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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
There are a number of rider membership categories to choose from that will allow you to compete in affiliated events:
In addition to becoming a member yourself, the horse you’re riding must be registered with British Eventing and horse membership must be purchased.
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.
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:
Visit British Eventing’s horse membership page for full details about each horse membership option.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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|
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Note: Up to BE105, an under-16 rider can wear jodhpurs with jodhpur boots or plain black or brown half chaps with matching boots.
Note: Up to BE105, an under-16 rider can wear jodhpurs with jodhpur boots or plain black or brown half chaps with 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.