Equestrian involves three disciplines - eventing, jumping and dressage.

The equestrian disciplines are unique events at the Games, not only because they are the only Olympic events that involve animals (aside from the equestrian component of modern pentathlon), but they are where women and men compete together on equal terms.

In equestrian, the horse is considered as much an athlete as the rider. Like any other sport, only exceptional horses (in combination with extraordinary riders) make it to the level required to be successful at the Olympics, and immeasurable amounts of time are spent in training an animal to that point.


Equestrian (Eventing)

Both team and individual competitions. Riders and horses (combinations) compete across the three disciplines – dressage, cross-country and jumping – to decide the medals.

Riders compete on the same horse in all three disciplines with their scores counting for both the individual and team competitions.

In the team competition each team has four combinations, with the best three scores to count.

The top 20 individuals then jump (in the final showjumping phase) again to decide the individual medals. Jump-offs may be held if necessary.

Demystifying the Events

Eventing (covering three disciplines of dressage, cross-country and jumping) – riders compete on the same horse in all three disciplines, with their scores counting for both the individual and team competitions. Combinations must complete each stage to move on to the next.

Dressage is the first discipline tested. Combinations then complete the cross-country phase, which is generally regarded as the toughest of the three. Horses are inspected the following day (at a ‘trot-up’), to ensure they are healthy and fit to further compete, before they can start in the final phase – the jumping.

Judging of the dressage is done in exactly the same way as pure dressage. A dressage percentage is converted to penalty points for certain movements conducted in the walk, trot and canter.

Cross-country – the riders must complete the 6840 metre (approx.) course consisting of between 40-45 obstacles, including logs, water jumps, fences ascents and banks within an optimum time. Refusals incur 20 penalty points, and combinations can also pick up time faults, both of which are added to their dressage score.

Show-Jumping - In the last phase, show-jumping, combinations are again required to complete 9-12 obstacles inside the time allowed. Rails dropped, refusals or time faults incur penalties.

A combined score from the three phases determines the final scores. In the team event there are four members in each team, with only the best three scores counting towards the final score for the team medals. The top 20 individual scores after the first showjumping round compete in a second and final round to determine individual medals, with only three riders from any one team entitled to make it through to that round.

The only significant change for the Rio Olympics is in eventing, where each team will have four combinations, with the best three to count. London 2012 saw teams of five, with top three scores counted.

The Stars of Equestrian (Eventing)

The New Zealand eventers are well regarded and recognised as some of the most accomplished and successful in the world, particularly Sir Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson, both of whom have been based in the UK for many years.

Andrew Nicholson is continuing to recover from a fall in late 2015 and is hoping to be competing again by the 2016 Badminton Horse Trials. Over the last 12 months Sir Mark and rising stars Jonelle and Tim Price have all featured in the top 10 in the FEI world rider rankings. Leap-frogging her has been another rising star, Tim Price (Jonelle’s husband), who has shot to third in the FEI world rankings for eventing (both rankings as at 1 November 2015).

Brit William Fox-Pitt and German Michael Jung are two of the best. Jung is the only rider to hold the World, Olympic and European titles at the same time. He won the individual gold at the London Olympics, and was a member of the winning team.

Fox-Pitt’s career highlights include an Olympic team silver medal at both the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and a team gold and individual silver at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010. He unfortunately was in a riding accident in October 2015 and remains in a recovery phase, so his attendance at Rio is yet to be confirmed.

Did you know?

Sir Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson are New Zealand’s most capped Olympians, with seven caps apiece.

All of New Zealand’s Olympic equestrian medals have been won by eventers.

Sir Mark Todd has ridden at two Olympics in two disciplines – Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992) – in both eventing and showjumping. He has as many medals as any other New Zealand athlete to date, with five to his name, including two golds and the strong prospect of adding to that medal tally at Rio.

New Zealand has been represented at 10 Olympics in showjumping, eight Olympics in eventing, and three Olympics in dressage.

