Eventing....the ultimate equestrian challenge, combining as it does, dressage, show jumping and cross country. It wasn’t so many years ago that eventing began at Novice level and if you have looked at a so called Novice course, you will realise that this is not actually novice at all. Like the other disciplines of dressage and show jumping, eventing, then under the auspices of the British Horse Trials Association, began to extend its reach downwards and offer easier and introductory levels of competition. Naturally, as with the other two disciplines who were doing the same, there was much grumbling of ‘dumbing down’ and a lowering of standards. However, the BHTA made a case for guidance and education of newer riders and gradually the lower levels of what is now called ‘BE’ – the BHTA has since re-named itself ‘British Eventing’ – took off.
The introductory level of BE is called BE 80T, the 80 refers to the maximum height of 80cm and the ‘T’ to the fact that it is a training level but it is run as a proper competition. After that comes 90 and 100 and there are now some classes running at 105 before you get to Novice. This is all designed to bridge the gap from BE 100 to Novice which is sizeable. The BE Rulebook will detail exactly what is required at each level so they have their own dressage tests and the rulebook will also stipulate what types of fences can be found in the show jumping and cross country phases, with their maximum heights, widths and types. There is an evident progression in difficulty and rules which govern when you can move up the next level. You don’t have to start at 80 and the 80 and 90 courses are often quite similar but it is really important to take your time and become established at a level before you move up otherwise you will find yourself coming back down again!
You will need to join both yourself and your horse to BE and if your horse is owned by someone else, then they usually have to join too. BE have a user friendly website and very helpful people in their office to field any questions you may have.
When you enter your first event, all usually done on line, you will be given times for the three of the phases for competition day. Some venues use the times as a guide, others use them more strictly; certainly the dressage is always run on times. Check with the collecting ring steward before the show jumping and the cross country and don’t worry if you are a bit late for your time, they will always try and fit you in.
If you are competing regularly, you will probably require little additional kit but there are one or two key differences. You must check your current riding hat is within regulations and the appropriate standards will be detailed in the Rulebook. At the first event you attend, you will need to get your hat checked and tagged in the secretary’s tent and this tag will then last you all season. Body protectors are not compulsory in the show jumping but are for cross country, the current standards are again listed in the Rulebook but body protectors are not checked and tagged. A steward will check both you and your horses’ tack and equipment before you start each discipline. Whilst you may warm up with a schooling whip for the dressage phase, you are not allowed to carry one in the test and you will have to learn your test as you are not permitted to have a caller – both of these two requirements often catch people out.
If you haven’t already competed at unaffiliated one day events or done much jumping on grass, you should ask you farrier to fit stud holes to your horse’s shoes and show you how to fit studs at your horse’s next shoeing. You will also require a number bib which is worn for all three disciplines and a medical armband for the cross country phase. You may also now wear a stop watch but this rule change has proved controversial. Stop watches only really confirm that you are doing the right thing in terms of your time/speed and are not a substitute for learning to ride at so many metres per minute. Each level has its own time and cross country training must include speed training. Actually, if you do this, then making the time is usually quite possible and comfortable which rather removes the need to wear a stopwatch in the first place. Unless you know where the minute markers are around the course, stop watches can actually prove distracting and potentially encourage bad riding by dramatically increasing or decreasing speed to get inside the time.
Some venues appear to run easier events than others although this will depend upon your horse and specifically what appears in the cross country phase. Every venue is different, not least of all the terrain, the ground and the course builder so do not expect the BE events at your level to be similar, they could be quite varied. Course walks are offered for both show jumping and cross country phases, with a BE accredited coach and they are also on hand on the day in the warm up areas to help and advise riders. Courses get harder throughout the season so if a venue has already run one early event, expect their second fixture to be more difficult. For example, at the first event, the main cross country questions may have come near the end of the course whereas at their second fixture, they will come closer to the beginning. For this reason, it may not be a good idea to move up a level towards the end of the season ready for the following year as you will encounter the most difficult courses at your new level whereas if you wait until the following spring, the early events will be easier at the height.
Rules change every year so it is important that you really do read the Rulebook thoroughly and then check any possible changes before the start of the new season. Each regional area has advisers and coaches who can help clarify issues and they also offer training under the auspices of BE throughout the closed season of the winter months so that combinations are ready to hit the ground running in the spring...not literally of course!