Go Eventing

If you are looking for a day out with family, friends or both then eventing has a lot to offer.  I’ve often heard it coined as the ultimate equestrian test and can’t disagree.  Horses and riders compete at dressage, cross country jumping and show jumping much like a horsey triathlon.  These are three very different disciplines and thus require enormous strength, grace and bravery from the horses and a huge amount of bravery, fitness, skill and even sheer feats of memory from the riders.  Riders commit to memory the different dressage movements and jumping courses memorising every detail from stride distances to flagged alternate routes.  You have to be tough and determined.

Eventing in the UK can be followed by simply visiting British Eventing (BE) online and checking out the fixtures.  They run competitions for riders and horses affiliated with them.  This goes from ‘grass roots’ (beginners) all the way up to the highest level, which was always referred to as 4* but from 2019 changed to 5* after the FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale) reorganised the international levels of the sport. The 5* competitions are few and include the famous Badminton and Burghley courses here in the UK.

It’s been many years since I visited Badminton Horse Trials as it is a little far for us, but we go to Burghley almost every year as it is only an hour and a half away.  The cross country day is an epic day out.  I have designs on going for all four days, but perhaps when the kids are older.  Plenty of people camp out for the entire length of the competition, soaking up all three phases and multiple visits to the endless shopping and foodie stands.  It’s a massive, stunning event which hosted over 167,000 visitors across the four days this year.

So in a nutshell eventing is:

  • A dressage test
  • A cross country jumping test (hedges, ditches, water, etc)
  • A show jumping course

You can compete.  Yes literally you, if you have a horse, are in the year of your 12th birthday or older and want to have a go at eventing, you can go on a day ticket and compete with British Eventing at one of their BE80T tracks.  

What is BE80T?  Keeping it simple the levels of competition in the UK go like this:

BE80T – T for training and at 80cm high (you see where the 80 comes from), it’s very small, very inviting and designed to be welcoming to all folks wanting to have a go.  The cross country fences are max 80cm and the show jumps are max 85cm.

BE90 – 90cm high cross country max, 95cm max show jumping (you see where we are going with this).  So again it is pretty inviting.  The fences are not that big and the dressage test is straight forward.

BE100 – 100cm high cross country max, 105 max show jumping. I’ve done this class several times and BE90 too and if I can do it then it’s totally doable! Although you do now have to qualify to compete in this class. Check out the minimum eligibility requirements here.

BE105 – 105cm high cross country max, 110 max show jumping.

The levels go up and up from there through novice, intermediate and advanced until you reach the hallowed ground of the 5* international courses which are insane. Believe it or not novice classes are anything but novice with chunky 110cm cross country fences and 115cm show jumps. A cross country course can be incredible to walk with befuddling combinations of miniature houses, skinny arrow head shaped hedges and huge leaps. This is not just a hedge, a log and a ditch. This is technical, challenging stuff.

Plenty of international competitions are run in the UK as well. These are governed by the FEI. The levels follow a * system mentioned before with 5* being the highest level. The 1* competitions run at a max height of 1.05m and then go up from there so are comparable to the British BE100 class and up. E.g. 2* is 1.10m, 3* is 1.15m, 4* is 1.20m and 5* is 1.30m as is the Olympics.

As a rule the dressage test increases in complexity as you go up the levels, as does the speed you have to ride the jumping efforts and the length of the cross country course.  Then there are intermediate levels in-between like the BE100 plus which offers the same jumping challenges but a harder dressage test.  There is something for everyone.  For detailed information on the levels refer to the British Eventing Website. All the dressage tests are easily obtained for free from the BE Website too.

I love the inclusiveness of eventing.  Men against women as equals, novices against seasoned pros, but on their younger horses.  You can easily be competing in a BE100 around the corner from your yard and see famous faces in the eventing world bringing on their younger less experienced horses.  It’s really exciting.

When I got back into riding in my twenties I had a go at everything so for me eventing was the ultimate day out.  You got to have a go at every discipline all in one day.  You are given times for each phase so you know exactly where you need to be and when. It was perfect for me. I used to head off in my trailer with my Nikes on ready to run around the cross country trying my best to commit all the twists and turns to memory, just my horse and I. We gave it a go and we didn’t do too badly.  I’m so happy to have had the chance and now I’m really enjoying taking the kids to these events for a day out.  It’s Blenheim next (Sept 19-22) and I can’t wait.  Blenheim has all the thrills of a huge course and huge event but is just a tiny bit smaller than the big 5* courses so you can get that little bit closer to everything and there is more running on each day so you get to see a bit of everything. 

If you are going on foot here is a list of how to make it a great day:

  1. Take your dog. I couldn’t stop laughing one year at Burghley when I looked across and saw a literal sea of people all in Dubarry boots and all with a dog on a lead rope. Like a countryside army. It’s an army of dogs! Even last week I was amazed by how many pooches there were out on a jolly. Our dog Chuckles had a great time. Even on the lead.
  2. Pack a picnic, then embellish with trips to the coffee and donut stands. The foodies isle in the shopping village is awesome too. We kept stopping all around the cross country course. Laying out picnic rugs and scoffing down sandwiches and sausage roles. But there is always room for coffee and hot donuts!
  3. Leave plenty of time for the shopping and food courts. Oh the shopping! I am completely skint as always, but just looking is fantastic too. The sole of my right riding boot is hanging off now so purchasing a new pair of boots is totally justified right?!
  4. Leave plenty of time to get there if you are going on cross country day at Burghley. The queues in are pretty big. This is a mega popular event. Remember where you parked! You might struggle to find your car again!!
  5. Get a course map and walk as much as you can. I never seem to leave enough time and with stoppages on course you can easily miss seeing fences. Some of the fences are famous. Google the leaf pit at Burghley, you will see.

So eventing really is an all rounder sport and a fantastic spectator sport. It seems elitist and in some ways yes it is for sure, but it is accessible and it is a great day out. With all this talk of going eventing you never know I might even manage to find the time and a bit of cash to get out there and go eventing again myself. If a geek/mom who works in IT can manage it, then anyone can…