Eventing Explained

The Competition

Badminton 2019

Badminton Horse Trials is one of the toughest and most exciting equestrian events – the pinnacle of the world’s 3-Day-Event calendar. As the name suggests horses and riders complete the competition over 3 days, each day consisting of a different discipline or phase. Horses and riders must complete a dressage test demonstrating Obedience, Discipline, Accuracy and Elegance. They need to be fit and athletic to complete a 4 mile cross country ride jumping solid man-made and natural obstacles within a set time. Finally they must complete a course of show-jumps designed to test their agility and accuracy at speed.

Horse Inspection

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 (The First Inspection – Wednesday afternoon).

A further inspection takes place the morning after the cross-country phase prior to the Jumping test. This ensures horses are still sound and fit enough to complete the competition (The Final Inspection – Sunday afternoon).

Competition Level

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 indicate the Event’s Grade. Badminton is a 5 Star Event, the highest grade and one of only 6 such events in the world. Badminton is the oldest and generally accepted as the most prestigious  event.

Both riders and horses must qualify by completing several lower grade events in order to compete at Badminton. Qualification can take several years to achieve.

Phase One: Dressage (Thursday & Friday)

dressagecomp3Dressage is the first phase of what is traditionally known as a Three-Day-Event where riders must complete a ‘test’ of set movements between markers in a dressage arena.  Badminton’s Dressage test contains 26 movements of varying complexity. The ‘test’ is judged by three judges (the Ground Jury) sitting at different points of the arena. Each movement carries a maximum of 10 marks.  There is an additional mark for overall impression.

The average score from the three judges is then 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 Penalty score is simply the difference between the percentage and 100, e.g. 65% gives 35 penalties.

The lower the penalty score the better.
With between 75 and 85 riders competing, some riding two horses, the Dressage Phase is held over two days (Thursday & Friday).

Technical Details:

The dressage arena is 20m x 60m situated in the main arena. Various points in the arena are marked with letters so that the rider (& judges) knows where each movement is to be performed.  Each test takes approx. 7 ½ minutes. The letters H, C, B refer to the position of each judge, ie that they are sitting close to that particular letter that marks a spot around the dressage arena.

The penalty score is carried forward to the Cross Country.

Phase Two: Cross Country Test (Saturday)

xccomp4The Cross Country Test is the most physically demanding and exciting phase of the competition.  There are about 45 “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.

Faults/Errors Penalty
1st Refusal at a fence 20 points
2nd Refusal, run out or circle at the same obstacle 40 points
3rd Refusal, run out or circle on Cross Country Course Elimination
Fall of Athlete or Horse on the Cross Country Course Elimination
Activating a frangible device 11 penalties
Dangerous Riding 25 penalties
Missing a flag as per art. 549.2 15 penalties

Results Example

No. Horse Rider Dressage Cross Country Show Jump Total Diff. Place
Pens. Place Pens Place Jump Time Pens
96 TAMARILLO William Fox-Pitt 35.4 (2) 21.6 (1) 4 61.0 1
100 LORD KILLINGHURST Andrew Nicholson (NZL) 32.6 (1) 28.8 (2) 0 61.4 0.4 2

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.

Phase Three: Jumping Test (Sunday)

sj_comp3After the physical demands of 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 1.30m 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 16,000 or so spectators filling the arena. Further penalties can be picked up for knocking down the delicately balanced fences or not completing within the optimum time.


Faults/Errors Penalty
1st Refusal/disobedience 4 points
2nd Refusal/disobedience Elimination
Knocking down an obstacle 4 points
Fall of Horse and/or rider Elimination
Time Faults 0.4 per second over the time allowed

Any penalties are added to the score brought forward to provide the final results.