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Eventing 101

What is eventing?

Eventing is best described as an equestrian triathlon. Each horse and rider pair must complete three tests: dressage, cross-country and show jumping. Ultimately, the horse and rider pair with the fewest penalty points after the three tests is the winner of the division.


These tests developed from the training regime of horses used in military combat up through World War I. War horses were required to be fit yet agile, obedient, brave and determined. As their usefulness in combat diminished with the development of mechanized tools of war, these highly trained and greatly respected horses became repurposed for competitions between nations during peaceful times. These competitions became known as Horse Trials, and the sport known as Eventing.


The three phases of the Horse Trial test the agility, versatility and preparedness of the horse and rider. Recognized horse trials have varying degrees of difficulty depending on the competitive level, which may range from Beginner Novice through Advanced in nationally recognized events, and CCI1* through CCI5* in internationally recognized competitions. National horse trials are governed by the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) and the US Eventing Association (USEA). International horse trials are sanctioned by the Fédération Equestré Internationale, or FEI. CCI is the acronym for Concourse Complete International.

Red Hills offers six levels of competition, Preliminary, Intermediate, and Advanced in national competition, and CCI2*-S, CCI3*-S, and CCI4*-S in international competition. CCI2*-S is parallel to the Preliminary division, but a bit more rigorous and demanding of the horse. CCI3* and Intermediate are parallel; and CCI4* and Advanced are parallel. The CCI5* designation is reserved for the most rigorous competitions, such as the Olympics, the World Equestrian Games, Badminton in England, and the Kentucky Three Day in Lexington, KY.

The Tests



The first phase of a Horse Trial is always dressage, a series of suppling and strengthening exercises performed in a flat, enclosed arena. “Dressage” comes from the French word meaning “training.” Dressage training develops the horse’s submission and responsiveness to the rider’s aids…his seat, legs and hands… and the horse’s strength and agility to perform the intricate movements that were required for cavalry exercises. The dressage ground work is the foundation upon which the two jumping phases are built, as it develops the strength and balance the horse must have for the rigors of the cross-country phase and the precision of show jumping. Dressage is always the first test of horse and rider, followed by the jumping phases. In a CCI-S competition, either jumping phase may follow dressage.

Penalty Points

During a Horse Trial, one or more judges score the execution of prescribed movements based upon the horse’s and rider’s demonstration of balance, rhythm, suppleness, and the horse’s obedience to the rider’s aids. Each movement is scored on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the lowest mark and 10 the highest and best.

The sum of these scores is combined with overall collective marks for gaits, impulsion, and submission of the horse, plus the rider’s performance, for a total score. That score is converted to a penalty score, which represents the possible number of points the pair was not able to earn in the dressage phase. Penalty points carry into the jumping phases. Ultimately, the horse and rider pair with the lowest number of penalty points wins the division.

How is dressage scored?

One or more judges placed strategically on the outside of the dressage arena evaluate a series of prescribed movements of the horse and rider. In addition to marks for the prescribed movements, the judge(s) will award four collective marks: for freedom and regularity of the paces; the impulsion of the horse; the submission of the horse; and the position and form of the rider. If the competitor commits an error in executing a movement, the judge(s) will assess penalty points for the errors. Errors are penalized according to the following scale:

1st time:  2 points

2nd time: 4 points

3rd time: Elimination

Dressage tests are designed to be appropriate for the level of competition.

  1. Each of the prescribed movements in a Dressage test is worth ten points. Each judge will award the competitor points based on the quality of the movement, from 0 to ten, with 10 being the highest score, for the execution of the each movement. The four collective marks will be scored.
  2. Each judge’s marks are totaled, then converted to a percentage of the maximum number of points possible in the test by dividing the total by 100, and rounding to two decimal places to obtain the percentage score from each judge. If there are more than one judge, the scores from all of the judges are averaged, again rounded to two decimal points.
  3. The percentage score is then subtracted from 100 to determine a competitor’s penalty score from the Dressage test.
  4. The number of penalty points will carry forward into the jumping phases.The lower the penalty score after Dressage, the better for a competitor moving into the jumping phases of the Event.

