What is Eventing? Guest Blogger Mary King Explains All!

By Mary King on 04 April 2017

The ultimate sporting test

Eventing, which is also known as Horse Trials, combines dressage, show jumping and cross country in one competition and is arguably the ultimate sporting test of horse and rider. Its history lies in the training of cavalry horses and horse and rider must demonstrate grace, control and correct training in dressage, speed, stamina and athleticism round a course of cross country fences and precision and power in show jumping. The competition is run on a cumulative penalty basis and the competitor with the least penalties at the end wins.

Photo courtesy of Liz Knowler © Liz Knowler 2017

Can I have a go?

Eventing is suitable for all ages but you do need to be a competent rider to give it a try. British Eventing (BE), the national governing body for the sport in the UK, runs different levels of competition around the country. British Riding Clubs (BRC) also runs Horse Trials and holds national championships every year.

You and your horse need to be capable, confident and safe jumping solid cross country fences of a minimum height of 80cm to begin eventing at the lowest, BE80 level. As your skills and ability continue to develop you can progress to BE90 and BE100. The most talented and dedicated riders may go on to ride at Novice, Intermediate and Advanced levels and International competitions which are graded as 1 star for novice up to 4 star for the world’s top events such as Badminton and Burghley. Competitions are usually run over one day (referred to as a one day event) at the lower levels and three or four days at the higher levels (always referred to as a three day event).

The eventing disciplines


The competition starts with a dressage test, usually in a grass arena. A set pattern of movements are ridden in walk, trot and canter and judged on balance, rhythm, suppleness, obedience and harmony shown between horse and rider.

Show jumping

In a one day event, show jumping follows the dressage but in a three day event show jumping is the last discipline of the competition and often makes for a nail-biting final in the arena. The objective is to cleanly jump a set course of fences within the allocated time. Penalties are incurred for knock downs, refusals and exceeding the time limit.

Cross country

The exhilarating cross country phase involves jumping a lengthy course of natural obstacles including an assortment of rails, ditches and water, over varying terrain, within an optimum time. Penalties are incurred for exceeding the optimum time or for stopping at an obstacle and riders are eliminated if they fall off.

Photo courtesy of Liz Knowler © Liz Knowler 2017

Did you know?

Eventing first became an Olympic sport in Sweden in 1912 when the Master of the Horse to the King Of Sweden devised the event to test Calvary officers’ chargers for their fitness and suitability.

Until 2005, the endurance section of a three day event had four phases: roads and tracks, steeplechase, roads and tracks and cross country, referred to as long format. Today only the cross country phase of this section is ridden, referred to as short format.



Mary King is one of the UK’s most accomplished and admired professional event riders. She has represented Great Britain at six Olympics from 1992 to 2012, winning team silver in 2004 and 2012 and team bronze in 2008. She has also won team gold at two World Equestrian Games and four team golds at the European Eventing Championships. Mary has a raft of individual medals including European Bronze in 1995 and European Silver in 2007. She is a four-time British Open Champion, won Badminton Horse Trials in 1992 and 2000, Burghley Horse Trials in 1996 and the Rolex Kentucky in 2011. Mary regularly competes on homebred horses, which always have the ‘King’ prefix. Mary’s daughter Emily is also a successful event rider.

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