It’s much like The Iron Man. The degree of difficulty. The amount of preparation. The test of raw will, the test of stamina, of endurance. The peak physical form required for completion. One must possess the ability to move with fluidity and grace, to jump seamlessly, to endure obstacles for miles. What kind of creature is capable of all this? Only but one; the Eventing Horse.
What is Eventing?
As far as the equestrian disciplines, Eventing is the one and only sport that runs the full gamut of skills, talent, and raw ability, requiring teams of horse and rider to navigate a variety of tests and obstacles, all while showcasing their combined ability to accomplish such tasks seamlessly.
Depending on the skill level, riders have anywhere from 1-3 days to complete the full battery of tests, each one beginning with the dressage component, typically followed by showjumping, and concluding with the cross-country component.
What Does it take to Win?
Each participant places based upon his or her overall time. To score, teams of horse and rider accrue penalties throughout each phase of this three-day competition. Knocking down poles or fences, errs in pattern and execution during dressage, or excessive times during the cross-country component all work in tacking on additional time to a competitor’s overall score. The goal is to complete each component as accurately and efficiently as possible without faulting or error.
What Makes for an Exceptional Eventing Horse?
Given the nature of the discipline, an excellent Eventing Horse must possess a vast array of desirable characteristics that are not necessarily commonly seen in all horses, but characteristics that lend themselves well to the highly challenging sport of Eventing. Generally speaking, Eventing Horses must be of good conformation. They must be driven and responsive and focused and versatile. They must be intelligent and strong and willing and courageous. This is what makes the Eventing Horse such a rare breed.
Shining in the Dressage Ring
During the first phase of three-day Eventing, there are several key skills an Eventing Horse must possess to be successful. Dressage is a discipline that requires precision and a high degree of athleticism, requiring Eventing Horses to have considerable experience in competitive dressage.
During this phase, the Eventing Horse must have considerable bend, being supple and soft in all movements. He must be collected while demonstrating impulsion; utilizing his haunches to drive up and underneath him to maintain forward momentum while maintaining a cadence and rhythm consistent with the course.
The Eventing Horse should be soft in his mouth, responding seamlessly to the cues of the rider and executing precisely each maneuver that is asked of him. His movement should be fluid and rhythmic, expressive in nature, showcasing gaits with long, beautiful strides. The Eventing Horse must have grace and purpose while also possessing mental fortitude and resilience.
Transitioning to the Jump
That resilience is one that will serve him well as he moves into the second phase of Eventing; showjumping. Although of the strengths that benefitted the Eventing Horse in the dressage arena will continue to serve him throughout the entirety of the competition, there are a few necessary abilities he must possess to maintain standing during the jumping portion.
Showjumping requires strength and endurance. To complete the course successfully, the Eventing Horse must maintain his focus, being keenly aware of the positioning of the rider guiding him throughout the course, while also making adjustments, adapting, and compensating for any and all changes that need to be made.
To expound upon this idea, while navigating the course, the Eventing Horse is responsible not only for maintaining his own center of balance as he adjusts his speed, makes changes to the length of his stride, sets himself up for each jump, lands, and anticipates his next move, but he must also account for the balance and positioning of his rider. If his rider becomes off-centered, he must adjust his own positioning to recenter the pair.
As a result, it is absolutely essential that riders do their part in staying centered and maintaining a proper seat. It is imperative that the rider maintain her own balance and center of gravity while mounted, because becoming off-centered demands even more energy and expenditure from her horse to account for the overall balance of the team, while in motion.
During competition, horses are already being asked to expend a tremendous amount of energy and effort and requiring them to also do our jobs is incredibly unfair and does a great disadvantage to both horse and rider.
Speed also plays a factor in three-day Eventing. During the jumping phase, the Eventing Horse’s primary objective is to complete the course as efficiently as possible while accumulating the fewest faults or errors. That is not to say that riders should rush their horses through the course. Pairs should manage their time carefully, while maintaining a speed that is both safe for the horse, and appropriate for the course.
Carelessness during the course, which would be a natural result of having sped through it, would undoubtedly result in the accumulations of many faults, not to mention jeopardizing the safety of both horse and rider and very likely resulting in an elimination from the Grand Jury.
The Fédération Equestre Internationale, or FEI, has made it incredibly clear that above all, the safety and well-being of the horse must come first. No other consideration is as highly prioritized during competition as the health of the horse, a value that is of great merit to all those following the horsemanship philosophy.
The Final Push: The Ideal Cross-Country Candidate
The third and final phase of competition the Eventing horse must face is the cross-country component. This portion of the event varies in length, depending on the level of competition, ranging anywhere from two and three quarters of a mile all the way up to four miles long.
Like the length, the type and number of obstacles each competitor must face depends upon the level of expertise, but riders can expect to face anywhere from 24 to 36 fixed obstacles. Most of these obstacles are developed given the natural landscape of the region in which the competition is taking place, though some obstacles are designed using bright colors or moving components, specifically to test the horse’s ability.
With all of this in mind, several attributes are of great value to the Eventing Horse. Physical fitness would be of primary importance. Given the length and the demands of the course, prospects must be in peak physical shape if they are to truly keep pace with other competitors.
Four miles may not seem like a terribly great length when considering the ability of the horse, but it is what the horse is asked to do during those four miles that requires such great exertion. The ideal Eventing Horse will be strong, both physically and mentally. He will have developed endurance, to maintain his speed and focus throughout the length of the course.
He will have mental fortitude, being resilient when making mistakes and having a positive attitude and drive that will push him and his rider on. He will be attentive to the needs and demands of his rider while remaining aware of his own body in space and adjusting for obstacles encountered during the length of the course. He will be of good spirit. He will be brave.
You Can’t Ride Color: The Uniqueness of Each and Every Horse
There is no one true candidate that fits the mold of the Supreme Eventing Horse. Each animal brings with him to the table a variety of strengths and weaknesses; each one making him special, each one making him unique.
It is the uniqueness of the animal and the uniqueness of the relationship that we develop with him that makes him so powerful in our worlds. There may be a variety of traits that may help a horse compete in the world of Eventing, but perhaps most powerful of all is the love and the support that we provide him in the days outside the competition; the belief that we have in him that ultimately develops the belief that he comes to have in himself.