Please see the CCI4 Star (****) Test B, which the CCI4*-S Division will ride at Red Hills on March 12, 2021. This test was developed by a committee of Dressage professionals specifically for Eventing, and will remain one of two tests used in competition of the CCI4*-S level for several years.

You will see letters in the second column of the score sheet. These letters correspond to point in the dressage arena at which the prescribed movement must be executed. Accuracy of execution of the movement at the prescribed point heavily influences the score a competitor received from the judge(s).

The lower the penalty score after dressage, the better for a competitor moving into the jumping phases of the Event.



Cross-Country is the cornerstone of Eventing, and tests the speed, endurance, boldness and jumping ability of the horse over varied terrain and solid obstacles.

These obstacles may be large, solid fences as well as natural obstacles such as water, banks, ditches and drops. Cross-Country is ridden at a gallop with speed requirements dependent upon the level of difficulty of the division.

Penalty Points

Penalty points are awarded if a horse stops at an obstacle or runs past a jump. A refusal or a run out earns 20 penalty points. A second refusal or run out at the same fence earns an additional 40 points. A third results in elimination from competition. Speed is critical in Cross-Country. Penalty points are assessed for every second over the specified optimum time on the course but may also be assessed for excessive speed on the course.

How is cross-country scored?

The focus of the Cross-Country test is to prove the speed, endurance and jumping ability of the true Cross-Country horse when it is well trained and conditioned. At the same time, it demonstrates the competitor’s knowledge of pace and the use of his horse across country. The cross-country course presents big, fixed obstacles designed not to fall down, and is ridden at the gallop.

Riders are penalized 0.4 points per second they finish above the optimum time, which is calculated by dividing the specified distance by the specified speed, both of which depend on the division, or level of difficulty of the competition.  Riders must complete the course inside twice the optimum time in order to avoid elimination. The jumping penalties for the Cross-Country event are:

  1. 1st disobedience: 20 penalties
  2. 2nd disobedience: (at the same obstacle): 40 penalties
  3. 3rd disobedience on course: Elimination
  4. Fall of horse, rider, or both: Elimination

The perfect cross-country ride would incur no jumping faults or time penalties to be added to the Dressage score.

Cross-Country penalty points for the horse and rider are added to the penalty points from Dressage and Stadium Jumping to determine the competitor’s final score. The competitor with the lowest combined number of penalty points is the winner of the division of the event.

Stadium Jumping


The jumping phases always follow Dressage in Eventing. Stadium jumping tests the same horse and rider pair’s precision over a series of brightly painted fences made of lightweight rails that can easily be knocked down. Agility and precision at speed are the critical requirements of Stadium Jumping.

Penalty Points

Knocking a rail or having a refusal or run out costs four penalty points. Stadium Jumping is timed; every second over the maximum allowed time accumulates additional points.

How is stadium jumping scored?

In the stadium jumping competition, the same horse and rider pair that has ridden its dressage test must jump a prescribed course of jumps within a specified length of time. The rider is permitted to walk the course to familiarize himself with the track and the questions asked by the jump, but the horse may not see the course prior to competition.

The pair will accumulate penalty points, or faults, for the following:

  1. Knocking down an obstacle or part of the obstacle
  2. A disobedience, which means refusing a jump or running out of a jump
  3. A deviation from the course
  4. A fall of a horse and/or rider
  5. Unauthorized assistance
  6. Exceeding the time allowed or the time limit

All faults made between the starting line and the finishing line must be taken into consideration.  Disobediences committed during the time when the round is interrupted for any reason are not penalized. Disobediences, falls etc., occurring between the signal to start and the moment the competitor crosses the starting line in the correct direction, are not penalized. Faults are penalized in penalty points or by elimination:

  1. Obstacle knocked down while jumping 4 penalties
  2. First disobedience 4 penalties
  3. Second disobedience at Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced – Elimination
  4. Exceeding the time allowed – 0.4 penalty per second over optimum time

Penalties for the disobediences accumulate, not just at the same obstacle, but throughout the entire round. These penalty points are added to the pair’s dressage score, as are the penalty points from the cross-country course. Ultimately, the horse and rider with the fewest penalty points is the winner of the division.