One of the challenges the sport faces is that there are no direct flights for horses from New Zealand to Brazil, so those not already based in the UK, Europe or the USA will need to travel a significant distance, over multiple legs, to have access to flights to Rio. To return to New Zealand after the Olympics, the horses will then need to go back to the country they came from and complete a 6 month stay there, in addition to a quarantine period, before they are able to return home.

Riders in the jumping competition at Rio need to be at least 18 years old, with horses at least 9 years old, while dressage competitors need to be 16 years old, with horses 8 years old and over.

Equestrian terminology (Eventing)

Combination - A rider and horse.

Run out - When a horse ducks out from the fence at the last minute.

Stop, refusal or balk - When a horse stops at a fence.

Frangible pins - A breakable pin installed in some cross-country jumps which releases the top part of the fence when hit to safeguard against major injury to horse and rider.

Corner fence - Triangular-shaped jumps with the horse generally jumping one corner of it.

Optimum time - The time allowed in which to complete the cross-country course, with those over the time receiving penalties.

Oxer - A jump with front and back elements.

Palisade - A fence which leans towards the direction the horse is jumping in.

Roll Top - A jump that has a rounded half-barrel look on the top.

Skinny - A narrow fence.


Fault - Penalty points gathered by knocking a rail off the cups or exceeding the time allowed on a course.

Walk, trot, canter and gallop - The pace of the horse from slowest to fastest.

Riders in the dressage competition need to be 16 years old, with horses 8 years old or over.

Total Olympic Equestrian Medals

3 Gold, 2 Silver, 5 Bronze


1984 Los Angeles - Individual (Mark Todd)

1988 Seoul - Individual (Mark Todd)

1996 Atlanta - Individual (Blyth Tait)


1992 Barcelona -Team (Andrew Nicholson, Blyth Tait, Vicky Latta)

1996 Atlanta -Individual (Sally Clark)


1988 Seoul - Team (Tinks Pottinger, Mark Todd, Andrew Bennie, Margs Carline)

1992 Barcelona -Individual (Blyth Tait)

1996 Atlanta - Team (Vaughn Jefferis, Andrew Nicholson, Blyth Tait, Vicky Latta)

2000 Sydney - Individual (Mark Todd)

2012 London - Team (Jonelle Richards, Caroline Powell, Mark Todd, Andrew Nicholson, Jock Paget)


680 BC - Horse sport was introduced to the Ancient Olympic Games.

1909 - First jumping Nations Cup was held in London and San Sebastian in Spain.

1912 - Jumping, dressage and eventing became part of the format of the new Olympic Games.

1953 - First world jumping championships were held in Paris.

1966 - First world dressage and eventing championships were held in Burghley.

1990 - First World Equestrian Games were held in Stockholm, where the New Zealand eventing team, comprising Andrew Nicholson, Sir Mark Todd, Andrew Scott and Blyth Tait, won the team gold.

1960 - Rome Olympics – showjumpers Adrian White and Telebrae were the first kiwi combination to compete at jumping at the Olympic Games.

1984 - Los Angeles Olympics ­– Sir Mark Todd and the mighty Charisma won the individual gold medal. Todd, with Andrew Nicholson, Andrew Bennie and Mary Hamilton, finished sixth in the team event.

1988 - Seoul Olympics – Todd and Charisma again took gold, and the team – Bennie, Marges Knighton (nee Carline) Todd and Tinks Pottinger – won bronze.

1992 - Barcelona Olympics – Vicki Latta, Andrew Nicholson and Blyth Tait won the team silver, with Tait also taking the individual bronze aboard Messiah.

1996 - Atlanta Olympics – the golden years of the eventers continued, with Tait and Ready Teddy taking the individual gold, and Sally Clark and Squirrel Hill the silver. Tait, Nicholson, Latta and Vaughn Jefferis took the team bronze.

2000 - Sydney Olympics – New Zealand’s first Olympic dressage combination competed, with Kallista Field placed 18th. Mark Todd and Eye Spy won the individual bronze in the eventing competition.

2012 - London Olympics – the eventing team were back on the podium with a team bronze medal, after finishing 5th at both the Athens and Beijing Games.

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Equestrian - Eventing Games History