Intermediate are intended as tasters to the next tier, they can be entered provided you qualify for your current level.

What are the eventing outfit and tack rules?

When you start eventing, it’s important to remember that each of the phases has requirements as to what type of outfit you need to wear and what tack your horse needs.

Broadly speaking, dressage is the discipline most focused on appearances, although riders and horses are immaculately turned out for showjumping, too. On the other hand, safety is the chief concern for cross-country, and you’re allowed more freedom in how you present yourself.

What to wear for eventing

Below, you will find a list of clothes and equipment that should be worn for each of the three phases at a British Eventing BE and Novice level competition.

Dressage outfits

  • Protective headwear (that meets the requirements in the rules) in black or dark blue
  • Riding jacket in a single conservative colour in muted tones — subtle pinstripes, coloured collars, and contrast piping are permitted
  • Tie or stock in plain colour
  • Riding gloves
  • Inflatable/air jackets are permitted
  • Spurs are optional but must be smooth metal, blunt, and incapable of injuring the horse
  • Whips are not allowed during the dressage phase

Plus either:

  • plain black boots, topped boots, or full-grain smooth black leather gaiters with matching boots, paired with white, buff, or fawn breeches; or
  • brown boots or brown leather gaiters with matching boots, paired with buff or brown breeches.

Note: Up to BE105, an under-16 rider can wear jodhpurs with jodhpur boots or plain black or brown half chaps with matching boots.

Showjumping outfits

  • Protective headwear (that meets the requirements in the rules) in black or dark blue
  • Riding jacket in a single conservative colour in muted tones — subtle pinstripes, coloured collars, and contrast piping are permitted
  • Tie or stock in plain colour
  • Riding gloves
  • Inflatable/air jackets are permitted
  • Spurs are optional but must be smooth metal, blunt, and incapable of injuring the horse
  • One whip of 75cm or less in length can be carried when jumping

Plus either:

  • plain black boots, topped boots, or full-grain smooth black leather gaiters with matching boots, paired with white, buff, or fawn breeches; or
  • brown boots or brown leather gaiters with matching boots, paired with buff or brown breeches.

Note: Up to BE105, an under-16 rider can wear jodhpurs with jodhpur boots or plain black or brown half chaps with matching boots.

Cross-country outfits

  • Jockey-style skull cap with no peak (only smooth, rounded protrusions at front no greater than 5mm are allowed) that meets the safety requirements in the rules
  • Body protectors need to be worn throughout the cross-country phase — must be British Equestrian Trade Association approved in 2009 or later and must not affect your balance or flexibility
  • Sweater or shirt, preferably with long sleeves
  • Plain white, buff, or fawn breeches
  • Your riding number must be attached and visible
  • Riding gloves
  • Inflatable/air jackets are permitted but must be worn over body protectors
  • Spurs are optional but must be smooth metal, blunt, and incapable of injuring the horse
  • One whip of 75cm or less in length can be carried when jumping
  • Plain black boots or full-grain smooth leather gaiters and matching boots

Note: Up to BE105, under-16 riders can wear jodhpurs with jodhpur boots or half chaps with boots.

Most riders choose their own bright colours and patterns for cross-country hats, tops, and body protectors, mainly to ensure they are visible to judges and riders on the expansive course. Read our tips for choosing your colours in our cross-country guide for beginners to get started.

What tack to choose for eventing

In this section, you will find a list of essential tack that can or can’t be used for each phase at British Eventing competitions. As a general rule, the BE rules generally follow the British Dressage rules with one or two modifications, so if there is an item of saddlery not specifically mentioned by either, it’s likely that it’s not allowed.

Dressage tack

  • Only a black, brown, grey, or navy saddle in an English or continental style with both a cantle and a pommel is allowed. A gel, memory foam, or sheepskin pad can be used as long as it is unobtrusive and matches the colour of the seat. Side saddles are not permitted.
  • Saddles without stirrup leathers and irons attached to the saddle conventionally cannot be used. Velcro straps from the girth to stirrup iron and stirrups that fix to the rider’s boots cannot be used without permission.
  • A bridle with a bit, browband, and noseband or a normal jumping bit must be used. Double bridles are allowed with a cavesson noseband only. Bridles must be black, brown, grey, or navy in colour. Discreet padding at noseband/poll is allowed but padding at the cheek or the front of noseband is not allowed.
  • A variety of bridoon and curved bits, as well as snaffles, are permitted. Check the rules for an illustrated guide to what these are.

Showjumping and cross-country tack

  • Only a black, brown, grey, or navy saddle in an English or continental style with both a cantle and a pommel is allowed. A gel, memory foam, or sheepskin pad can be used as long as it is unobtrusive and matches the colour of the seat. Side saddles are not permitted.
  • Saddles without stirrup leathers and irons attached to the saddle conventionally cannot be used. Velcro straps from the girth to stirrup iron and stirrups that fix to the rider’s boots cannot be used without permission.
  • Stirrup leathers must hang outside of the flap of the saddle.
  • A bridle with a bit, browband, and noseband or a normal jumping bit can be used. An American or continental gag, Pelham, hackmore, or any other bitless bridle can also be used. Double bridles are allowed with a cavesson noseband only. Bridles must be black, brown, grey, or navy in colour. Discreet padding at the noseband/poll is allowed but padding at the cheek or the front of the noseband is not allowed.
  • A variety of bridoon and curved bits, as well as snaffles, are permitted. Check the rules for an illustrated guide to what these are.
  • Curb reins that run through the rings of a running martingale must not be used.
  • Market Harboroughs cannot be used.

