The Ups and Downs of Three Day Eventing

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Have you ever wondered what those letters and stars mean in eventing? And just how will the team and individual results be decided at the London Olympics?


The first Olympic equestrian event was held at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics and spread over five days with the endurance phase on day 1 (55km of roads and tracks) followed by 5km cross country course. Day two was a rest day while day three was a 3.5km steeplechase over 10 obstacles. Day 4 was the showjumping with the dressage being held on day 5.

This format was shortened over the years and in 2004-2005 the ‘modified format’ was adopted by the FEI, excluding the roads and tracks, and steeplechase.

The first Olympic equestrian events were only open to male military officers on active duty and mounted on military chargers. The event was opened to male civilians in 1924 while the first women took part in the Helsinki Games of 1964.

There have been many deaths of both horse and rider in eventing over the years, mostly due to the fixed nature of the fence. Today’s cross country fences are ‘frangible’ which allows them to give way in the event of a fall.

Safety equipment for both horse and rider has greatly improved…it’s hard to believe now but riders competing in early events only wore the soft peaked cap that was part of their military uniform. These days it’s compulsory for riders to wear safety approved helmets and body protectors, while most horses wear leg protection.

Early event horses were required to carry a minimum of 75kg during the endurance phases. By the 1996 Olympics, this had reduced to 70kg and was abolished altogether by 1998 to reduce the incidence of muscle injury and falls in horses.

A system combining the scores of all phases into penalty points was introduced in 1971, with the rider having the lowest number penalty points winning the event.

A refusal during the cross country equals 20 penalties. A refusal during the cross country equals 20 penalties.

The Concours Complet International is French for ‘Eventing International’ and abbreviated to CCI . It means the event is open to riders from all nations as well as the host nation.

All competitions run under FEI rules are rated on a star system and the number of asterisks after the CCI abbreviation refers to the level of competition, with * (or one star) being the easiest and **** (or four stars) being the most difficult

It’s referred to as:

* = Preliminary/Novice

** = Intermediate

*** = Advanced

**** = Highest level of competition. There are only five four star Three Day Events (CCI****)–Badminton Horse Trials (Britain), Burghley Horse Trials (Britain), Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event (America), Australian International Three Day Event (held in Adelaide), Luhmühlen Horse Trials (Germany), and Stars of Pau (France).

These events make up the HSBC FEI Classics. At the end of the HSBC FEI Classics season, the five riders with the highest number of points collected among the 4* events are awarded a share of a total prize fund of US$333,000 split as follows:

1st US$150,000 (Series Champion)

2nd US$75,000

3rd US$50,000

4th US$33,000

5th US$25,000

HSCB Grand Slam: This is currently sponsored by Rolex and offers prizemoney of US$350,000 to any rider who wins three CCI**** events in a row…Burghley, Rolex Kentucky and Badminton. Only Britain’s Pippa Funnel has achieved this so far.

CCN = A National Three Day event held under FEI rules for riders of the nation where the event is being held.

CCIO = Official International Three Day Event for team competitions such as World Equestrian Games, European Championships, Pan-American Games and the Olympic Games.

Megan Jones & Kirby Park Irish Jester at the Adelaide 3DE (Jenny Barnes/FEI photo). Megan Jones & Kirby Park Irish Jester at the Adelaide 3DE (Jenny Barnes/FEI photo).


The Concours International Combiné is French for ‘International Combined Contest’ and abbreviated to CIC. The event is open to riders from all nations as well as the host nation. It refers to a One Day Event held under FEI rules and also has one, two and three star levels, but there are no four star CIC events.


There are two medal events for the three day event at the London Olympics…the Teams event and the Individual event. The Dressage phase is being held on the first two days of competition, followed by the Cross Country on the third day, and Showjumping on the fourth day. Nations who have qualified to send a 3DE team can have up to five members in their team, but only the three best rider results count towards the overall team score.

The riders with the top 25 individual scores will then go around a showjumping course for a second time with their total of dressage, cross country, first jumping round and second jumping round deciding the the gold, silver and bronze medals.

Stuart Tinney and Panamera, winners of the Australian International 3DE (Jenny Barnes/FEI photo). Stuart Tinney and Panamera, winners of the Australian International 3DE (Jenny Barnes/FEI photo).


Dressage Penalties

Each dressage movement is scored by one or more judges on a score of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest mark. First, the marks of the judges if there is more than one are averaged. Then the raw mark is subtracted from the maximum points possible. This number is then multiplied by 0.6 to calculate the final penalty score. Elimination can happen if the rider exceeds 45 seconds before entering the ring, all four of the horse’s feet exit the arena during the best, if the horse resists for more than 20 seconds during the test, or if the rider makes a third error during the test (1st error = minus 2 points, 2nd error = minus 4 marks).

The Rolex Kentucky 3DE is one of only five four star three day events. The Rolex Kentucky 3DE is one of only five four star three day events.

Cross Country Penalties

• 1st refusal = 20 penalties

• 2nd refusal = 40 penalties

• 3rd refusal = elimination

• Fall of rider = elimination

• Fall of horse (shoulder and hindquarters touch the ground) = elimination

• Exceeding optimum time = 0.4 penalties per second

• Exceeding twice the optimum time = elimination

• Jumping the wring jump or unflagged jump = elimination

• Jumping obstacle in wrong direction = elimination

• Jumping obstacle already jumped = elimination

Showjumping Penalties

• Knockdown of obstacle = 4 penalties

• 1st refusal/runout, moving backwards = 4 penalties

• 2nd refusal etc. = 4 penalties

• 3rd refusal etc. = elimination

• Fall of horse or rider = elimination

• Exceeding time allowed = 1 penalty per second

* Error of course = elimination


Australia has had a strong history of success in Olympic eventing, having won a total of six gold, three silver and two bronze medals.

Our first team competed in Stockholm in 1956 and our first team gold was won at the Rome Games in 1960 by Laurie Morgan, Neale Lavis and Bill Roycroft, with Morgan and Lavis also winning individual gold and silver medals.

This was followed by a team bronze in Mexico City in 1958 and Montreal in 1976. Matt Ryan won the individual gold and team gold with Andrew Hoy and Gillian Rolton at Barcelona in 1992. Australia again won team told in Atlanta in 1996 with Andrew Hoy, Gillian Rolton, Wendy Schaeffer and Phillip Dutton, and the Sydney 2000 Games with Ryan, Hoy (who also won individual silver), Dutton and Stuart Tinney.

Our team of Clayton Fredericks, Lucinda Fredericks, Sonja Johnson, Megan Jones and Shane Rose won silver in Beijing in 2008.

So how will Australia fare at the London Olympics? We'll have to wait and see...we have a strong team of in-form riders and horses for our selectors to choose from, but Britain also has a very experienced team who will be competing on their home turf!

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