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Articles: Equestrian


Equestrian is an Olympic sport that involves a rider and a horse. The sport is split into 3 different events. Dressage, which tests the skills of the rider and the horse in performing complex deliberate manoeuvres in a paddock. Jumping, which tests the rider’s skills and the horse’s courage in tackling a course with various hurdles which they have to jump over. And finally, there is eventing, which is a combination of the previous two and of a cross country race.

The sport has its origins in the various military competitions between cavalry officers to test the skills and abilities of their riders. It has been an Olympic sport since 1900. At the Olympics, the sport was only open to commissioned officers and gentlemen until the 1952 Games.

Today, Equestrian is popular in Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Sweden and the Netherlands. All three formats are Olympic sports and are one of the very few sports in the world where men and women compete directly against each other. There is no competitive separation of sexes in equestrian tournaments.

The Equestrian sport

The sport is played by both men and women competing directly against each other. There are various age categories at junior and adult levels.

The different disciplines occur on different fields of play. In dressage, there are 2 sizes of arena: a smaller one for lesser competitions and a standard one for major tournaments. The standard arena is a 20x60 metres rectangle. The arena’s sides are demarcated by different letters indicating the different zones. In show jumping, the arena is somewhat larger with a minimum recommended size of 30x80 meters. In the cross country element of the event, courses vary in exact length since they are outdoors, and range between 4 to 6 km long. At the high end of competitions, the course offers from 24 to 36 obstacles. The obstacles are made to look like natural objects found in the countryside. They are mainly made out of stone, logs and other countryside detritus.

Due to its militaristic origins, the dress code for Equestrian events is very formal. In dressage and jumping, riders are obliged to wear shirts with ties or chokers, jodhpurs, brown or black leather boots, and a formal coat. In jumping, the rider wears a helmet styled as a riding hat while in dressage, the rider wears a top hat. In cross country, the dress code is less formal with riders allowed to wear coloured bibs or jackets and helmets.

In dressage, the saddle must be an English saddle that compliments the rider’s natural leg line. In the other events, there is more variance in the saddle options opened to riders.

Beginning of a competition

All the Equestrian competitions begin with a random draw to determine the order the riders will compete in. The one commonality in all three events is the overwhelming care taken to ensure the health of the animals. Before taking to the arena to compete, the horse has to pass an inspection by an independent veterinarian. After that, riders mount there horses and ride it into the arena at their allotted time slot.

Rules of play

The rules of all equestrian events are based around precision and animal welfare. In all competitions, contestants are given penalties for mistakes and the player or team with the least penalties is the winner. Penalties stem from improper form in dressage and failure to execute a manoeuvre, to fence refusals in jumping. In the cross country section of the eventing competitions, there is an additional time penalty for variance from the optimal course time. This is because the course has to be completed in a given time, and being too quick or too fast results in a penalty.

In dressage, the rules call for the horse and rider to execute given manoeuvres with grace and precision from both; the main goal is to show precise control and harmony between horse and rider. In jumping, the objective is to successfully clear the course in the right sequence in the fastest time possible, since the quicker rider’s time is used to resolve a tie break in the case of a perfect score.

In the cross country event, the objective is to complete the course in a given time with the minimum number of penalty points possible.

Equestrian events are judged by a panel of judges, who use various criteria based on the type of event. The scoring for eventing, which is a combined event, utilises a complex formula to convert the scores from each event into a weighted final score.

Equestrian competitions flow and tactics

There is very little tactics in Equestrian sports, since the objective of each rider is to attain the maximum number of points possible. Most coaching and training is done prior to competition and focus on refining and fine tuning the technique of both the rider and the horse. Coaching during the actual event is not permitted.

Equestrian competitions

Equestrian sports are governed internationally by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FIE) which was formed in 1921. Due to the socio-economic group that is generally attracted to equestrian sports, and the cost of participating, there are many well sponsored tournaments held around the world. Some of the biggest competitions are held in the USA, UK, and Germany.

By far the most prestigious and important competition in Equestrian sports is the Olympic games. These are followed by the FIE World Equestrian games, which is the world championship for the sport and is held every four years. Yearly, there is the indoor world cup tournament. There are other various regional and continental Equestrian games.

The route to becoming a professional rider is quite difficult, since although it is only a matter of practice and becoming sufficiently skilled and successful in competitions, it is quite cost prohibitive. There are huge costs involved in maintaining a horse and transporting it to many events. As a result, up and coming riders tend to be sponsored through their national federation which supports part of their costs.

Betting on equestrian events

The market for Equestrian betting is not very well developed and is generally restricted to the premier events. Generally, bets are placed on the winners of events, but some specialist bookmakers will offer bets on numbers of points or penalties conceded.