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Combined driving tests a drivers’ ability and the horses’ drivability, speed and athleticism, in three demanding phases with a carriage in tow: Driven Dressage, Marathon and Cones. The sport, conceptualized by HRH Prince Phillip, is modeled after the mounted equestrian discipline of three-day eventing or the human equivalent of triathlon.
Competitors drive a turnout of a single horse, a pair of horses or a team of four horses. The driver and horse(s) combination will accumulate penalty points throughout each phase of competition. The competitor with the fewest overall penalty points will place first. Accuracy, speed and endurance are all a necessary part of this exhilarating sport.
The driven dressage phase tests the driver and their horse(s) on harmony, impulsion, ease of movement and suppleness through a sequence of scored movements in an arena. Typically, the second phase is the fast-paced and demanding cross-country marathon. The marathon tests a horse’s fitness, stamina and agility along with a driver’s accuracy and judgment as they navigate an intricate series of hazards which will include water, steep hills and sharp turns – all within the fastest time possible. The last phase, the cones course, times the competitor while they accurately negotiate an intricate, winding course of narrowly-set cones without knocking them with the carriage wheels.
While combined driving is a technical and demanding sport, it can be enjoyed by people of any age and with any breed of horses or ponies.
Learn more at The American Driving Society
Follow Team USA on social media #USADriving
The word dressage comes from the French term meaning “training” and its purpose is to strengthen and supple the horse while maintaining a calm and attentive demeanor. With its popularity rapidly growing each year, this Olympic sport is the ultimate expression of horse training and elegance. Often compared to ballet or figure skating, the intense connection between both human and equine athletes is a thing of beauty to behold.
Competitive dressage involves progressively difficult levels incorporating multiple tests within each level. Each test includes a series of movements performed by the horse and rider. Each movement is scored by a judge on a scale of 0-10 for their precision and execution. Special tests are also written for musical freestyle, sport horse breeding and performances incorporating multiple horses and riders. The high-score horse and rider combination wins a class.
Musical freestyles are an increasingly important part of competitive dressage. They are mandatory for any international or FEI rider and with the growth and addition of the US Dressage finals, freestyles are not just for the elite riders but also riders at all levels.
For the freestyle, the movements are choreographed to edited music. The horse and rider should stay in step with the music. This skill requires a high degree of proficiency. Riders can choose to show off their skills by entering a musical freestyle at any level. Music can be an inspiration to the rider and engages the audience and is a creative way to present the sport.
Pas de Deux and quadrille offer a way to compete in a musical freestyle with a partner or group of riders. Pas de Deux has great spectator and audience appeal. The most famous quadrilles are the Spanish Riding School, the Cadre Noir and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Although quadrille has been performed as an equestrian pageant since the Baroque period, it has only recently become a competitive sport. It is an activity suitable for all ages, including youth groups such as 4-H and US Pony Club. Quadrille offers equestrian education in riding, training, and rider/horse communication in a group atmosphere of teamwork and camaraderie.
Learn more at the United States Dressage Federation.
There are three main divisions at a hunter/jumper horse show: hunters, jumpers and equitation. A rider pilots a horse over a set course of obstacles in the arena or turf field in all three divisions. Each division is scored differently. The Olympic sport of show jumping is objectively scored based on the speed and accuracy of the horse and rider over a course of obstacles. Hunter and Equitation classes are scored subjectively on their form over a course, with hunter classes focusing on the form of the horse and equitation classes focusing on the form of the rider.
Designing jumper courses is a technical art form and no two courses ever alike. A diagram of the course is posted and the riders can walk the course before each class to set their plan. Each jump is numbered and flags are placed with the red flag on the right and the white flag on the left to indicate direction. Hunter courses are designed to offer a reasonable reproduction of conditions in the hunt field with natural obstacles and decor. Equitation courses are designed to offer the challenge of skill and judgment.
The jumper is the “athlete” of the horse show. His task is solely to jump, regardless of style or manner. While hunters are scored subjectively, jumpers are scored objectively. Scoring is based on a point system for faults in jumping (knocking a rail down or a refusal) or exceeding the specified time limit. Jumper courses tend to be much more complex and technical than hunter courses because riders and horses are not being judged on style. The winner is the horse and rider with the lowest number of faults. Time is also a factor in deciding the outcome of an event. Those horse-and-rider combinations completing the first round fault-free within the course designer’s designated time-allowed return for an exciting jump-off round. The jump-off is typically held over a shortened course, and the competitors must compete against the clock.
The scoring for show jumping is based on a point system for ‘faults,’ for example, knocking a rail down, jumping refusals, or exceeding the specified time limit. Electronic timers are used to record time accurately. The winner is the horse and rider who has the least number of faults. Hence, time is the critical factor in deciding the outcome. In show jumping classes, what counts is how faultless and ultimately how fast the ride.
The hunter is a refined representative of the type of horse used in fox hunting, possessing manners, jumping ability, style, pace and quality. The judge is looking for a horse that would be the most agreeable mount to “ride to the hounds.”
The hunter must demonstrate his ability to furnish the rider with a smooth and safe ride, clearing all of the obstacles in stride with a minimum effort and a pace he can maintain during a day in the hunt field. A horse will be penalized for refusals, knockdowns, and basic disobediences in judging the hunter classes. The judge may not fault for rubbing a rail unless it is the fault of poor-quality jumping. Penalties may also be assessed for inadequate or unsafe jumping. It is the horse and not the rider, judged in the hunter divisions.
