About Eventing

The Sport

Eventing, or Horse Trials, is the ultimate equestrian challenge, likened to an ‘equine triathlon’; it provides a comprehensive test of all round ability for horse and rider and also tests the partnership between the two. Despite being sometimes called ‘three-day eventing’, the modern sport usually takes place over four days, as the dressage phase takes two days to complete. However, each horse and rider combination will only compete in three phases, on three days, with a rest day on one of the dressage days.

The sport evolved from the qualities necessary for a top class military charger – steadiness and elegance on parade, the ability to gallop across country in battle, and then to continue with duties after a strenuous day. It first appeared in the modern Olympics in 1912 and the required phases of the sport have changed a number of times since then. The requirements when eventing originated have now transformed in to the three modern phases of the sport – Dressage, Cross-Country and Showjumping. In order to succeed, riders and their horses must be highly skilled in all three disciplines.

Star difficulty ratings

Known as Concours Complet International, or CCI-L (Long), modern international Eventing is overseen by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI). There are five levels of Event competition, rated by ‘stars’. Blair Castle is run at CCI2*-L, CCI3*-L and CCI4*-L levels. The current rating system was introduced by the FEI in 2019, as an update of the previous 4-level system, introducing a new one-star introductory level and additional requirements for the five-star level. The first three-day event at Blair was held in 1989, as a national two-star competition.

The CCI2*-L caters for younger horses and riders entering some of their first three-day events, and is at Novice level. The CCI3*-L is for Intermediate combinations, whilst the CCI4*-L attracts experienced riders with Advanced horses competing at the top of the sport, and who may go on to greater International success at CCI5*-L and Championship events. The Olympic Games and FEI World Equestrian Games exist in their own special category, where dressage and show jumping is at the CCI5*-L level, while cross-country is at the CCI4*-L level of difficulty.

There are also international one-day events, known as CCI-S (Short). Blair runs a CCI4*-S, the highest level of CCI-S competition. In a CCI-S, the dressage always takes place as the first phase but events have the choice to run the showjumping before or after the cross country. At Blair, the showjumping takes place before the cross country, giving an exciting finish out on course!

As horses and riders move up the levels, the difficulty and technicality of the phases increases. Riders can compete from the year of their 12th birthday and there is no upper age limit. Find out more on the British Eventing website.


The first phase, dressage , is a test of balance, rhythm, suppleness and cooperation between the rider and a horse. It is held in an enclosed arena where the pair demonstrates their abilities in front of the judges.

Competitors must ride the same set series of movements, known as the ‘dressage test’, between markers in a dressage arena measuring 20m x 60m. There are different tests, varying in difficulty, for the different levels of competition, and it is up to the rider to ensure they have memorised the correct test and know which movements to perform in which order. This can be easier said than done, as the test may be 7 or 8 minutes long.

Dressage is judged by the Ground Jury, of which there are 3 members at CCI4*-L level. The Ground Jury are positioned around the arena, so they each see a different angle.



The second phase, cross-country, challenges a rider’s and horse’s physical fitness, bravery, problem-solving, and common trust. It consists of approximately 12–20 fences (lower levels), or 30–40 at the higher levels, placed on a long outdoor circuit.

The CCI4*-L course at Blair is around 6km long. An ‘optimum time’ is set for the course, calculated by measuring the course distance and working out the time based on a speed of 570m per minute.

Show Jumping

The last phase , showjumping, takes place in an arena, and tests technical jumping skills of the horse and rider pair, which includes suppleness, obedience, fitness, and precision.

In this phase, the course will be between 12 and 20 fences, which must be completed within a time-limit, with CCI4*-L level fences reaching a maximum height of 1.25m. Whilst this is much smaller than for ‘pure’ showjumping, it is important to remember that event horses, trained to gallop over fixed timber, may have little respect for knock-down poles and, combined with their tiredness from the cross-country phase the day before, it can make showjumping the most challenging and daunting phase for many event riders.

Jumping takes place in reverse order of merit, meaning the rider in first place after the cross-country phase must hold their nerve and jump the final round of the competition to secure their victory!


The most important thing to remember is that the scores you see are penalty points, and so the winners will be the horse and rider combination with the lowest score.

Dressage scoring

Each movement of the test is scored out of 10, with the judges looking for accuracy, fluency, balance and suppleness. There are also ‘collective marks’ awarded, again out of 10, for the Paces, Impulsion, Submission, and for the Rider. The marks are all added together, any penalties deducted (for failing to perform movements or for going wrong in the test) and the average of the 3 judges is shown as a percentage ‘good mark’, before being converted to a penalty score. After dressage, the leader at CCI4*-L  level will hope to be somewhere around a mark of 40, perhaps less if the standard is very high.

Cross-Country scoring

Time Penalties are added at a rate of 0.4 penalties for every second over the optimum time, and a time limit of twice the optimum time is set – exceeding the limit results in elimination, although this is a rare occurrence. Jumping Penalties are awarded as follows:


Fault / Error Penalties
First refusal, run-out or circle 20
Second refusal, run-out or circle at same obstacle 40
Third refusal, run-out or circle at same obstacle Elimination
Fall of rider Elimination
Fall of horse Elimination
Error of course not rectified Elimination
Failure to pass between both flags on an obstacle 15
Activating a frangible device (these allow fixed fences to collapse under both forward and upward pressure and are designed to prevent the falls which most commonly lead to rider fatalities.) 11
Dangerous riding 25

There are also a number of reasons a competitor may be eliminated, which concern the safety of riders, horses and spectators.

Showjumping scoring

Time penalties are awarded at the rate of one per second over the time allowed. Jumping penalties are accrued as follows:
Fault / Error Penalties
Knocking down an obstacle 4
First disobedience (refusal or run-out) 4
Second disobedience Elimination
Fall of rider Elimination
Fall of horse Elimination
Jumping an obstacle in the wrong order Elimination