International competition is coming to Colorado. This weekend the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, CO is hosting a CCI 1* horse trial. For those of you that are new to eventing, this is a description of what a horse trial is and what you can expect to see. The horse trials start at 8am on Friday with dressage, cross country is on Saturday and finishes with show jumping Sunday. The Colorado Horse Park is a beautiful facility and i recommend that if you have time you go watch at least some of the horse trials this weekend. For more information on the event check out the USEA calendar.
Horse trials are known by many names: 3-day eventing, Combined Training, Horse Trials or just Eventing. The sport is not well known, not even in the horse community, but I believe it’s the ultimate test of horse and rider.
The format varies depending on the level of competition, but there are 3 basic tests of horse and rider in eventing: Communication, endurance and precision.
The communication between rider and horse is evaluated during the Dressage test, which always comes first. This test proves that the rider has sufficient control over the horse to attempt the next two phases.
Dressage is the French word for training and emphasizes the relationship between the rider and horse. A well-done dressage test should look like a dance between horse and rider. The cues a rider gives a horse should be imperceptible, and the horse’s response should be willing and fluid.
Great dressage takes years to master for both the rider and horse — but there are many levels of tests to master before reaching the top level.
In the next phase, cross country, the horse and rider are asked to gallop across fields and through trees and water, while jumping over solid obstacles.
Considered the most exciting part of eventing, this phase tests endurance. The courses are up to 4 miles long with up to 40 obstacles for horse and rider to navigate. The list of obstacles is long, but usually includes logs, water, banks and a wide variety of shapes of jumps.
The endurance phase is sometimes supplemented with the “Roads and Tracks” and steeplechase phases. In these timed events, riders are expected to keep to a set pace and are penalized if they go too fast or too slowly.
The final phase, show jumping, tests the precision of the horse and rider. The jumps in this phase will fall if the horse hits the fence, and the pair will be penalized for every jump that falls and for extra time around the course. This phase’s difficulty is increased by having completed the cross-country phase and therefore being tired and used to a longer stride at a faster pace.
At the end of the event, the total penalties from all 3 phases are tallied and the rider with the lowest penalty score wins.
This sport is great for competitors and spectators alike. The dressage phase shows the grace of the horse and the expertise of the ride. The cross-country phase is full of excitement and potentially danger to both horse and rider. The show-jumping phase is a fast-paced and exciting end to the event.
If you get a chance, go see a local event. The United States Eventing Association tracks all registered events and can help you find your local eventing association, which can lead you to schooling shows and other related competitions. In the Rocky Mountains, the Mountain State Eventing Association tracks all the local shows in its region and hosts the regional championships.