A History
of Eventing

24 April 2018

How Eventing progressed from its hunting and military origins to becoming one of the Olympic Games' most popular events...

Eventing is often referred to as the Equestrian version of triathlon because of its three differing phases - Dressage, Jumping and Cross Country.


From its fox hunting beginnings in the 19th century, to military dominance in the 20th, the sport changed immeasurably in the 21st century.


Eventing became an Olympic sport at the Stockholm Games in 1912. It was only open to amateur riders who were in the military. The purpose was to test the cavalry on their fitness and suitability. Dressage showcased skills from the parade ground, the jumping phases demonstrated speed and stamina.


On a more local level, horse trials as they are often known as today, originated at Badminton. In the 1940s the 10th Duke of Beaufort decided to run an event at home so British riders had somewhere to train for future international competitions.


The first Badminton Horse Trials was held in 1949 and was the start of the sport at a national level.


In those early days Eventing evolved and became established in what was known as the long format over four phases. Phase A was roads and tracks, required for warming up, B was steeplechasing at a gallop over brush type fences, C was back to roads and tracks, before horse and rider were then vet checked in a 10-minute holding box. The horse’s heart rate had to get below 80 within 10 minutes of being in the holding box, if the horse was declared fit, off they would go across country.


Finally, at the end there was a further vet examination to check the horse’s health, before the pairing would be allowed to show jump, the final element.


All of this was designed to test stamina and the ability of the horse to recover and carry on, as well as the focus of the rider.



This type of scenario was crucial to show a horse was up for the job on a battlefield. It was a true test of endurance.


Due to its military history, women were not allowed to ride in Olympic equestrian events until 1952. However, it wasn’t until the 1964 Tokyo games that USA’s Helena du Pont was the first woman on an Eventing team.   


The long format was not to last though. The next major change came to the sport in 2004 when the short format was introduced at the Athens Olympics.


This excluded all but Phase D, the cross-country phase. Now whether it was top level or grass roots, the sport of Eventing was Dressage, Jumping and Cross Country only.


To keep in line with the international format, the flagship events, The Badminton Horse Trials, The Kentucky Three Day Event and the Burghley Horse Trials all ran their last long format events in 2005. Other one-day events were already doing so.


With the endurance elements removed, there were concerns horses were going too fast across country. This has meant more technical courses have been designed to slow the pace down.


It was feared thoroughbred breeding would go into decline as their stamina was no longer required. This has proved not to be the case, with the most successful horses in the modern era having a high percentage of TB breeding.


Course designers have had to work hard to re-think their planning and ensure the result is not predicable after the Dressage.

It was a
true test of

'Eventing hasn’t altogether shaken off its military roots'

After extensive research, frangible pin technology was trialled in the 2002 season with great success. Frangible fences are now on courses at all levels worldwide and are here to stay. It has become an indispensable safety tool in preventing crushing, rotational falls. If the horse hits the fence at a certain angle, the top rail drops down on impact giving horse and rider a good chance of staying on their feet.


Eventing hasn’t altogether shaken off its military roots, as many competitors at four-star level often wear military uniform and the CCI three star in the Netherlands is still referred to as Military Boekelo.


Follow the Eventing season on FEI TV and YouTube. The next leg of the FEI Eventing Nations Cup™ is at Houghton Hall in the UK from May 24-27


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