How to start eventing

Now that we’ve covered the essentials of what is involved in eventing, you can begin to think about starting on your new equestrian adventure. In this section, we’ll point you in the right direction for your next steps, including where to focus your training, finding an event to enter, and tips for the day of the event.

Where to focus your eventing training

As eventing is made up of three disciplines, you’ll need to get used to the basics of each one before you’ll be able to compete at the lowest BE80 level. However, it’s not advisable to tackle dressage, showjumping, and cross-country all at once — a more considered approach will work better.

1.     Start with dressage

Typically, eventing training starts with dressage, as this discipline helps to develop the rider’s control and mastery of the basics as well as improving co-operation with the horse. It’s also the easiest of the phases to practise, as no specialist equipment is necessary at the basic level. Your first foray into dressage will see you working on walking, trotting, and cantering, and shifting between each pace. You will also start to learn the scales of training that underpin everything in the discipline.

Find out more about beginning dressage training in our beginner’s guide to dressage. You may also wish to subscribe to Horse & Country, where you can find essential dressage masterclasses like the ones below, as well as a host of other equestrian content.

Improving or establishing the paces (i.e. walk, trot, canter)

2.     Move onto showjumping

When you are beginning to feel comfortable with the basics of dressage, it may be time to start your showjumping training by adding in some low-level fences. You’ll also need to begin working on your gridwork, which will help you build up your control and pace management skills. At the most basic BE80 level, fences won’t exceed 85cm, so this is the height you should be working towards.

You can find even more guidance on training in our beginner’s guide to showjumping. You can also subscribe to Horse & Country to access the fantastic showjumping masterclasses below.

 

Laura Kraut: Masterclass USA

Jay Halim: Masterclass Xtra

Harriet Nuttall: Masterclass

3.     Build to cross-country riding

Cross-country is the discipline that requires you to be proficient at both dressage and showjumping. It’s also the most difficult phase to replicate in training, thanks to the wide variety of obstacles you’ll experience and the sheer size of the course. Because of these factors, cross-country riding should be the last of the three discipline that you train for.

The biggest test of cross-country is going to be the endurance of both you and your horse. To be able to last the distance, your horse will have to undergo conditioning, which is training with the aim of increasing its overall fitness. This will involve the likes of interval exercises and hill work. Conditioning, coupled with the control learned in dressage and jumping skills gained when you train for showjumping, will form the basis of your cross-country preparation.

Take a look at our beginner’s guide to cross-country riding to get a more in-depth look at training for cross-country. You can also subscribe to Horse & Country to watch insightful masterclasses.

Watch the Eventing Masterclasses Box Set

Finding an event to enter

With your training going well, you can start to think about finding your first event to enter at BE80 level. Thankfully, British Eventing have made it very straightforward for their members to find and book onto affiliated events around the UK.

Once you’ve chosen what type of membership you wish to pursue for you and your horse, it’s simply a case of searching their event calendar and booking your spot. The listing should have information about the course, entries, competition levels, and the location, so you can ensure it’s right for you. If you spot a particular event in the future you want to aim for, it’s worth making a note in your diary as some popular competitions open for entries up to six weeks before they’re scheduled to take place.

It’s also worth noting that your introduction to competitive equestrian sports doesn’t need to be at a full affiliated competition. You can choose to focus on dressage at British Dressage events or showjumping at British Showjumping events if you wish. And, there is a whole range of unaffiliated events to try that are usually cheaper to enter and more low-key than their affiliated counterparts. There are also unaffiliated hunter trials if you want to get experience at competitive cross-country.

Tips for your first event

When your first event comes around, there are a few things that you need to remember. Take a look at the following tips to ensure you’re planning ahead:

  • Get there as early as possible each day: You should always arrive at the site nice and early. This will give you time to get used to the layout of the site on day one, and time to walk the jumping and cross-country courses on subsequent days. For single-day events, an early arrival will ensure you can walk the courses in plenty of time.
  • Remember your admin responsibilities: There are a few items of paperwork and admin you need to remember on the day of the event. Firstly, don’t forget your horse’s vaccination card and passport or your helmet, as they will need to be inspected on arrival. You will also need to pay your entry fee and collect your schedule, as well as picking up your number bib.
  • Learn your schedule: Once you get your hands on the timetable, be sure to memorise where you need to be at what time and get to grips with the layout of the event site. This way, you won’t find yourself pushed for time or lost.
  • Learn how to properly walk the course: Walking both the showjumping and cross-country courses is an essential part of your preparation as it will ensure you can plan ahead. Read our advice on walking the showjumping and cross-country courses to find out how to do this properly.
  • Warm up before riding: The collecting ring is the space adjacent to each arena where you and the other competitors await your turn. There is enough room for you to go through the motions with your horse and there will be a couple of jumps to get your horse warmed up ahead of your ride.
  • Watch the other riders: Spend some time watching more advanced riders to see how they perform and what you can do to improve like them. And, if your turn order allows it, spend a moment seeing where the riders in your class that go before you are failing to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes.

Eventing is the amazing combination of three top equestrian disciplines and the ultimate challenge for you and your horse. While it can be a long road mastering each one, it’s very much worth it. We hope this beginner’s guide to eventing has given you a good overview of what to expect. Be sure to check out our guides to dressage, showjumping, and cross-country too.

Here at Horse & Country, you will find a huge range of equestrian training and learning tutorials from top riders and coaches that will help you improve on your eventing journey. You’ll also find plenty of horse-themed entertainment for those days off, including sports coverage and reality and documentary programmes. Get access today by subscribing to our service.