Rules for Each Equestrian Olympic Event

ArticleHow to - General Equine AdviceThursday 28 July 2011
by Holly McCulloch

The top Olympic equestrian sports are dressage, three day eventing & show jumping.  Horse sport such as chariot & riding races were part of the Olympic Games.  Riding was first included in the 1900 Olympics and reappeared in 1912.  Originally in the modern Olympics only commissioned officers were allowed to compete.  Beginning in 1952 rules were changed to allow civilians and woman.  Olympic equestrian events are one of two Olympic sports where women compete equally with men.  Sailing is the other.

There are 6 Olympic equestrian events that take place in a number of venues: Eventing - Team Competitions, Eventing - Individual Competition, Dressage - Team Competition, Dressage - individual Competition, Jumping - Team Competition, and Jumping - Individual Competition.

All Olympics equestrian disciplines are governed by the rules of the Federation Equestre Internatioale ( FEI).


Dressage is the training a horse needs to carry a rider with ease and grace.  Dressage competition demonstrates the level of training a horse & rider team because if the rider uses the wrong aids the horse will make that error in  the dressage test.  In the test the horse is ridden in different paces and speeds within the paces.  The horse is asked to move straight, circle & go sideways and diagonally.  The horse might be asked to collect or extend its paces and carry its neck & back in a nice outline.  Horse and riders at the Olympics compete at the highest level of dressage recognized by the FEI grand prix, kur or freestyle is a dressage test to music.  The score is based on accuracy of the movements and artist impression.  The highest score wins.

Show jumping

Show jumping tests the ability of the horse and rider to jump over obstacles inside the riding arena.  Horse and riders jump a course of 12 to 18 jumps up to 6ft 6 high or wide.  Courses are designed to be difficult for horse and rider.  The horse and rider must finish within and set time and penalties are given when knocked down, falls and refusing to jump.  The rider with the fewest penalties win.  Ties are broken by jump offs against the clock and penalties for knocking down.

Three day eventing

Eventing show skill and courage and endurance of horse and rider.  The three day event consists of cross country, dressage and stadium jumping.  Cross country is a course made of natural and man made jumps.  There can be 40 obstacles that horse must jump the course can be up to 4 miles long.  Scores are based on refusals, coming in under or over a set time and falls of the rider.


Dressage is based on subjective judging; others are based on timing and faults or penalties.  Horses must be at least 9 years old for Olympic competitions.  A bell is used to communicate with the competitors as a signal in the arena for halt, continue in case of interruption or the rider is eliminated.  Red and white flags are marked for mandatory turns and obstacles.  Jumps can be spreads, verticals or water jumps.  Jumps may be set as combinations.  Four faults for each jump knocked down, four faults are given for obedience, refusal to jump, run out.  Elimination - horse’s shoulders and haunches touch the ground or rider falls.  Elimination - second disobedience (refusal), Elimination - incorrect deviation, Elimination - exceeding time limit.  One penalty point for each second exceeding time allowed in a jump off.  FEI rules standards for each gait and element of the dressage test.  Five judges positioned around outside a 20m x 60m dressage arena.  Score 0 to 10 with some elements being given greater weight by multiplying the score.  Ideal score of 100%.  Rule regarding type of take and dress are strict.  Competitors are disqualified if four hooves land outside dressage arena, horse refuse, horse or rider fall.  Penalties are given if rider goes wrong.


Rules for stadium jumps and dressage phase of eventing are similar.  Judges sit at each obstacle and record results.

Cross Country

Time is established.  There is no benefit in finishing earlier but penalties are given if they exceed time.  Riders may remount after a fall. 20 penalties for a  run out, refusals and circling to re-aim at obstacles. 40 penalties for a 2nd disobedience, Elimination 3rd disobedience, 65 penalties fall of competitors, Elimination fall of horse, Elimination second fall of competitors, elimination if the horse is lame or exhausted at 2nd inspection, Elimination inappropriate state of tack and equipment, Elimination error of course not corrected.


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