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Three Day Eventing Equestrian Horse Sport: History, Competition & Courses

Three day eventing, also called the horse triathlon, is probably the most comprehensive equestrian sport, with a history of wild popularity and genuine excitement among spectators and participants. Originally a race between Berlin and Vienna, the French improved on the first events by creating the "Raid militaire", the precursor to eventing, as an extended training event for cavalry horses in the 1800s. Eventing entered the Olympic arena in 1912, and for the first forty years of the competitions, only male military officers were allowed to compete in eventing. In 1952 the rules were changed so that civilian men could participate in this exciting, if grueling sport and the first women entered eventing in 1964. Equestrian sports are the only ones where men and women compete against each other in the Olympics.
The prestigious Badminton Horse Trials, held every year in England, were created by the British after suffering a defeat in the 1948 Olympic Games. The Badminton, which was created in an effort to give eventing horses more experience before the Olympics, has evolved into one of the most important eventing competitions in the world. In fact, the British coined the term "three day eventing", which was originally called "combined training" in the U.S. and which is now practiced worldwide.

In 3 day eventing, specific competitions are spread over three days, where paired horses and riders compete without change for the entire three days. The training level of equine conditioning is the highest: riders and horses are judged on communication, skill level, speed and endurance. Early in the contest, there is a predetermined halt, where horses are checked by veterinarians for fitness to continue the race: if a horse shows illness or distress, he or she is removed from the competition.

The first day is a dressage test; the second day is a race featuring a steeplechase and a cross country race. On the third day, horses and riders enter a round of jumping held in an arena. The three day event is modeled on the need for cavalry officers to fight in battle and negotiate a long, hard-run battlefield race, including clearing fences and obstacles. Requiring practically every known skill and plenty of endurance, the three day event asks a lot of both horse and rider.

The cross-country portion of the event is considered by far the most important part, with the scoring ration being 12:3:1 for cross-country, dressage, and jumping. The heavy focus on cross-country derives from the history of eventing as a cavalry exercise. The three day event is scored on a penalty system in which the various events are differentially weighted to get a total score the reflects the performance of horse and rider in each event.

The latest version of three day eventing is the short course, which eliminates portions of the classical course in the interests of saving space, time and wear and tear on the horse. The short form omits portions of the cross country and steeplechase, shortening the races. Although there is disagreement among eventing lovers and professionals, creating the short form allowed eventing to keep its place in the Olympics when it had been in danger of being lost because it required so much space.

Information about trainers, clinics and events can be gotten from the United States Eventing Association, which regulates eventing in the U.S. The World Equestrian Games are held each year, with the World Eventing Championship being considered the only other Olympic-level event. In 2005, half of the top ten winners were from East or West Germany.

Read the next horse riding sport article on Horse Endurance.
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