Essential pet advice with vet Jo Gourlay

With Olympic fever now upon us, over the next couple of weeks we will have a look at the sporting events involving horses. In addition to explaining briefly what each of the three competitions involves, we will also look at their origins.

As it’s the first equestrian event to kick off, we start by looking in more detail at “eventing”, following next week with the specifics of dressage and show jumping.

Eventing actually encom­passes the other two discip­lines, combining the elegance and balance of dressage, the fitness, bravery and trust of cross country with the technical skill and precision of show jumping.

It was originally developed by the military to help with cavalry horses’ preparation and to test both officers and horses. It was also useful in allowing the cavalries of different countries to compare their training standards.

During the Olympics, the eventing will take place over four days. The first two days of competition involve the horses performing a set routine of various technical movements in front of a panel of judges; this is known as a dressage test. It takes place in an arena and each individual movement is scored and converted into penalty points (so the lower the score the better).

The dressage score is carried through to the next stage of the competition on day three, the cross country phase. This is often the most interesting part to watch and will be held in the beautiful grounds of Greenwich Park for the London 2012 Olympics.

A series of approximately 40 jumps are positioned over roughly 6km. The jumps are imposing and substantial, with the majority designed not to have components (such as poles) that will fall if knocked. Most are natural looking like huge logs, banks and ditches or ones involving water and have areas of grass for flat-out galloping in between.

Judges sit at each fence to look for any jumping errors such as refusing to jump or running out (darting to one side rather than going over), with penalties added if any occur. To avoid other penalties, the course has to be completed in the optimum time.

Elimination from the total competition occurs for a number of reasons such as a horse and/or rider fall, exceeding the time limit (this in much longer than the optimum time) and a third refusal or run-out.

The last phase is the show jumping on day four. For this stage a different set of jumping skills are required than in the cross country phase.

Precision is needed as the jumps are much less substantial, with poles that can be knocked off easily, and because it takes place within an arena the turns are all tighter. The penalties from the previous days are brought forward and for every fence with a pole knocked down, refusal or run-out more are added to it with elimination still possible at this stage.

The gold medal and all the work of the last three days can come down to one pole being lightly brushed off the jump by a horse’s trailing foot, which makes the climax of competition very exciting.

Riders compete for both individual and team medals at the same time. Each country can have five rider/horse combinations, with only the three highest scoring being counted. After the team event results are decided, there is 
a second show jumping test 
to determine the individual medal places.