The First Horse Inspection


Cross Country

Final Horse Inspection

Show Jumping

For many people, the sport of Horse Trials – or to use its modern title, Eventing, presents the ultimate challenge of horsemanship because it requires horse and rider to perform three totally different activities within the same competition: dressage, cross country and show jumping. To conquer one or even two is not enough to win, so as the competition develops, so does the pressure. It takes at least four years of training to prepare a horse for an event of Bramham’s level, and the difference between success and failure can be a very fine line.

International events are graded according to their level of difficulty: the lowest international level is a one star, and the scale goes up as far as four star which is the very highest level (Badminton, Burghley, Kentucky etc.). Bramham is classified as a three star, and is known to be one of the best, and most demanding three star events in the world.

Ever wondered what the difference between the CCI4*-Long and the CCI4*-Short is?

The main competitions: the Equi-Trek CCI4*-L and the British Horse Feeds Under 25 CCI4*-L are traditional three day events, and are run as per the schedule below. The CCI4*-S involves the same three phases as the CCI-L competitions, but has a slightly different format. The CCI-S competitors do their dressage on Thursday and Friday. The show jumping phase takes place on Saturday morning, and they then run over a slightly simplified and shortened version of the cross country course on Saturday afternoon after the CCI-L sections, which is when the winner is decided. CCI-S competitions are required to qualify for the same level of CCI-L competition, therefore the horse/rider combinations in the CCI-S tend to be slightly less experienced than in the CCI-L.

CCI-L Competition Format


The First Horse Inspection

The three members of the Ground Jury take a first look at all of the horses in the competition. The horses are trotted up in front of them and with the help of the Veterinary Delegate, as assessment is make as to whether each one is fit to take part.

Thursday and Friday


With so many entrants, the ‘three day event’ has become something of a misnomer. In order to allow every combination to complete the dressage test, two days of dressage is required.

The Ground Jury judges this phase, at different positions around the arena, with the President at the ‘C’ marker. The movements performed by the horses and riders are therefore viewed from three different angles, and errors are hard to disguise. As the only element to be judged subjectively – rather like ice-skating or diving – grumbles are inevitable, as each judges opinion is likely to differ.

The dressage requires a great deal of preparation; many of the best jumping horses do not naturally move well ‘on the flat’, and a horse fit enough for cross country does not always take kindly to being asked to perform quietly and calmly in the sometimes electric atmosphere of the Equi-Trek Arena! The more experienced riders will maximise the horse’s strong paces, disguise its weaknesses, and ride every movement with total accuracy so as not to lose marks.

A mark out of 10 is given for each of the 22 movements, plus four overall marks in the pre-set test. Details of this test can be found below.

The total marks are then converted into percentage penalty marks, which are multiplied by 1.5 to produce the final dressage penalty mark.

To produce a performance that will qualify horses and riders for a CCI5*, the highest level of eventing, they must achieve a mark of under 75 penalties at this stage.

Details of this test can be found here


Cross Country

In the past, three preliminary phases were compulsory for all competitors: phases A and C, roads and tracks (over 10km) and Phase B, the steeplechase (4 minutes at racing pace). However, with today’s short format, the whole of the warm up is now left to the rider’s discretion. A large area is offered, with room for galloping and optional practice fences. From there, the riders are called forward to the start area where the Veterinary Delegate and a member of the Ground Jury will briefly verify that all is well, before allowing them to start.

Cross country is all about riders forming a trusting partnership with their horse. Whilst walking the course, the rider must make decisions about routes that are both competitive and within their horse’s capabilities and they must have the courage of their convictions. The riders must learn to judge pace and speed and to know when to leave the horse alone and when to help him. This thrilling phase enables the partnership to be tested to the maximum, both physically and mentally.

Any minute variation of line and pace to an obstacle may make it impossible to jump, or require too much wasted effort encouraging penalties further around the course. With clever course design, every fence has an impact on the next so the rider must be quick thinking to ensure a confident clear round using all options available.

The intelligent rider weighs up whether to take a time consuming easier option adding time penalties to his score, or to take a more daring, direct route risking big penalties for a refusal, run out or fall.

Summary of Cross Country Statistics
CCI4*-L 6,000m approx 570m per min Approx 10 minutes 32 seconds Approx 21 minutes 4 seconds 0.4 penalties
CCI4*-S 3,990m approx 570m per min Approx 7 minutes Approx 14 minutes 0.4 penalties
Note: distance and time to be confirmed at the Competitors briefing on Wednesday 5th June
Cross Country Time Penalty Calculator
1 secs 0.4 pens 11 secs 4.4 pens 21 secs 8.4 pens
2 secs 0.8 pens 12 secs 4.8 pens 22 secs 8.8 pens
3 secs 1.2 pens 13 secs 5.2 pens 23 secs 9.2 pens
4 secs 1.6 pens 14 secs 5.6 pens 24 secs 9.6 pens
5 secs 2.0 pens 15 secs 6.0 pens 25 secs 10.0 pens
6 secs 2.4 pens 16 secs 6.4 pens 26 secs 10.4 pens
7 secs 2.8 pens 17 secs 6.8 pens 27 secs 10.8 pens
8 secs 3.2 pens 18 secs 7.2 pens 28 secs 12.2 pens
9 secs 3.6 pens 19 secs 7.6 pens 29 secs 11.6 pens
10 secs 4.0 pens 20 secs 8.0 pens 30 secs 12.0 pens
Cross Country Jumping Penalties
First refusal, run out of circle 20 penalties
Second refusal, run out or circle at the same obstacle 40 penalties
Third refusal, run out or circle on XC course Elimination
Breaking a frangible obstacle/device (discretionary) 21 penalties*
Fall of rider and/or horse Elimination
Error of course not rectified Elimination
Inappropriate or dangerous (discretionary) 25 penalties

* In case of clear failure of the mechanism, Ground Juries can remove the 21 penalties.

All obstacles must be jumped with red flags on the right and white flags on the left.


Final Horse Inspection

After the horses have completed their cross country, they are given time to rest and relax, but in the stable may stiffen up from the rigours of the competition. The horses will be left to rest overnight, but many will be ridden early on Sunday morning to ‘walk off’ any stiffness before being presented to the Ground Jury and the Veterinary Delegate once again. Any horse that they feel is not fit to continue with the competition will be eliminated, but those who are deemed fit will go on to take part in the final show jumping phase.

Show Jumping

This phase is the finale of the Event, run in reverse order of merit, creating an electric atmosphere for the audience and a lot of pressure for the riders. Unlike the cross country, these fences do fall down, and, as they do, the penalties mount up.

The show jumping course, which the designer will have built to a precise layout including difficult turns and related distances, demands accuracy, athleticism and, especially when under pressure, a calm head on the part of both horse and rider.

Errors in this phase can upset the scoreboard in a split second; even the best cross country horse, after his exertions, can become careless and stiff in his show jumping style, leading to rails coming down.

Even the most experienced rider can feel nervous under the pressure of the moment, which is what makes it so difficult to achieve top honours in this sport and why those who do make such worthy winners.

Show Jumping Penalties
Knocking down an obstacle 4 penalties
First run-out, refusal or unauthorised circle in the whole test 4 penalties
Second run-out, refusal or unauthorised circle in the whole test Elimination
Fall of rider and/or horse Elimination
For every second or part of second over the time allowed 1 penalty
Exceeding the time limit (twice the time allowed) Elimination
Inappropriate or dangerous (discretionary) 25 penalties