What Is Three Day Eventing?

There are a great many different types of horse competition out there, and you would be forgiven for being a little confused about which is which! Three day eventing is a tough ask for most horses, but it is fantastic to watch and incredibly rewarding financially for the winners at the top levels. Here is a little information to answer the question “what is three day eventing”?

Also Known As Horse Trials

known as horse trials

This event combines a single horse and rider competing against others in the disciplines of dressage, cross country and show jumping.

It is the ultimate test of horse and rider; some are good at one or two of the three events but it is hard to find a horse and rider combo that excel at all three. It is hard work and very demanding on both the rider and his mount, but the rewards and prestige of winning such an event are enormous.

A winner of a three day event can be sure of their fame for years to come! A three day event is the equivalent of triathlon for horses, and it can be held over one, two or three days, depending on the length of the course and number of entries.

This style of equestrian event was first held in 1902 in France (the Championnat du Cheval d’Armes, to be precise), and three day eventing as we know it today was accepted into the Olympic Games in 1912.

Originally open only to male military officers on active duty, the rules changed to allow male civilians in 1924. Women were first permitted to take part in 1964, and equestrian sports remain one of the few sports where men and women compete against one another – both sexes can be equally good riders, and it is a test of horsemanship rather than a battle of physical bodies, so there is no gender discrimination.



This is a set sequence of compulsory movements in an arena of 20m by 60m (or 40m at lower levels) which is judged on the balance, rhythm, suppleness, and the harmony of horse and rider.

It challenges different skills in a horse who is capable of completing a cross country course within a time frame, and asks them to also demonstrate in a graceful, precise and relaxed manner, and showcases some of the most beautiful moves a horse can naturally achieve.

Each of the set movements is scored out of ten, with a full ten marks being very rare because the movements have to be absolutely perfect.

Dressage riders are required to wear very formal attire, including a top hat and white breeches for intermediate and advanced levels, while the World Equestrian Games, the Olympics and CCI state that a white shirt and tie, gloves and white fawn or cream breeches is suitable.

The saddle must be a dressage saddle in the higher levels, and only a snaffle bit is permitted.

Cross Country

Cross Country

Cross country takes place over several miles, and involves a number of large natural obstacles, such as logs, stone walls, ditches and streams, which have to be jumped within a certain time frame.

Stops, falls, run outs and refusals add to penalties, as does going over the time limit – at lower levels riders can also be penalised for completing the course too quickly.

This is a test of a horse and rider’s physical ability – as both must be fit and strong and able to endure the strong canters (and gallops, at the top levels) in between the obstacles themselves – as well as a test of strength, stamina and courage.

Cross country clothes tend to be much more relaxed than the other disciplines, with the only real stipulation being a body protector vest, an approved riding helmet, and an armband containing the rider’s medical history.

The saddle is often the same as a show jumping saddle, and boots are added onto the horse for extra protection in case the legs hit something solid.

Show Jumping

Show Jumping

The objective of a show jumping course, which is held in an indoor arena over colored poles, is to get round the course “clear” – that is, without knocking down any poles or going over the time allowed.

Because the show jumping comes on the final day, the horses are more tired which can mean more mistakes (at one and two day events, the show jumping comes before the cross country). This event tests the technical jumping skills of horse and rider, and shows off their fitness, stamina, obedience and athleticism over a course of 12-20 jumps.

A jumping saddle is used, as this puts the rider in the optimal position for jumping and allows the horse freedom of movement, and the riders are required to wear “hunting dress” – white shirt and tie, white fawn or cream breeches, and boots of any color. A short hunt coat is traditional unless it is extremely hot.

Types Of Horse

At the lower levels of three day eventing, any horse with a talent for the disciplines can take part. At the top levels, you will mainly see Thoroughbred types because of their stamina and athletic ability, though Warmbloods and Irish Sport Horses are also rising through the ranks.

Larger horses are favoured, because of the height of the jumps and the rigours of the course, so there will often be those with draft horse in their breeding – although there have been cases of small horses; for example a Thoroughbred-Arabian-Shetland came third in the 2007 Rolex Kentucky Three Day CCI competition!

The main criteria for a three day eventing horse is good conformation and feet, stamina, and the ability to be very responsive to the rider. Bravery and athleticism are key, as is a good scope for jumping.

Final Words

Three day eventing is a hard, rigorous test of both horse and rider. At the top levels it is a breathtaking spectacle of what can be achieved with good training, hard work and natural talent.

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