Equestrian competitions are run in two ways, affiliated and unaffiliated. There are three main disciplines for affiliated competitions and these are:-
What is a little bit confusing is that all unaffiliated competition generally runs under discipline specific rules because there is a whole framework that can be easily borrowed and so you will usually see on a schedule, to be run under BD rules or BS rules whichever is relevant even at an unaffiliated event.
It used to be the case that the top end of unaffiliated competition would lead you into the bottom end or starting point of affiliated but if you take BE as a case in point, they now have their own training level starting at BE80 and in fact, all the affiliated disciplines have spread downwards and there is now a big overlap between affiliated and unaffiliated competition in terms of standard and accessibility across all the disciplines. There is plenty of unaffiliated dressage and showjumping around but far less in the way of eventing now that BE starts at BE80, probably only Pony Club and Riding Club now run their own eventing and they also have their own rules which may differ from BE rules so beware.
Going affiliated means joining the relevant Association and paying a membership fee, it also means joining your horse and the owner if they differ from the rider. It means being part of a big well structured organisation and sometimes, this can seem a little intimidating but both BD and BS offer day tickets for competition so you can just have a go and see what it is like. However any points or winnings would not be eligible for your horse’s record because you are not a full member.
Each discipline has area representatives who can answer questions and help you through the process of registration and competition. If you are a seasoned dressage competitor or showjumper, then you will find probably little difference between the format of unaffiliated and affiliated competition, however British Eventing could be a brave new world for those who may not have done much eventing in the past and of course it is made more complicated by the presence of three disciplines on one day rather than just one.
One of the best ways to understand how affiliated events work is to go along and foot and watch some. British Eventing always rely on a large army of volunteers so pop along to couple of events and help out, it’s a great way to see how things run on the day and also useful for competitors who are already established but thinking of going up a level.
Each discipline has its own rulebook which covers everything from tack to rider turnout to complaints. It is worth reading this thoroughly once upon joining and you will then only need to familiarise yourself with any updates at the turn of each year. Keep the rulebook with you in your transport so you can refer to it at an event if necessary. Each discipline has its own register of coaches and is split into geographical areas - each one has its own representative. Each region will provide training and a network of events and support and so membership extends beyond just pure competition and has training and a social element as well.