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Show jumping is a relatively new equestrian sport. Until the Enclosure Acts which came into force in England in the 18th century there had been little need for horses to jump fences routinely, but with this act of parliament came new challenges for those who followed fox hounds.

The enclosures act brought fencing and boundaries to many parts of the country as common ground was dispersed among the wealthy landowners. This meant that those wishing to pursue their sport now needed horses that were capable of jumping these obstacles.

Today, Show Jumping, comprises of a series of typically brightly colored fences usually made up of lightweight rails that are easily knocked down. The test takes place in an enclosed ring and the course must be negotiated through a variety of fences of differing heights, widths, and technicality, in order for the horse and rider to successfully complete the event.  This requires the horse be balanced and supple for tight turns and short distances between fences. He must be able to lengthen or shorten his stride in an instant. Therefore, the rider must know exactly where he is on the approach to a fence, with an obedient horse that will respond to his commands.

The show jumping course requires very exact riding; it consists of between 12 and 15 show jumping obstacles, which normally include at least one combination, two spread fences, and in some cases a ditch. This phase is also timed, with penalties being given for every second over the required time.  Jumping skills,  like eventing,  tests the fitness and stamina of the horse and rider. The winner is the horse and rider with the fewest penalties. Awards are usually presented while mounted, before the placed riders take a lap of honor around the arena.

For the spectator, this sport is both exciting and breathtaking to watch, as just one single rail knocked down can change the final standings dramatically.

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Dressage is a French term meaning “training” and its purpose is to develop the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider. Originally designed to show the horse’s ability to perform intricate movements on the parade involved with reviewing troops, today the dressage test comprises a set series of movements performed in an enclosed arena.

Precision, smoothness and suppleness show off the horse’s obedience. Ideally the horse appears to perform the test moments of its own accord, working in harmony with its rider. The test is scored on each movement with the overall harmony and precision of the test taken into consideration. It comprises an exact sequence of movements ridden in an enclosed arena.  The test is judged by one or more judges who are looking for balance, rhythm and suppleness and most importantly, obedience of the horse and its connection with the rider.

Competitive dressage involves nine progressive levels incorporating multiple tests within each level. Special tests are also written for musical freestyle, sport horse breeding and performances incorporating multiple horses and riders.

Each movement in the test is scored on a scale from 0 to 10, with a score of “10” being the highest possible mark and with the total maximum score for the test varying depending on the level of competition and the number of movements. Therefore, if one movement is poorly executed, it is still possible for the rider to get a good overall score if the remaining movements are very well executed. The marks are added together and any errors of course deducted. To convert this score to penalty points, the average marks of all judges are converted to a percentage of the maximum possible score, multiplied by a co-efficient decided by the governing body and then subtracted from 100.

Dressage is occasionally referred to as “Horse Ballet”.  Its fundamental purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive training methods, a horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to perform. At the peak of a dressage horse’s gymnastic development, it can smoothly respond to a skilled rider’s minimal aids by performing the requested movement while remaining relaxed and appearing effortless, looking as if the horse was dancing.

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Eventing is the “equestrian triathlon”. It involves working with a horse in three different disciplines of riding.  The three phases are: dressage, endurance (or cross-country), and show jumping. It was developed in Germany to test the military charger. This equestrian sport is still called the “Militaire,” under which name it was first introduced at the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1912. The tests of this newly organized equestrian competition were patterned after the training and testing of military chargers — precision, elegance, and obedience on the parade ground; stamina, versatility and courage on marches and in battle; cross-country jumping ability and endurance in traveling great distances over difficult terrain and formidable obstacles in the relaying of important dispatches; and jumping ability in the arena to prove the horse’s fitness to remain in service. Eventing has now evolved into an exciting sport attracting interest from all levels of sports enthusiasts, from weekend hobby riders to professional international stars. It is, also,  the only high-risk Olympic sport where men and women compete as equals, with no separate divisions. Some of the top riders in the world today are women from all over the world.

Dressage

The dressage phase begins every eventing competition. In French, dressage means “training.” Originally designed to show the horse’s ability to perform intricate movements on the parade involved with reviewing troops, today the dressage test comprises a set series of movements performed in an enclosed arena. Precision, smoothness and suppleness show off the horse’s obedience.

Dressage is very important to the three-day event horse, it tests the level of communication between the horse and rider. Displaying the power and grace required to perform each movement with balance, rhythm, and suppleness. It also helps to develop the muscular strength needed in the other two days of competition, endurance day and show jumping, where the horse must be unbelievably fit and strong, and able to lengthen and shorten stride at a gallop. Due to these high demands, the three-day event horse is extremely fit, and only strong, confident riders possess the skills needed to harness and direct the horses energy into a both polished and powerful performance.

Cross Country

The cross-country test takes place on the second day of competition. It is usually the most appealing to spectators and riders. The object of this test is to prove the speed, endurance, and jumping ability of the horse over varied terrain and obstacles.  In order to accomplish this task, the horse and rider must be at peak condition. The horse must be brave and obedient, and the rider must use knowledge of pace in order to expend only as much of the horse’s energy as necessary.

Cross-country riding, and indeed eventing in general, is a fun and exciting sport but is certainly not for inexperienced or unfit. Horses and riders need to be comfortable with each other, confident and well-trained. Riders in particular must be used to riding for long periods of time before they even start to attempt cross country circuits.

Show Jumping

The third and final test takes place in the show jumping arena. A show jumping course comprises a series of typically brightly colored fences usually made up of lightweight rails that are easily knocked down. The test takes place in an enclosed ring and the course must be negotiated through a variety of fences of differing heights, widths, and technicality, in order for the horse and rider to successfully complete the event.  This requires the horse be balanced and supple for tight turns and short distances between fences. He must be able to lengthen or shorten his stride in an instant. Therefore, the rider must know exactly where he is on the approach to a fence, with an obedient horse that will respond to his commands.

“Trot Up” or “Horse Inspection” of three-day eventing

At the beginning of a three-day event, and also before the show jumping phase, all horses are inspected by a equine veterinarian to ensure that they are fit to complete. This is very formal, with well-groomed and braided horses, and professionally dressed riders. The vet determines if the horse is suitable to compete with a “pass” or “fail”. This is a crucial time for both the horse and rider. This evaluation determines whether the horse may continue with the competition.  A vet can request that a horse be sent to a holding box, where it will be re-assessed again before being allowed to continue with the competition.

In lower levels of competition the horse’s movement may be analyzed as they finish the cross-country phase.  At that time, the horse and rider are asked to trot briefly after crossing the finish line to satisfy the vet of the horse’s soundness.

In eventing, the riders are considerably experienced in all branches of equitation and possess a precise knowledge of the horse’s ability . While the horse requires a degree of competence resulting from intelligent and rational training. Eventing is the one equestrian sport that covers every aspect of horsemanship: the harmony between horse and rider that characterize Dressage; the contact with nature, stamina and extensive experience essential for the Cross Country; the precision, agility and technique involved in Jumping.

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