When you watch a hunter class, take note of the beauty of the horse and top turnout, the even rhythm of its stride, the floaty nature in its way of going, quality style of jumping and manners.
In hunter seat equitation, it is the rider and not the horse that is being judged. The actions of the horse are important only as they reflect on the horsemanship of the rider. It is possible for a rider whose horse misbehaves to be placed among the winners if the rider dealt with the issue skillfully in the judge’s opinion.
It is the rider that is judged in equitation classes, whether it is over fences or on-the-flat. In equitation, the judging and scoring are not based on the same process as hunters or show jumping. Judges are looking for the style of riding, proficiency, accuracy and judgment in the use of the aids [hands, seat, and legs] and an overall impression of complete and quiet control−all demonstrating skilled horsemanship.
The highest level of hunter seat equitation in North America are the national ASPCA Maclay Finals, the USET Talent Search Finals, the WIHS Equitation Finals and USEF Medal classes in the United States, and the CET (Canadian Equestrian Team) Medal and Jump Canada Medal in Canada. These championships and their qualifying classes may include bending lines, roll back turns, narrow fences and water jumps.
The judge may choose equitation tests to help place the top riders. These tests are required in the medal classes. The tests of horsemanship established by the United States Equestrian Federation] (USEF) and published in the USEF Rule Book. These tests may be applied to the class at the judge’s discretion.
For equitation, judges reward the form, skill, precision of the rider.
Learn more at USHJA.org and follow #ushja.
Eventing is best described as an equestrian triathlon. The sport originated as a cavalry test and comprises three phases: dressage, cross-country and show jumping. Eventing tests horse and rider pairs more thoroughly than any other.
The first phase – dressage – shows the graceful partnership of horse and rider through a sequence of movements on the flat. The next phase – cross-country – challenges the pair’s bravery, fitness, and determination as combinations navigate a series of solid obstacles and varied terrain. In the final phase – show jumping – pairs must again prove their precision as they clear a course of delicate fences. Competitors accumulate penalty points in each phase, and at the end of the event, the pair with the lowest score takes home top honors.
Dressage is the first of three phases in eventing competition. The French word meaning “training,” dressage was created to show the horse’s submission and ability to perform intricate movements required for cavalry exercises. Today’s dressage still consists of an exact sequence of movements, but now they are ridden in an enclosed arena and scored by judges. The goal remains very similar that horse should demonstrate balance, rhythm, suppleness and most importantly, obedience based on the rider’s cues or “aids.”
Dressage is the fundamental training of the sport on which the other two phases are built as it develops the strength and balance for the rigors of cross-country and the preciseness of show jumping. Dressage showcases the ultimate partnership as the rider uses his or her seat, legs and hands, known as the “aids,” to communicate silently, making the test look like a seamless performance.
The dressage phase can prove challenging for an event horse as they are supremely fit. The most tactful riders can harness and direct that energy into a polished and powerful performance.
Each movement is scored on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the lowest and 10 being the best. The sum of these scores is combined with the overall collective marks, gaits, impulsion, submission, and rider for a total score. That score is then subtracted by the number of total possible points, multiplied by 100 and subtracted by 100. The resulting scores are penalty points or the points that the pair could not earn in the dressage phase. Penalty points carry onto the next round and the lowest score wins.
The cross-country phase typically occurs on the second day of competition but always after the dressage phase. Cross-country is the cornerstone of eventing and proves the horse’s speed, endurance, and jumping ability over varied terrain and solid obstacles. Carrying forward their penalty points from the dressage phase as their score, the riders’ goal is to finish with the fewest penalties possible by jumping every fence on the first effort and completing the course within the prescribed time limit or optimum time.
Cross-country features solid fences (15-25 for lower levels and 30-40 for upper levels) as well as natural obstacles such as water, ditches, drops and banks. The phase is ridden at a gallop with exact speed requirements varied depending on the level of competition.
Horses and riders must be at peak physical condition to complete the cross-country phase. Riders condition their equine partners for months to reach the fitness required for this ultimate test. Horses must be bold and brave, while riders must carefully control the pace to finish the course in time without expending too much of the horse’s energy.
Mistakes on cross-country are costly to a rider’s final score. If a horse stops at a fence, known as a refusal or runs past a jump, known as a run-out, the pair earns 20 penalty points. A second refusal or run-out at the same obstacle is an additional 40 points and a third results in elimination. Penalty points are also earned for every extra second over optimum time.
The third phase, show jumping, tests horses’ and riders’ precision over a series of colorful fences made of lightweight rails which are easily knocked down. This final phase tests the stamina and recovery of the horse after the very tiring cross-country phase.
Consisting of 12 to 15 jumps in an enclosed arena, show jumping requires accurate riding as the slightest bump could cause a rail to fall, resulting in four penalty points.
Like the cross-country phase, scoring is objectively based on a horse’s ability to clear each fence on course, though, unlike cross-country, the lightweight show jumps fall easily. Knocking a rail or having a refusal or run-out results in four penalty points. The show jumping round has a time limit, and every second above that time accumulates penalty points.
Riders carry their penalty points earned in the dressage phase and any time or jump penalties accrued on the cross-country course into the final phase. This show jumping finale can be an exhilarating and heartbreaking experience for spectators as one single rail down could change the final standings dramatically. The horse-and-rider combination with the lowest score at the end of the competition earns the victory gallop.
In eventing and all equestrian Olympic sports, men and women compete alongside one another as equals.
Learn more at USEA and follow #useventing.