The first eventing competition was recorded in France in 1902. The sport was first introduced at the Olympic Games in Stockholm in 1912, under the name ‘The Militaire’. It was originally a military event, based on the requirements of an officer’s charger – steadiness, obedience and elegance whilst on parade, the ability to cross the countryside fast in battle and to be fit and tough enough to remain in service after a strenuous day.
By the Paris Olympics in 1924, the ‘three day event’ or Concours Complet International (CCI) was established and was open to civilians to compete, however non-commissioned army officers were not allowed to compete until 1956 and female riders were not eligible until 1956.
Eventing remains the only Olympic sport where men and women compete on equal terms and there is no differentiation between amateurs and professionals.
The sport took off in Britain in the late 1940s, largely due to the support of the Duke of Beaufort and the creation of Badminton Horse Trials, aimed at improving the standards of British eventers. It comprised: phase A – dressage; phase B – steeplechase; phase C – roads and tracks and phase D – cross-country.
Over the past fifty years there has been much less emphasis placed on endurance during each phase. The steeplechase (phase B) and roads and tracks (phase C) have now been dropped from most events, but the cross-country has become more technically demanding. The modern-day event comprises three elements; dressage, cross-country and show jumping. CCI competitions are preceded by veterinary checks (the horse inspection) prior to the competition and the final phase.
An international ‘one day event’ or Concours International Combine (CIC) format for eight and nine-year-old horses has also been developed, which is a less technical and demanding standard of event and is showcased here at Blenheim.
For an event such as the Blenheim Palace Horse Trials, the riders and their horses have to have proven ability and have achieved a recognised level of success at lower levels of competition in order to be qualified to enter (a minimum eligibility requirement or MER).
The event phases are each marked and ‘penalties’ awarded. The marks are cumulative and elimination in any one test brings elimination from the whole competition. The horse and rider combination with the lowest number of penalties at the end is the winner.
The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) is the sports’ governing body and state that the object of the competition is to:
“show the riders spirit, boldness and perfect knowledge of his/hers horses paces and their use across country, and to show the conditions, handiness, courage, jumping ability, stamina and speed of the well trained horse.”