There are only three equestrian sports, conducted under the authority of the Fédération
Equestre Internationale (FEI), which are Olympic sports: dressage, show jumping and eventing.
Dressage, sometimes referred to as equine ballet, is held in an arena or ring, and consists of
the guiding of the horse through a series of complex maneuvers, performing a compulsory series
of paces, halts, changes of direction, movements and figures by slight movements of the
rider’s hands, legs and weight. The ultimate goal is
complete harmony and balance between horse and rider as the horse is guided by lightest touch
of the rider. One’s performance is penalized for inaccuracies of movement or lack of subtlety
in the rider’s control of the horse.
Show Jumping, also conducted in an arena, is a form of competition wherein each horse and
rider must clear a number of obstacles or fences on a set course within a specified window of
time. Penalties are incurred through faults, either fence faults when the horse knocks down a
rail or rails or refuses a jump, or time faults based on the degree to which the competitor
completes the course either more quickly or more slowly than the specified optimum window of
Eventing is sometimes referred to as the triathalon of equestrian sports because it combines
the previous two disciplines with cross country, wherein horse and rider must run a course of
approximately two and three quarter to four miles long comprising some twenty-four to
thirty-six fixed and solid obstacles, both natural and constructed and of great variety,
within a specified window of time. Penalties are incurred by refusals or stops at fences or,
as in show jumping, through time faults when the competitor completes the course either more
quickly or more slowly than the specified optimum window of time.
True eventing is usually conducted over the course of three days and is frequently referred to
as “three day eventing". Dressage tests are held on the first day of competition. Horse and rider
receive a score from the judge or judges which is determined by a complex method of evaluating the
technical accuracy of the test, the quality of the horse’s movements and the presentation and
effectiveness of the rider’s performance. The overall score is calculated as a percentage of total
possible points. The score is then converted to penalty points by subtracting the score from 100;
therefore, the lower the dressage score the better. Additional penalties accrued during cross-country
(run on the second day) and stadium jumping (held on the third day) are added to the dressage penalties
for an overall final score.
Advancement: The divisions of eventing competition start at the beginner novice level and ascend through
novice, training, preliminary and intermediate to advanced level. The “star” level competitions, which is
to say one-star, two-star, three-star and four-star eventing competitions, denoted respectively as CCI* and
CIC*, CCI** and CIC**, CCI*** and CIC*** and CCI****, are held only at preliminary through advanced levels,
and they comprise the levels of international competition under the auspices of the Fédération Equestre
Internationale (FEI). Technically, only the one-star through four-star events are true eventing; all others
are “horse trials”, and horse trials are most commonly held over the course of two days with dressage and
stadium jumping on day one and cross country on day two. Horse and rider qualify for their initial one-star
event based on their record of horse trials performances, and once horse and rider have completed their first
one-star they qualify to enter any other star-level three day event. The pinnacle of American eventing is the
Kentucky Rolex Three-Day, the only four-star event held in the US.