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Horse Endurance or Cross Country Phase in Eventing: Sport Goals, History and Rules

On the second day of a three day event comes the cross-country portion, known as the most exciting and rigorous part of the event. The cross country event is the ultimate equestrian challenge, relying on horse endurance and speed, and requiring horse and rider to trot, gallop and jump a variety of obstacles on a steeplechase portion in a timed event. The cross country is itself divided into sections: the beginning is known as Phase A, Roads and tracks, which functions as a warmup; Phase B is the Steeplchase, and Phase C is a return to roads and tracks. Before Phase D begins, there's a mandatory checkup called the Vet Box, during which each horse is tested for fitness, rubbed down and readied for the Cross Country.
Skilled equestrian riders have to not only ride superbly, but also need to understand how to pace their horses in the slower portions of the event so they're ready for the demands of the steeplechase and cross country portions. In the Roads and Tracks Phase A, the horse trots and relaxes before beginning the more difficult events, and the return to roads and tracks after the steeplechase may be trotted, walked or cantered, as the rider determines. In short form three day eventing, the steeplechase is omitted from the event. The sort form has become so popular that the Kentucky Derby has

reverted to the form, not because the directors wanted to, but because there wasn't enough funded support for the "with steeplechase" format. The 2006 director added a personal note, stating that even if the money had been there, it seems that many competitors are not interested in the long format.

In the ten minute Vet Box, the horse's pulse, respiration and temperature are checked by veterinarians and any horse deemed unfit to continue is withdrawn at that time. Once the horse has passed the Vet Box, the cross-country portion of the event takes place. The course may have two to three dozen obstacles and is usually between three and four miles long. Cross country is galloped, and the horse and rider work together to get through the course in a timely way and with few penalties. The courses are varied, with walls, log piles, brush fences, ditches and banks to navigate.

Cross country tests the speed, conditioning, stamina, training and heart of its equine participants. The one Olympic equestrian sport that combines racing and show jumping with something like trail riding for warmup and cool down, the eventing competition is the one sport in which men and women compete on equal terms. Judging is done by a panel of expert who assign points for dressage and use a penalty point for time and jumping to score each horse and rider combination. Scoring by penalty allows the judges to create a single score that takes into account the factors of the race, the obedience and style in dressage and the quality of jumps.

Event organizers set rules as to the type of tack and other equipment to be used for any portion of a three day event, including saddle type, bridle and bit combinations and riders' apparel. Horse boots, which may be worn in other competitions, may be forbidden in dressage tests, and there are rules specifying whether riders may use blinders, ear muffs or other equipment during the show. Before an event, the organizer supplies the competitors with rules and regulations as to what constitutes legal and illegal use of whips or spurs and what is considered appropriate treatment of the horse; safety headgear for riders is usually obligatory. Professionals never forget that cross country can be dangerous, so rules contain warnings about safe riding practices; ignoring the rules can get a rider eliminated from the competition.

Thoroughbred horses, originally imported Arabians bred with English draft horses, make fine cross country horses. But many breeds including gaited ones compete and win in cross country without the Thoroughbred pedigree.

Read the next horse riding sport article on Horse Dressage.
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