Your First Event: Are You Ready?

Rachel Narrow | © Mandy Lorraine

At eventing’s introductory levels, the phases are designed to promote horse and rider education and good horsemanship. In the dressage of eventing, for example, the judge will look for you to ride on a steady contact and allow your horse to work in his natural paces, rather than a resistant and artificial frame. In the cross-country phase of eventing, you’ll need to be able to trot and canter in the open in two-point position and adjust your horse’s pace while staying in control.

Evaluate your cross-country riding skills by asking yourself questions like these:

  • Have I ridden my horse in the open?
  • Can I trot and canter in a field in two-point position, change pace, and bring him back to the trot?
  • Can he and I stay in balance on unlevel terrain?
  • Does he get very strong when we go from the woods to trails? If he does, can I bring him back?
  • In the open, will he automatically zone in on a little log in the path and jump it the first time?
  • How does he handle jumping strange things?

Experts recommend competing one level below the one you’re schooling-for two reasons: First, you won’t be as nervous, so you’ll be better able to observe, learn from, and enjoy the event. Second, you and your horse won’t be overfaced. For instance, if the two of you can jump 2 feet 9 inches in the ring but he spooks at new things, you’ll be more successful if your competition fences don’t exceed 2 feet 6.

Eventing: The Introductory Levels
To help you decide what level to choose as your first combined training event, here’s a breakdown of what’s involved in each of the introductory levels:

18-Inch Division — You’ll ride the U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Walk-Trot Introductory dressage test; you may do the trot work rising or sitting. Your cross-country course will include approximately ten straightforward 18-inch jumps, set on terrain with very gentle up- and downhill slopes. You can trot or canter the course–but remember that cross-country is meant to be ridden at a canter or gallop. In stadium, you’ll be asked to jump eight or nine inviting fences, made mostly of rails and small flowerboxes, on almost flat terrain.

Elementary Division — Here, too, you’ll ride the walk-trot dressage test (and may post or sit the trot), but your cross-country and stadium courses will be slightly longer and the jumps larger, usually 2 feet to two feet 3 inches. Varying terrain (slopes and hills) and scenery (fields and trails) make the course more difficult, but you can still trot. Stadium jumps, also ranging from 2 feet to 2 feet 3, may consist of panels, walls, or other visually challenging things.

Beginner Novice (aka “Pre-Novice” or “Baby Novice”) — In this division you’ll ride the USA Equestrian (USAEq) Novice Test C, including walk, trot (rising or sitting), canter, and 20-meter (half the dressage ring) trot and canter circles. Cross-country can have up to eighteen jumps, ranging from 2 feet to 2 feet 7 inches, with obstacles such as shallow natural ditches, an inviting pass-through water element, and a step-up bank. The course can cover more difficult terrain (like what you would encounter on a trail ride) and should be ridden at a strong canter (350 meters per minute), but you can trot parts of it. The stadium course may include an inviting two-stride combination.

Novice Level — This is the first level recognized by the U.S. Eventing Association (USEA). As a Novice competitor, you’ll ride USEF Novice Dressage Test C or D, which includes trot serpentines; again, you may post or sit the trot. Cross-country, to be ridden at a strong canter (350 to 400 meters per minute) will be slightly longer and over a variety of terrain. The jumps can range from 2 feet 9 inches to 2-11 and include gradual up- or downhill fences, small ditches, drops, and a step up out of water. Stadium may be on sloping terrain, jumps range from 2-9 to 2-11 and include a one-stride in-and-out.

Again, these descriptions for unrecognized combined training events are approximate; the specifics may vary.

You’ll need the prize list for the event you choose to get the numbers for any division you’re considering.

This article is excerpted from “What Eventing Beginners Need to Know” in the May 2002 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.

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