Eventing, an equestrian trialthlon, held at FENCE

Published 3:53 pm Friday, March 19, 2010

Eventing could be termed an equestrian triathlon. It involves working with a horse both on the flat and over fences. The three phases are: dressage, endurance (or cross-country), and show jumping. Over the centuries it has developed from the test of the ideal military charger. Eventing has now evolved into an exciting sport attracting interest from all levels of sports enthusiasts, from weekend hobby riders to professional international stars.

With its variation in levels and difficulty and wide range of competitions available all across the country, Eventing is a sport, which provides competitive and recreational opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds. Today, the sport is most known for its cross-country phase where horse and rider gallop over an outside course of solid obstacles, which the horse has never seen before.

The first phase is called the dressage test. Dressage is a French word meaning training. Originally designed to show the horses capability on the parade ground in performing various movements involved with reviewing troops, today the dressage test comprises a set series of complicated movements performed in an enclosed arena.

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Precision, smoothness, suppleness and complete obedience show off the horses gymnastic development. Ideally it should look as if the horse is performing of its own accord, carrying its rider in complete harmony. The test is scored on each movement, rather like the scoring in figure skating, and the overall harmony and precision of the whole exercise are taken into consideration.

Dressage is also very important to the event rider for the purpose of conditioning the horses muscles for the endurance test. They become fit, strong, and elastic to lengthen and shorten at a gallop.

The purpose of the dressage test is to demonstrate the intense training the horse and rider have achieved to perform each movement with balance, suppleness, and precision timing. The horse is extremely fit and the energy that is contained within the horse is incredible. Therefore, it is a remarkable feat in itself to control this energy and have the horse use it to his fullest advantage.

The second phase in eventing is the endurance test or cross-country. The object of the cross-country course test is to prove the speed, endurance and jumping ability of the true cross-country horse when he is well trained and brought to the peak of condition. At the same time, it demonstrates the riders knowledge of pace and the use of this horse across country.

The cross-country course length depends on what level the rider is, it is also comprised of some fifteen to twenty-four fixed and solid obstacles of great variety, and is ridden at a good gallop. Cross-country courses require horses and riders to be bold and smart and they also test stamina. Each combination of horse and rider must complete all three phases in order, on time and with as few penalties as possible.

The third and final phase takes place in the jumping arena. A series of colored fences in an enclosed ring have to be negotiated before the full two days of competition are finally over. The final phase tests the stamina and recovery of the horse after the cross-country phase and shows that it is fit enough to continue work. This phase is used to demonstrate that, on the day after a severe test of cross country, the horses have retained the suppleness, energy and obedience necessary for them to continue in service.

The show jumping course requires very exact riding; it consists of between twelve and fifteen show jumping obstacles, which normally include at least one combination, two spread fences, and in some cases a ditch or water jump. As is often the case with horses, they amaze us with their intelligence and ability and rise to the challenge admirably.

The show jumping courses are designed to test the horses and the riders ability to negotiate a variety of fences of differing heights, widths, and technicality. This requires the horse to 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, and have an obedient horse that will respond to his commands.

At the end of the competition, scores for all the competitors are totaled. Each test is scored individually and the penalties accrued are added together for the final results. The lowest score is the winning score.

FENCE will host the next Eventing Horse Trials on April 2-4; the event is free to spectators. For this event alone it requires close to 200 volunteers, if you would like a close up look at the action and would like to volunteer, or for more information call 828-859-9021 or visit the web site at www.fence.org.