A 3-Day event.
As the name suggests horses and riders compete the competition over 3 days. Each day consisting of a different discipline.
Horses and riders must compete a dressage test demostrating obedience, discipline, accuracy and elegance. Both horse and rider need to be fit and athletic to compete a cross country ride, within the optimum time. Finally they must compete a course of show jumps, designed to test their agility and accuracy at speed.
Before commencing the competition each horse is “trotted up” before an inspection panel of a vet and the Ground Jury to Ensure the horse is sound and fit enough to compete (First horse inspection). The further inspections takes place the morning after the cross country phase prior to the Jumping test. This ensures horses are still sound and fit enough to compete the competition (Final Horse Inspection).
International events are graded according to level of difficulty. The higher the grade, the more complex and physically demanding each phase becomes. Stars are awarded to indicat the Event’s Grade.
Dressage is the first phase of the Event where riders must complete a ‘test’ of set movements between markers in a dressage arena. This test is judged by 3 judges (the Ground Jury’s) sitting at different points of the arena (at H, C and B). The letters H, C, B refer to the position of each judge in the dressage arena.
Each movement carries a maximum of 10 marks; additional “collective” marks out of 10 are awarded for Paces, Impulsion, Submission & Rider giving a total maximum possible score of 300 good marks. Penalties are added for failing to perform movements and ‘errors of course’.
The average score from the three judges is expressed in two ways, as a percentage (good marks), which enables spectators at a glance to see how well each rider has performed; and as a penalty score (bad marks), which enables the score to be used with the cross country and show jumping penalties to add to a Final Score.
The lower the penalty score the better.
With between 80 and 90 riders competing, some riding two horses, the Dressage Phase is held over 2 days Thursday & Friday.
The dressage arena is 20m x 60m situated in the main arena. Each test takes approx. 7 ½ minutes.
The penalty score is carried forward to the Cross Country Phase.
The Cross Country Test is the most physically demanding and exciting phase of the competition. There are about 30 “Jumping Efforts” on the course. Penalty marks are added at the rate of 0.4 for every second exceeding the optimum time which is deliberately difficult to achieve. A time limit of twice the optimum time is also imposed. Exceeding this time limit carries automatic elimination. Penalty points accrued during the cross country test are designed to have the greatest influence on the overall competition. It must be completed at an average speed of 570 metres per minute as laid down in the rules. This calculated with the length of the course provides the optimum time. Penalty marks are added for each second over the optimum time.
The penalty marks accumulated for the cross country test are added to the dressage penalty marks and carried forward to the jumping test on the final day.
After the physical demands of the cross country day, horses and riders must then demonstrate speed, accuracy and agility in the jumping test by completing a course of show jumps up to 1.30 m high and as wide as 2.30m.
This requires both horse and rider to be extremely fit and calm. Many events are won and lost on the final day when the pressure is on in front of the spectators filling the arena. Further penalties can be picked up for knocking down the delicately balanced fences or not completing within the optimum time.
All penalties are added to the score carried forward to provide the final results.
Nowhere else is the partnership between horse and human as complete as when these two athletes compete as one. Sport horses have been bred for thousands of years to excel in the challenges of training and competition.
The welfare of horses at the Dutch Open Eventing (and throughout the sport of Eventing) is governed by the FEI Welfare Code of Conduct, which was drafted with independent charity World Horse Welfare, whom the FEI recognise as the world’s leading independent horse welfare organisation. The Code requires that the welfare of the horse takes precedence over all other considerations, commercial or competitive.
When horses are used in sport, a heavy burden of responsibility for their welfare rests on the shoulders of those who own, train, ride and care for them. Sport horses are generally exceptionally well cared for, thanks to the significant investment that flows into the industry and the vigilance of regulators.
There are still horse welfare challenges in sport and the FEI works with its federations and World Horse Welfare to address some of these challenges. For instance, World Horse Welfare helped the FEI set limits on practices such as Rolkur (‘hyperflexion’) and advocates the importance of a sport free from doping.
Eventing has also led the way in developing a number of safety features in the design of Cross Country Fences to help protect horses and riders.